Booker T. Washington believed that blacks should not push to attain equal civil and political rights with whites. That it was best to concentrate on improving their economic skills and the quality of their character. The burden of improvement resting squarely on the shoulders of the black man. Eventually they would earn the respect and love of the white man, and civil and political rights would be accrued as a matter of course. This was a very non-threatening and popular idea with a lot of whites.
For two decades Washington established a dominant tone of gradualism and accommodationism among blacks, only to find in the latter half of this period that the leadership was passing to more militant leaders such as W. E. B. DuBois.
During the four decades following reconstruction, the position of the Negro in America steadily deteriorated. The hopes and aspirations of the freedmen for full citizenship rights were shattered after the federal government betrayed the Negro and restored white supremacist control to the South. Blacks were left at the mercy of ex-slaveholders and former Confederates, as the United States government adopted a laissez-faire policy regarding the “Negro problem” in the South. The era of Jim Crow brought to the American Negro disfranchisement, social, educational, and occupational discrimination, mass mob violence, murder, and lynching. Under a sort of peonage, black people were deprived of their civil and human rights and reduced to a status of quasi-slavery or “second-class” citizenship. Strict legal segregation of public facilities in the southern states was strengthened in 1896 by the Supreme Court’s decision in the Plessy vs. Ferguson case. Racists, northern and southern, proclaimed that the Negro was subhuman, barbaric, immoral, and innately inferior, physically and intellectually, to whites—totally incapable of functioning as an equal in white civilization.
Between the Compromise of 1877 and the Compromise of 1895, the problem facing Negro leadership was clear: how to obtain first-class citizenship for the Negro American. How to reach this goal caused considerable debate among Negro leaders. Some advocated physical violence to force concessions from the whites. A few urged Negroes to return to Africa. The majority, however, suggested that Negroes use peaceful, democratic means...
... middle of paper ...
... through their knowledge, the way for economic and cultural elevation for the black masses.
The NAACP was a coalition of black and white radicals which sought to remove legal barriers to full citizenship for Negroes.
DuBois was one of the founding members of the organization.
Both Washington and DuBois wanted the same thing for blacks—first-class citizenship—but their methods for obtaining it differed. Because of the interest in immediate goals contained in Washington’s economic approach, whites did not realize that he anticipated the complete acceptance and integration of Negroes into American life. He believed blacks, starting with so little, would have to begin at the bottom and work up gradually to achieve positions of power and responsibility before they could demand equal citizenship—even if it meant temporarily assuming a position of inferiority. DuBois understood Washington’s program, but believed that it was not the solution to the “race problem.” Blacks should study the liberal arts, and have the same rights as white citizens. Blacks, DuBois believed, should not have to sacrifice their constitutional rights in order to achieve a status that was already guaranteed.
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