The relationships between African American and European American citizens of the United States were very bitter at the crossroads of the 19th and 20th centuries due to constant discrimination. The plight of African Americans in their desperate search for equality was dire at the given point in time, causing them to put all of their efforts into a struggle for equal treatment (“19th Century Turning Points in U.S. History: Episode 8. 1882-1900”). However, the form that the demand for equity took varied depending on the perspective used in the argument. The two sides of the discussion were represented vividly by Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois in their speeches. While Washington insisted that the social status quo should not be changed immediately but, instead, altered as the African American community increased its economy, Du Bois claimed that the change should be made with a robust political action and education. Although Washington’s ideas were rather beneficial to the African American community in the long term, Du Bois’s approach gave the African American liberation movement its momentum, which made it possible for the actual improvement to take place.
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The introduction of the ideas associated with the economic growth was crucial to the well-being of African Americans, which was why Washington’s claims were reasonable and important to follow for the participants of the movement. As Washington put it, “Our great danger is that we may overlook the fact that […] the masses of us are to live by the production of our hands” (Foner 674). Thus, Washington’s approach toward the management of social inequality was rooted in practical concerns. As a result, its steady pace could have seemed ineffective, yet the long-term outcomes promised to be positive for African Americans economically.
Du Bois’s focus on education and the enhancement of literacy was also worth taking into consideration, yet his position on the immediate attack on the phenomenon of racial discrimination could have failed due to the lack of preparedness among the members of the African American community. According to Du Bois, “Mr. Washington distinctly asks that black people give up,” which did not seem accurate and was a call to subverting the statement of his political opponent rather than advocating for the needs of citizens (Foner 675). The emphasis on literacy and the increase in education rates was also an important aspect of Du Bois’s argument, which added legitimacy to it. However, the rapid-fire nature of the changes that Du Bois proposed may have jeopardized the efficiency of the movement.
At the same time, the presence of two polarizing opinions may have hampered the promotion of equality in the early years of American social development. With Du Bois representing a more radical position and Washington encouraging the traditional method of fighting oppression, the two speeches could have introduced confusion into the minds of African Americans and their supporters (“The Rise of Jim Crow in an Age of American Empire” 2). In the situation observed in American society in the late 1890s, the focus on a non-violent and composed attitude toward the needs of the African American population may have been seen as lacking the passion needed to support the oppressed population in its struggle against discrimination. Washington, in turn, introduced a balanced approach toward the management of racial issues and the concepts on which the movement for equality should focus. Still, the movement may not have been as successful if two opposing viewpoints on the subject matter had not been suggested.
Though the contribution of both Washington and Du Bois was instrumental to the development of the African American liberation movement, the ideas that Du Bois promoted seem to be more coherent and, therefore, more important for the promotion of social and racial equality. The two opinions shaped the movement and added a multifaceted approach to it, imbuing the struggle of African Americans with new objectives and contributing to its success.
“19th Century Turning Points in U.S. History: Episode 8. 1882-1900.” JP.NJVid.net, n.d., Web.
Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty! 3rd ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.
“The Rise of Jim Crow in an Age of American Empire.” 2019. Microsoft Word file.