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Essay on Dubois v. Washington Debates

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Dubois v. Washington Debates


The Afro-American Almanac located on Professor Tygiel’s “Sites of Interest to History Majors” have a copy of Booker T. Washington’s famous “Atlanta Compromise” speech that he delivered in 1895. Neither before, nor since, has one speech had such a profound effect upon the career of a politician and the people that he sought to represent. Indeed, Washington’s primacy was assured when he in dramatic fashion promised (eye witness accounts have him thrusting his hand forward to underline this point) the south that: “In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.” The south, indeed America quickly embraced Washington as the perfect leader to replace the confrontational Frederick Douglass who had died earlier in 1895. Washington’s solutions to the south’s race problem, his accommodating attitude towards white supremacy catapulted the thirty-nine year-old educationalist into the role of premier leader and spokesperson for the race. Eventually opposition arose within the group towards Washington’s policies, eventually this opposition crystallized around the leadership of W. E. B. Dubois, and their confrontation became known as the Dubois v. Washington debates.

A rereading of the debates, although they are quite dated offers an interesting perspective on Americana at the turn of the twentieth-century. Of course from a modern perspective, Dubois won the debates. This, however, overlooks the fact that Washington at the time was the more popular and better-known leader. And, Dubois led a renegade faction that existed somewhat outside of the establishment. Washington’s sincerity shines through...


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...outh in ever increasing numbers despite Washington’s boosterism of the region. Indeed, by Washington’s death in 1915, it was clearly evident that his vision of racial harmony in the south had failed. It was equally clear that southern whites used his passivity to increase their oppression of Blacks. Blacks lost the right to vote, but did not gain economic security. In fact as Dubois predicted, the group spent a half-century fighting to regain the ground that Washington had so contemptuously tossed away in his Atlanta speech.

Sources Cited:

ibid. 2

< http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/flashbks/mcgillbh.htm> Ralph McGill, “W. E. B. Dubois” The Atlantic Monthly November 1965, 3.

Ibid. 6.
<http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/flashbks/black/washbh.htm> Booker T. Washington, “The Case of the Negro” The Atlantic Monthly November 1889 p.11.


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