Breaking the Ideology of Separation Versus Integration: Part 2 – Booker T. Washington Versus W.E.B. Du Bois


In Part 1 of this series, I covered the various back-to-Africa and colonization schemes that happened early in American history. As I pointed out, although not all of the movements can be said to be born entirely out of nefarious intentions and white supremacists motivations, that was the primary intent behind the dominating movement of the American Colonization Society; or at least, as shown, that was how it was understood by abolitionists in their opposition to the scheme. Even in cases without the negative intent, as also pointed out, the movements displayed an overall and continual impracticality and disastrous failure in implementation.

Apart from the efforts as that of Henry McNeal Truner, which did take place in the latter part of the 19th century, the movements having almost a complete collapse by the mid-19th century can be in large part attributed to the events surrounding the American Civil War, Reconstruction and the War/Reconstruction Amendments (13th, 14th 15th).

Those events that ended American Slavery, and for a short period saw black Americans participating heavily in Southern politics, including their contributing to the building of state constitutions and introducing a system of public education, were abruptly brought to a halt by an organized, white-supremacist reaction in the form of secret societies, large scale riots, and massacres, that coincided with a capitalist agenda by Big Business interests and complicity from the U.S., federal government.

For black Americans, the aftermath of Reconstruction, which officially ended with the 1876/77 Compromise, was the beginnings of what would become decades of living under the system of Jim Crow. Starting with the introduction of Black Codes – an effective reintroduction of the previous Slave Codes – along with the development of sharecropping, debt-peonage, convict leasing, the above mentioned, terroristic violence, and a complete assault and disregard of the newly passed amendments to the Constitution, going all the way up to the Supreme Court, this disenfranchisement and exclusion of black Americans from social, political and economic advancement, would last indefinitely.

The first generation following the ending of Reconstruction brings us to the next contention to be discussed in this series: that between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois.

Additional Background

Just five years prior to the start of the Civil War, Booker T. Washington was born a slave. In his autobiography, Up From Slavery, Washington mentions not knowing his date of birth even to the exact year, stating that he estimated between the years 1858-1859; however, today’s sources place his birthdate on April 5, 1856. His father was assumed to be a white man; Washington knew nothing of him.

Following the end of slavery, Washington moved with his family (mother and siblings) from Virginia to West Virginia – the location of his stepfather. There he was able to work and educate himself to the point of being able to attend the Hampton Institute and later the Wayland Seminary.

In 1881, a few years after the Compromise of 1877 and after several years of teaching, Washington is recommended by Samuel C. Armstrong to head the Tuskegee Institute, which is newly founded by Lewis Adams and banker and former slave-owner George W. Campbell.

W.E.B. Du Bois, who was born a little over a decade later than Washington, on February 23, 1868, was raised by his mother after his father moved away from Great Barrington (where Du Bois was born and raised) to New Milford.

Growing up, Du Bois was able to have a rewarding educational experience. He was enabled, with the help of his neighbors to attend Fisk University, prior to attending both Harvard University and the University of Berlin. Although requirement issues would prevent Du Bois from obtaining a Ph.D. from Berlin, he would later become the first black American to earn a Ph. D from Harvard University in 1895. A year prior, in 1894, after his return to the United States, Du Bois would receive and accept an offer for a spot at Wilberforce University, and this is where he would meet Alexander Crummell.

Following the Weliberforce offer, it is worth mentioning that he did receive other offers, such as that from Lincoln Institute in Missouri. Included in those other offers was one from Booker T. Washinton to teach mathematics at the Tuskegee Institute. Du Bois notes that “if Mr. Washington’s telegram had reached [him] before the Wilberforce bid [he] should have doubtless gone to Tuskegee”. Washington would also, again, offer Du Bois a position in 1902, which Du Bois declined. A couple of years removed from accepting a position at Wilberforce, he would relocate to Atlanta University in 1897. It was during these years – specifically in the exact same year in which Du Bois earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1895 – that Booker T. Washinton would give his speech addressing the International Exposition in Atlanta. A speech that is the impetus of what would become the contention between Du Bois. It would be later recognized as the Atlanta Compromise.

The Atlanta Compromise

The context that needs to be understood is not the Atlanta Compromise speech itself, it is the political-economic climate that followed the end of Reconstruction, leading into the Jim Crow era. During this time, America saw both the widespread attempt to fully strip black Americans of any and all civil and political rights granted after slavery and simultaneously the fervent rise of American capital.

At that point in history, the speech was symbolic of the control being established by white supremacy. This control would be over the social and ideological influence of the black community. To a larger extent, this was the influence elites were gaining over a black Tuskegee Institute and Booker T. Washington, who was also being manipulated in their interest. Rather than a reaction concerned with the content of the speech and the ideological positions that would be pushed by Booker T. Washington – either solely as a battle of ideas or personal disagreement – the reaction by Du Bois and others was more a reaction against the events and institutional structures being put in place to justify and perpetuate injustice against black Americans.

That is what, here, needs to be understood. The speech taking place in 1895, as it did, was followed in 1896 by the decision of Plessy v. Ferguson. A decision which is often given special weight but amounts however to just a footnote in the string of Supreme Court cases and decisions designed to totally strip the Constitutional rights granted to black Americans in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. The years following 1895 saw a continuing of the establishment of Jim Crow laws designed to completely disenfranchise blacks from voting and segregated them from whites socially. Toward the assistance of these legislative and judicial atrocities was the rise of a campaign of white supremacist, terroristic violence.

These three factors together of the attack on rights by governmental forces, physical violence by mobs and organized extremist groups, and ideological control being built by what would be dubbed the “Tuskegee Machine“, contribute to what amounts to a tripartite agenda of social control by American capital against the black community.

The Talented Tenth

There were a few different objections to the agenda surrounding Booker T. Washington and others. As can be gathered from what has been discussed above, they consist of the following: firstly, the power of the ideological and social influence related to the “Tuskegee Machine”; secondly, the “accommodationist” approach with regard to the realities facing black Americans and how to approach fighting against those injustices; and thirdly, the issue of education. I will address these in reverse order.

The first issue to be discussed, which along with the objections to the accommodationist strategy is often given the largest emphasis, is the disagreement concerning an educational approach for black Americans, connected closely with a political-economic program in higher education and training.

In 1897, W.E.B. Du Bois, working with Alexander Crummell, helps found the American Negro Acadamy. This academy was dedicated to the advancement of black, scholarly achievement. In a speech, given before the first conference, as well as more explicitly in The Talented Tenth in 1903, which he contributed to The Negro Problem, – a series of articles that was actually put together by Booker T. Washinton – Du Bois contrasted his views of higher education against Booker T. Washington’s emphasis on industrial education and trades. Both of these sources are available as Appendix I & II in The Souls of Black Folk.

As pointed out by some, the first to coin the term – at least in relation to Mr. Washington’s emphasis on industrial education – was Henry Lyman Morehouse, for whom Morehouse College was named. His work by the same name was published in 1896.

“In the discussion concerning Negro education we should not forget the talented tenth man. An ordinary education may answer for the nine men of mediocrity; but if this is all we offer the talented tenth man, we make a prodigious mistake”

The great need of the colored people of the South is wise leadership along all lines of development; men of large and comprehensive views acquired by contact and communion with the world’s great thinkers; such men are needed to-day even more than nine times as many with a little more practical knowledge concerning the use of the saw, the jack-plane and the blacksmith’s forge. In our educational work for the colored people, therefore, proper provision should be made for the talented tenth.–Dr. Morehouse in The Independent.”

A similar position is re-iterated by Du Bois throughout his opposition to Washinton’s position on education. From The Talented Tenth, he states:

“The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst, in their own and other races. Now the training of men is a difficult and intricate task. Its technique is a matter for educational experts, but its object is for the vision of seers. If we make money the object of man-training, we shall develop money-makers but not necessarily men: if we make technical skill the object of education, we may possess artisans but not, in nature, men. Men we shall have only as we make manhood the object of the work of the schools––intelligence, broad sympathy, knowledge of the world that was and is, and of the relation of men to it––this is the curriculum of that Higher Education which must underlie true life. On this foundation we may build bread winning, skill of hand and quickness of brain, with never a fear lest the child and man mistake the means of living for the object of life.

The Talented Tenth of the Negro race must be made leaders of thought and missionaries of culture among their people. No others can do this work and Negro colleges must train men for it. The Negro race, like all other races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men.”

To more fully bring about the understanding regarding the different elements within the overall opposition and contention, it can be noted, as Du Bois points out in Dusk of Dawn, that upon originally review of Mr. Washinton’s speech in 1895 he, “wrote to the New York Age suggesting that here might be the basis of a real settlement between whites and blacks in the South. It was, however, as he goes on to say, “frustrated by the fact that between and 1909 the whole South disfranchised its Negro voters by unfair and illegal restrictions and passed a series of ‘Jim Crow’ laws which made the Negro citizen a subordinate caste.”

There was never – as there is not today – a complete rejection of the idea of trades or industrial education:

“I would not deny, or for a moment seem to deny, the paramount necessity of teaching the Negro to work, and to work steadily and skillfully; or seem to depreciate in the slightest degree the important part industrial schools must play in the accomplishment of these ends…”

What, also, has to be understood – even beyond the political, social and economic exclusion and violence directed at black Americans – is that the educational aspect is deeper than just a matter of disagreement on approach. As can be drawn from Dr. Morehouse, and as was reiterated by Du Bois in his works, a leadership class, a specific leader, in addition to a mass movement has always played a significant role in social change and influence.

There are different, often ignored angles, from which to understand this. Historically, those recognized as the greatest thinkers of all time, along with the greatest influences of society obtained high levels intellectually. Before the university systems were even the standard, back to ancient times, from the pharaohs, priests, and scholars to leaders today. With regard to dominant, white society, from CEOs to U.S. presidents, there is no shortage of graduates from (and non-graduates who nonetheless attended) traditional, often Ivy League, colleges and universities. From Harvard (Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama) to Yale (Clintons and Bushs). There, even at the time of Washington and Du Bois, was notable leadership from major universities, including prominent, black institutions. As noted by Du Bois, this was a necessity, particularly for educational instruction in these universities. As Du Bois points out in relation to Tuskegee, even Washington was looking to these individuals, as he offered, on multiple occasions, a position to Du Bois:

“…he has as helpers the son of a Negro senator, trained in Greek and the humanities, and graduated at Harvard; the son of a Negro congressman and lawyer, trained in Latin and mathematics, and graduated at Oberlin; he has as his wife, a woman who read Virgil and Homer in the same class room with me; he has as college chaplain, a classical graduate of Atlanta University; as teacher of science, a graduate of Fisk; as teacher of history, a graduate of Smith,––indeed some thirty of his chief teachers are college graduates, and instead of studying French grammars in the midst of weeds, or buying pianos for dirty cabins, they are at Mr. Washington’s right hand helping him in a noble work. And yet one of the effects of Mr. Washington’s propaganda has been to throw doubt upon the expediency of such training for Negroes, as these persons have had.”

In addition, despite the take that these notions by Du Bois and others stem from some sort of elitism, there is a complete adherence, even by the black community, in the support of specific leaders and/or their ideas. This is regardless even of their intentions, their educational attainment or the level they have reached intellectually, based on perceived stature, as well as the nature and delivery of their ideas. We see this over the years with individuals like Dr. King, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, Farrakhan, Obama, Tupac, from politicians to activists and even, at times, celebrities and personalities. This is an inherent element of identification within the human psyche that is often exploited to the interests of those that can introduce themselves or other individuals to be worshiped as idols or speakers of truth, either for economic gain or social control over the ideas pervasive within any organized opposition movement.

Within that same realm is the angle from which this historical situation needs to be viewed. Given the change from old methods of educational prevention in the form outright, violent punishment during the times of American Slavery – where an individual could be beaten or otherwise punished for teaching and/or learning to read or write – and in reaction to the hunger for education exemplified by the founding of black universities and colleges, as well as the publically funded systems of education in the South that were introduced by black Americans during Reconstruction, there stands new attempts to both discourage and misdirect educational experience. These are often dynamic and varying in both method and complexity. This can take the form of encouraging the study and identification with a particular pathway in education, along with the shaming and forcing a rejection and dismissive aversion toward other ideas and individuals; or, it can take the form of encouraging general anti-intellectualism. Today, for example, we see the rise of S.T.E.M. related fields and job opportunities playing this function in overall society, deterring classic, liberal arts educations and emphasis on philosophy, which establishes the tools for thinking and contains in the writings a historical emphasis on challenging society.

Now a key factor is understanding the power of playing both sides in cases of educational experience and pathways. For example, there is not only the discouraging, e.g., of black Amerian history, African history, etc., but there can also be the encouragement of a type of history as an indirect discouraging of another. As an example, there can be co-opting of the promotion of black thought and history that can have the intentional effect influencing an ignoring the foundational knowledge attributable to a “Western canon”, which has traditionally been myths, plays, and epic poems (other “classics”), in addition to religious text, Latin and Greek language and the philosophical works. Or, as another example, the encouragement of African history toward the ignoring of U.S. history. I felt this was worth noting, the educational agenda of this site is dedicated to connecting black history within an understanding of that traditional education and “Western”, philosophical roots. I put “Western” as such in quotes because philosophy, math, and science, being about truth, have no supremacy or racism outside of that placed by the intentions of an individual. The ideas traveling from Egypt to Greece makes no difference with regard to them either being correct or false.

Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others

The next element to cover is the issue of accommodation, in relation to the violent threats and exclusion of blacks from social, economic and political rights, and life, within the United States. The issue of educational training, as well as the issue of accommodation in relation to civil rights, is often highlighted. Often overlooked are the attacks against the rights of black Americans, together with the violent circumstances and what stood as almost an opposition to any active calls and social pressure regarding those circumstances.

In addition to the approach to fighting for rights – and something that will transition into the discussion of the “Tuskegee Machine” – there was also an issue of the establishment of leadership and opposition. Specifically, this involved the feeling of efforts aimed toward the silencing of those who were against the ideas of Booker T. Washington; and with him standing as a leader in favor of elements of the white community, as opposed to a movement and leadership that is by and for the black community. This was something covered in depth by W.E.B. Du Bois, so the following will contain more quotes from him than me simply re-iterating the facts.

Perhaps most notably, the issues were covered by Du Bois in Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others. It started as follows:

“It began at the time when war memories and ideals were rapidly passing; a day of astonishing commercial development was dawning; … Mr. Washington came, with a simple definite programme, at the psychological moment when the nation was a little ashamed of having bestowed so much sentiment on Negroes, and was concentrating its energies on Dollars. His programme of industrial education, conciliation of the South, and submission and silence as to civil and political rights, was not wholly original… But Mr. Washington first indissolubly linked these things; he put enthusiasm, unlimited energy, and perfect faith into this programme, and changed it from a by-path into a veritable Way of Life.”

He goes on to summarize the speech and response as follows:

“‘In all things purely social we can be as separate as the five fingers, and yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.’This ‘Atlanta Compromise’ is by all odds themost notable thing in Mr. Washington’s career. The South interpreted it in different ways: the radicals received it as a complete surrender of the demand for civil and political equality; the conservatives, as a generously conceived working basis for mutual understanding. So both approved it, and to-day its author is certainly the most distinguished Southerner since Jefferson Davis, and the one with the largest personal following.

Among his own people, however, Mr. Washington has encountered the strongest and most lasting opposition, amounting at times to bitterness, and even to-day continuing strong and insistent even though largely silenced in outward expression by the public opinion of the nation. Some of this opposition is, of course, mere envy; the disappointment of displaced demagogues and the spite of narrow minds. But aside from this, there is among educated and thoughtful colored men in all parts of the land a feeling of deep regret, sorrow, and apprehension at the wide currency and ascendancy which some of Mr. Washington’s theories have gained.

Mr. Washington represents in Negro thought the old attitude of adjustment and submission; but adjustment at such a peculiar time as to make his programme unique. This is an age of unusual economic development, and Mr. Washington’s programme naturally takes an economic cast, becoming a gospel of Work and Money to such an extent as apparently almost completely to overshadow the higher aims of life”

Du Bois goes on to frame the issue:

“Mr. Washington distinctly asks that black people give up, at least for the present, three things,––

First, political power,
Second, insistence on civil rights,
Third, higher education of Negro youth,––

and concentrate all their energies on industrial education, the accumulation of wealth, and the conciliation of the South. This policy has been courageously and insistently advocated for over fifteen years, and has been triumphant for perhaps ten years. As a result of this tender of the palm-branch, what has been the return? In these years there have occurred:

1. The disfranchisement of the Negro.
2. The legal creation of a distinct status of civil inferiority for the Negro.
3. The steady withdrawal of aid from institutions for the higher training of the Negro.

These movements are not, to be sure, direct results of Mr. Washington’s teachings; but his propaganda has, without a shadow of doubt, helped their speedier accomplishment. The question then comes: Is it possible, and probable, that nine millions of men can make effective progress in economic lines if they are deprived of political rights, made a servile caste, and allowed only the most meagre chance for developing their exceptional men? If history and reason give any distinct answer to these questions, it is an emphatic No. And Mr. Washington thus faces the triple paradox of his career:

1. He is striving nobly to make Negro artisans business men and property-owners; but it is utterly impossible, under modern competitive methods, for workingmen and property-owners to defend their rights and exist without the right of suffrage.
2. He insists on thrift and self-respect, but at the same time coun- sels a silent submission to civic inferiority such as is bound to sap the manhood of any race in the long run.
3. He advocates common-school and industrial training, and depreciates institutions of higher learning; but neither the Negro common-schools, nor Tuskegee itself, could remain open a day were it not for teachers trained in Negro colleges, or trained by their graduates.”

Du Bois also expresses the feeling of a silenced opposition and the installing and maintaining of Washington as an installed leader over the black community:

Du Bois goes on to provide an overview of previous, black leaders and their connection with the sentiments of the people. He explains the early revolts including Cato of Stono; those like Attucks and Banneker during Revolutionary times; the post-Revolution revolts of Gabriel, Vesey, and Nat Turner; the religious leaders, appeal of Walker and abolitionists up to Fredrick Douglass; he also mentions Price as a new leader that died contemporary with the rise of Booker T. Washington. With regard to the rise of Washington and the nature of his leadership in comparison to previous leaders, he says the following:

“Then came the new leader. Nearly all the former ones had become leaders by the silent suffrage of their fellows, had sought to lead their own people alone, and were usually, save Douglass, little known outside their race. But Booker T. Washington arose as essentially the leader not of one race but of two,––a compromiser between the South, the North, and the Negro. Naturally the Negroes resented, at first bitterly, signs of compromise which surrendered their civil and political rights, even though this was to be exchanged for larger chances of economic development. The rich and dominating North, however, was not only weary of the race problem, but was investing largely in Southern enterprises, and welcomed any method of peaceful coöperation. Thus, by national opinion, the Negroes began to recognize Mr. Washington’s leadership; and the voice of criticism was hushed.”

He concludes by giving credit to Washington insofar as he has done right in fighting against injustice while summarizing his faults:

“Notwithstanding this, it is equally true to assert that on the whole the distinct impression left by Mr. Washington’s propaganda is, first, that the South is justi- fied in its present attitude toward the Negro because of the Negro’s degradation; secondly, that the prime cause of the Negro’s failure to rise more quickly is his wrong education in the past; and, thirdly, that his future rise depends primarily on his own efforts. Each of these propositions is a dangerous half-truth. The supplementary truths must never be lost sight of: first, slavery and race-prejudice are potent if not sufficient causes of the Negro’s position; second, industrial and common-school training were necessarily slow in planting because they had to await the black teachers trained by higher institutions,––it being extremely doubtful if any essentially different development was possible, and certainly a Tuskegee was unthinkable before 1880; and, third, while it is a great truth to say that the Negro must strive and strive mightily to help himself, it is equally true that unless his striving be not simply seconded, but rather aroused and encouraged, by the initiative of the richer and wiser environing group, he cannot hope for great success.

The black men of America have a duty to perform, a duty stern and delicate,––a forward movement to oppose a part of the work of their greatest leader. So far as Mr. Washington preaches Thrift, Patience, and Industrial Training for the masses, we must hold up his hands and strive with him, rejoicing in his honors and glorying in the strength of this Joshua called of God and of man to lead the headless host. But so far as Mr. Washington apologizes for injustice, North or South, does not rightly value the privilege and duty of voting, belittles the emasculating effects of caste distinctions, and opposes the higher training and ambition of our brighter minds,––so far as he, the South, or the Nation, does this,––we must unceasingly and firmly oppose them. By every civilized and peaceful method we must strive for the rights which the world accords to men, clinging unwaveringly to those great words which the sons of the Fathers would fain forget: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'”

Against the “Tuskegee Machine” and Founding of the Niagara Movement and N.A.A.C.P.

As with the above, this is something upon which Du Bois went into significant detail in Dusk of Dawn. He starts as follows:

“But beyond this difference of ideal lay another and more bitter and insistent controversy. This started with the rise at Tuskegee Institute, and centering around Booker T. Washington, of what I may call the Tuskegee Machine. Of its existence and work, little has ever been said and almost nothing written. The years from 1899 to 1905 marked the culmination of the career of Booker T. Washington. In 1899 Mr. Washington, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and myself spoke on the same platform at the Hollis Street Theatre, Boston, before a distinguished audience. Mr. Washington was not at his best and friends immediately raised a fund which sent him to Europe for a three months’ rest. He was received with extraordinary honors: he had tea with the aged Queen Victoria, but two years before her death; he was entertained by two dukes and other members of the aristocracy; he met James Bryce and Henry M. Stanley; he was received at the Peace Conference at The Hague and was greeted by many distinguished Americans, like ex-President Harrison, Archbishop Ireland and two justices of the Supreme Court. Only a few years before he had received an honorary degree from Harvard; in 1901, he received a LL.D. from Dartmouth and that same year he dined with President Roosevelt to the consternation of the white South.

Returning to America he became during the administrations of Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft, from 1901 to 1912, the political referee in all Federal appointments or action taken with reference to the Negro and in many regarding the white South. In 1903 Andrew Carnegie made the future of Tuskegee certain by a gift of $600,000. There was no question of Booker T. Washington’s undisputed leadership of the ten million Negroes in America, a leadership recognized gladly by the whites and conceded by most of the Negroes.

But there were discrepancies and paradoxes in this leadership. It did not seem fair, for instance, that on the one hand Mr. Washington should decry political activities among Negroes, and on the other hand dictate Negro political objectives from Tuskegee.”

He then continues…

“All this naturally aroused increasing opposition among Negroes and especially among the younger classes of educated Negroes, who were beginning to emerge here and there, especially from Northern institutions. This opposition began to become vocal in 1901 when two men, Monroe Trotter, Harvard 1895, and George Forbes, Amherst 1895, began the publication of the Boston Guardian. The Guardian was bitter, satirical, and personal; but it was well-edited, it was earnest, and it published facts. It attracted wide attention among colored people; it circulated among them all over the country; it was quoted and discussed. I did not wholly agree with the Guardian, and indeed only a few Negroes did, but nearly all read it and were influenced by it.

This beginning of organized opposition, together with other events, led to the growth at Tuskegee of what I have called the Tuskegee Machine. It arose first quite naturally. Not only did presidents of the United States consult Booker Washington, but governors and congressmen; philanthropists conferred with him, scholars wrote to him. Tuskegee became a vast information bureau and center of advice. It was not merely passive in these matters but, guided by a young unobtrusive minor official who was also intelligent, suave and far-seeing, active efforts were made to concentrate influence at Tuskegee. After a time almost no Negro institution could collect funds without the recommendation or acquiescence of Mr. Washington. Few political appointments were made anywhere in the United States without his consent. Even the careers of rising young colored men were very often determined by his advice and certainly his opposition was fatal. How much Mr. Washington knew of this work of the Tuskegee Machine and was directly responsible, one cannot say, but of its general activity and scope he must have been aware.

Moreover, it must not be forgotten that this Tuskegee Machine was not solely the idea and activity of black folk at Tuskegee. It was largely encouraged and given financial aid through certain white groups and individuals in the North. This Northern group had clear objectives. They were capitalists and employers and yet in most cases sons, relatives, or friends of the abolitionists who had sent teachers into the new Negro South after the war. These younger men believed that the Negro problem could not remain a matter of philanthropy. It must be a matter of business. These Negroes were not to be encouraged as voters in the new democracy, nor were they to be left at the mercy of the reactionary South. They were good laborers and they might be better. They could become a strong labor force and properly guided they would restrain the unbridled demands of white labor, born of the Northern labor unions and now spreading to the South.

One danger must be avoided and that was to allow the silly idealism of Negroes, half-trained in Southern missionary ‘colleges,’ to mislead the mass of laborers and keep them stirred-up by ambitions incapable of realization. To this school of thought, the philosophy of Booker Washington came as a godsend and it proposed by building up his prestige and power to control the Negro group. The control was to be drastic. The Negro intelligentsia was to be suppressed and hammered into conformity. The process involved some cruelty and disappointment, but that was inevitable. This was the real force back of the Tuskegee Machine. It had money and it had opportunity, and it found in Tuskegee tools to do its bidding.”

Du Bois goes on to explain in even more detail the connections and power built around Tuskegee, its relationship with white capitalists and the influence over the black community. He starts with the story of Will Benson, an individual with the goal of setting up a black town and an independent economic unit in the South, explaining that he “died of overwork, worry and a broken heart” in an effort to gain support, which he was unable to receive with no help or acknowledgment from Mr. Washington. He mentions others having their opinions totally silenced with the remark of ideas not agreeing with Mr. Washington. He speaks on the “‘ghost writers”‘ that were accumulated at Tuskegee along with the buying out of black newspapers within an overall trend of silencing opposing opinions. He discusses the “considerable pressure” for him to give up his work and go to Tuskegee (the nature of his 1902 offer). He goes into how he started having increased difficulty in gaining funds at Atlanta University.

All the events are what culminated in a 1905 incident of a heckling of Booker T. Washington and ensuing riot after which William Monroe Trotter was jailed. Specifically for Du Bois, this sparked the initial inspiration to start what eventually became the Niagara Movement and the N.A.A.C.P. He put out a call to action in June for what became a July meeting. In January of 1906, the Niagara Movement was incorporated in D.C. A few years later, following the Springfield Riots in August of 1908, a movement was put together that would eventually become the N.A.A.C.P. After the 1909 conference that saw the N.A.A.C.P.’s formation, the Niagara Movement, at the time having issues, effectively merged. Trotter, who was a member of the Niagara Movement did not join the N.A.A.C.P.

The issues caused by the surrounding circumstances of what was the Tuskegee Machine, along with political-economic position of black Americans – in the difficulty that the situation brings in organizing and raising funds – led to the more liberal and white N.A.A.C.P. being a more viable organization, in comparison to a more radical black liberation movement. This is partially a dynamic responsible for seeing individuals like Trotter, potentially others like Ida B. Well-Barnett as well, having their objections and being left out of the organization; however, more importantly, the overall dynamic caused the issue of a right-ward shift that kept more radical minds like Trotter and Wells from having more influence in the opposite direction. It would also set the stage for the subsequent objection to the N.A.A.C.P. and their agenda that would influence the rise in popularity of Garvey and the U.N.I.A., in addition to Du Bois and his own contention with the N.A.A.C.P.

The essence of the period and situation discussed above is perfectly concluded by Du Bois in his chapter on this issue in Dusk of Dawn:

“One may consider these personal equations and this clash of ideologies as biographical or sociological; as a matter of the actions and thoughts of certain men, or as a development of larger social forces beyond personal control. I suppose the latter aspect is the truer. My thoughts, the thoughts of Washington, Trotter and others, were the expression of social forces more than of our own minds. These forces or ideologies embraced more than our reasoned acts. They included physical, biological and psychological forces; habits, conventions and enactments. Opposed to these came natural reaction: the physical recoil of the victims, the unconscious and irrational urges, as well as reasoned complaints and acts. The total result was the history of our day. That history may be epitomized in one word-Empire; the domination of white Europe over black Africa and yellow Asia, through political power built on the economic control of labor, income and ideas. The echo of this industrial imperialism in America was the expulsion of black men from American democracy, their subjection to caste control and wage slavery. This ideology was triumphant in 1910.”


In conclusion to this part, I will say that, with the narrative of separation vs. integration, the situation between Du Bois and Washington is sometimes (maybe not very often) seen as an issue of that. However, within the overall historical context, Booker T. Washington is almost a starting point in a trend that develops in strategy by capital (or white supremacy) in the protection of elite interests and pushing of individuals and ideas that are either in complete alignment with their ideals and practical concerns or not as vehemently opposed as a more radical agenda. And, that is the point I laid down with emphasis in the introduction.

The ideological and social control contained, also going along with this trend, is a political-economic aspect and fitting of black Americans within the social relation of American capital, as Du Bois references. To myself summarize, the pushing of Washington represents the following tactics, which were discussed above:

1. The utilization of economic control with regard to the regulating of thoughts, ideas, institutions, opposition, and opportunities.

2. The justification and cover for injustices being committed in the violation of civil and political rights.

3. The development of an educational structure that functioned to produce obedient workers that fit into the existing capitalist power relation, while discouraging thought that could produce the questioning of that social relationships and the challenging of power.

4. Connecting these elements by installing a leader to push and perpetuate these ideas in their relation and serving as an authority for the justification of actions.

All of these tactics are present today.

Part 3 is available: here.

Austin Mayle

Austin Mayle

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