Of the Coming of John by W.E.B. Du Bois

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Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois were very important African American leaders in the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They both felt strongly that African Americans should not be treated unequally in terms of education and civil rights. They had strong beliefs that education was important for the African American community and stressed that educating African Americans would lead them into obtaining government positions, possibly resulting in social change. Although Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois had similar goals to achieve racial equality in the United States, they had strongly opposing approaches in improving the lives of the black population. Washington was a conservative activist who felt that the subordination to white leaders was crucial for African Americans in becoming successful and gaining political power. On the other hand, Du Bois took a radical approach and voiced his opinion through public literature and protest, making it clear that racial discrimination and segregation were intolerable. The opposing ideas of these African American leaders are illustrated in Du Bois’ short story, “Of the Coming of John”, where Du Bois implies his opposition to Washington’s ideas. He shows that the subordination of educated black individuals does not result in gaining respect or equality from the white community. In fact, he suggests that subordination would lead the black community to be further oppressed by whites. However contrasting their views might have been, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois were significant influential black leaders of their time, who changed the role of the black community in America. Booker T. Washington’s ideologies for economic advancement and self-help played a major role in his approach to fight for equal rights. By founding the Tuskegee Institute in Mound Bayou, he created a university that was segregated for black students and encouraged higher educational standards (Meier 396). These students were also encouraged to follow the social system of segregation in order to achieve political status in the United States. In an interview with reporter Ralph McGill, Du Bois recalls that in the process of obtaining funds for the Tuskegee Institute “Washington would promise [white philanthropists] happy contented labor for their new enterprises. He reminded them there would be no strikers” (Du Bois, qtd. in McGill 5). This shows the nature of Washington’s contradicting approach in obtaining political power by embracing the system of segregation and working with white leaders rather than against them to achieve his goals.
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