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Lack of Unanimity Among Black Constituencies During the Progressive Era Essay

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Updated: Feb 25th, 2022

The Progressive Era brought to light many prominent black leaders who offered their visions of African Americans’ future in the U.S., the most notable among them were Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois. Their proposals concerned the approach to the existing limitations and regulations that hindered the way for black people to become proper citizens of the country. The existence of these dissimilar views on the racial progress gave black constituencies options to choose from but led to the lack of unanimity because people decided to adhere to different lines of thought.

Booker T. Washington was the most popular black intellectual of his time and the head of the Tuskegee Institute, which trained black people to receive practical, vocational skills. As mentioned in the presentation, Washington believed that for African Americans to become equal and free, they had to work hard, and, by gaining financial security, achieve civil rights, and end segregation. He reasoned that there was no need for black people to protest and explicitly demand to be granted political and social equality, this approach was later called “accommodation.” His moderate views on racial equality and the lack of condemnation of segregation made him a respected figure among the white elites, who perceived him as a mediator between the two races.

W. E. B. Du Bois was born free and graduated from the famous Fisk University, he opposed Washington’s belief in achieving economic security first and stressed that racial equality could be achieved only through agitation. His plan to bring African Americans their civil rights implied creating an elite group of black men, “The Talented Tenth,” who would promote the interests of black people. In his notable essay, “Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others,” he called Washington’s approach a submission and stated that his attitude led to the disenfranchisement of black people and widespread acceptance of their inferiority. Du Bois strongly believed that demanding equal rights was a primary task for every African American and that it was significantly more important than accumulating wealth.

The considerable difference in the aforementioned opinions constituted the main problem for the black voters who often were divided in their commitment to one of the two approaches. Moreover, Washington’s approach did not imply any active campaigning for civil rights, which, as rightfully noted by Du Bois, was conducive to the lack of interest of African Americans to participate in the political process. Du Bois’s vision was targeted mostly at a small group of educated black people, which consequently did not yield him much popularity among the general public. Adherence to different methods of attaining racial progress, accompanied by unfavorable conditions of discrimination and disenfranchisement, caused black constituencies to be unable to unite on one strategy and extended inequality into the future.

The status of African Americans during the Progressive era remained largely unchanged, Washington and Du Bois were the authors of the two most notable strategies to challenge the existing status quo. Washington argued that achieving racial equality had to be a gradual process and recommended black people to concentrate on accruing wealth and gaining economic security first. While Du Bois criticized Washington’s approach and proposed to demand civil rights immediately so that black people could become equal and proper citizens of the U.S. These two approaches were radically different in their nature and presented black constituencies with a difficult choice, which in turn led to the absence of one common idea that could be supported by the majority.

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IvyPanda. "Lack of Unanimity Among Black Constituencies During the Progressive Era." February 25, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/lack-of-unanimity-among-black-constituencies-during-the-progressive-era/.

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IvyPanda. 2022. "Lack of Unanimity Among Black Constituencies During the Progressive Era." February 25, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/lack-of-unanimity-among-black-constituencies-during-the-progressive-era/.

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