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As the 19th century gave way to the 20th, Black Americans were searching for ways to think about how and where they would fit into a post-slavery society. There were several competing schools of thought. Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois were essential to some of the most prominent ideas in this arena.

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Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery (1901; New York: Signet Classics, 2010).
W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903; New York: Dover, 1994).
David Levering Lewis, W. E. B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919 (New York: Henry Holt, 1994).
Henry Louis Gates Jr., “W. E. B. Du Bois and ‘The Talented Tenth,’” in The Future of the Race, eds. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Cornel West (New York: Vintage Books, 1997), 115-132.
W. E. B. Du Bois, “The Talented Tenth,” in The Negro Problem, ed. Booker T. Washington (New York: James Pott & Company, 1903).

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Hi, I'm Clint Smith, and this is Crash Course Black American History.

Today's lesson is steeped in philosophy. Now before you get too stressed out because philosophy seems overly complex and abstract, you should remind yourself that we actually wrestle with philosophical questions every day.

Like why did the chicken cross the road? Or, what came first, the chicken or the egg!? Or, if you’re my toddler, if I eat a lot of chicken, will I turn into a chicken??

We've also seen great leaders throughout history challenge one another based on the philosophies they live by, like Thomas Jefferson vs Alexander Hamilton, or even that short-lived spat between. Captain America and Iron Man. In this episode, we'll unpack the competing philosophies of Booker T.

Washington and W. E. B Du Bois, two great political leaders in the late 19th and early 20th centuries - a time when many Black Americans were still trying to figure out the best way to be a part of this country.

INTRO In this scenario, Booker T. Washington, Civil Rights Activist, philosopher, and writer, is the proverbial chicken that came before. Du Bois' egg.

Or the egg…before… the chicken... you know what I mean! Anyway, Washington was born in Franklin County, Virginia, in 1856 to an enslaved woman. His father, from what we know, was a white man who he didn’t know.

In 1865, after emancipation, Washington’s family relocated to West Virginia when he was nine years old and where he worked in the mines as a child. Washington also attended local schools and colleges, including Hampton Institute in Hampton,. Virginia, before going on to Wayland Seminary in Washington, D.

C. Washington’s philosophy was centered on the idea of self-sufficiency. He emphasized Black economic freedom and argued that Black Americans would gain acceptance and economic stability in society through their skills and labor.

He famously advocated for this approach in the 1895 Atlanta Compromise Speech in which. Washington pushed for Black uplift through "self-improvement" and attempting to "dignify and glorify common labor" as opposed to attempting to directly challenge and fight back against. Jim Crow segregation.

People tend to give Washington a hard time about this, and in some ways that’s understandable, but we should remember the larger context of this moment. This was a period of time when Black lynchings were peaking throughout the South. Many Black folks were scared, and as the most prominent Black leader, Washington was trying to reassure the larger white community that if they just let Black people be: farm their land, work their jobs, and get a basic education, they wouldn’t push back against the larger.

Jim Crow system. But, just because he championed gaining acceptance from whites through industriousness and labor, that didn't mean he was necessarily keen on the idea of Black people integrating into the larger white community. Again, he was thinking of Black economic stability, but also safety from racial violence.

In the Atlanta compromise speech he said, "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." He was basically saying, you all do your thing, we’ll do our thing. And everything will be okay. Cool?

Washington later wrote in his essay “Industrial Education for the Negro”: "For years to come the education of the people of my race should be so directed that the greatest proportion of the mental strength of the masses will be brought to bear upon the everyday practical things of life, upon something that is needed to be done, and something which they will be permitted to do in the community in which they reside." Washington published his seminal work Up From Slavery in 1901. In this book, he urged Black people in the south to obey segregation laws and to show deference to white authorities to keep the peace. And while Washington's philosophies gained a pretty substantial following, those ideas weren’t enough for the people who wanted to see more immediate change.

In fact, other Black leaders of the time felt his approach was way too submissive. They believed that a stronger, more direct approach was necessary in order for Black people to achieve true equality and civil rights. The most outspoken critic of Washington's work would be the sociologist and civil rights leader W.

E. B. Du Bois.

When we look at Du Bois' background, it becomes more clear how he had a difficult time relating to what Washington was advocating for. Born in 1868, three years after the Civil War, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, Du. Bois didn’t have the same direct experience with slavery that Washington did.

We should name it directly, Washington was born into slavery and Du Bois was not. And these two realities played a large role in shaping how each of them would imagine the best way for Black people to achieve upward mobility. Du Bois’s mother was a domestic laborer, and his father was a barber who left the family when Du Bois was very young.

Like Washington, Du Bois excelled in his studies and had aspirations of attaining higher education. Members of his community and several churches raised money for his college tuition, which helped him actualize his goals. He attended the historically Black Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he got his first bachelor's, and then Harvard University, where he got his second bachelors, and then later his Ph.

D.; he became the first Black person to receive a doctorate in the history of Harvard. (This is also where I got my PhD a few years ago, and I remember standing in front of the home where Du Bois used to live, and thinking about how he paved the way for folks like me to be able to attend a place like this.) Du Bois, who also spent time in graduate school studying under the tutelage of world renowned social scientists in Berlin, wanted to use his scholarship to study how Black people lived in America, and illuminate the realities that they were subjected to. In fact, his 1899 work The Philadelphia Negro remains one of the most significant studies of sociology, and many scholars think of him as one of the founding fathers of the discipline. But that was far from Du Bois’ only scholarly contribution.

Perhaps his most widely known idea came from his 1903 book, The Souls of Black Folk. And that idea is known as “double consciousness.” He describes the mechanism as a veil, stating: "The Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, — a world which yields him no self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.

One feels his two-ness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder." In short, double consciousness captures the cognitive dissonance of being Black in America. You’re American. And you’re Black.

And you live in a country where there are always people and systems reminding you, in ways large and small, that those two identities are incompatible. And as important as Du Bois’s work has been, some of it did fall short of being inclusive of all Black people. Du Bois, for example, proposed this idea of "The Talented Tenth," which he outlined in a piece that he contributed to a 1903 book entitled, The Negro Problem – a collection of essays, ironically, in which Washington’s “Industrial Education for the Negro” also appeared.

Du Bois emphasized the necessity for higher education in the humanities to develop the leadership capacity among the most capable 10 percent of Black men. He wrote: “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.” Du Bois believed that Black people would be led and uplifted by the most talented, and classically trained men of the race.

This framework though, was...questionable. First off, Du Bois was only referring to men. Secondly, he had this idea that being college-educated and “classically trained” was the best way for Black people to reach their full potential, and that’s just a narrow, and pretty misguided way to think about Black mobility.

Based on this belief, he established a group of Black elites called the Niagara Movement in 1905. Additionally, he was also among other prominent political leaders who founded the National. Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.

And while the NAACP remains an important organization in America today, people largely reject the idea that only the elite, in any community, can make change. And to his credit, later in his life, Du Bois would attempt to clarify and kind of walk back some of this original framing, in order to think more inclusively about what Black upward mobility could look like. The truth is, both of these men, for all the flaws that we might now look back at and see in their respective frameworks, were attempting to do the best they could on behalf of communities they loved and cared about.

And it’s worth noting that it’s not like Washington didn’t care about civil rights, it’s just that the sort of agitation that Du Bois advocated for, demanding immediate social and political change, had different risk implications in the South. Washington feared that any sort of confrontation between Black and white people would end in disaster for Black people and that some semblance of cooperation with white America was how. Black people could stave off racial violence.

What some don’t know however, and what scholars have recently brought to light, is that secretly. Washington funded and supported civil rights cases that attempted to give Black people the right to vote. Still, the competing visions of Washington and Du Bois help make clear that Black thinking,.

Black politics, Black philosophy, and Black conceptions of how to make progress in America are not, and have never been, monolithic. Black life in America is made better with Black folks of all different sensibilities advocating for a more just society. Both Washington and Du Bois’ contributions, laid the groundwork for many of the Black leaders who would come after them, leaders who would learn from both the positive, and not so positive aspects of each of the men’s work.

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