The Harlem Renaissance and the Struggle for a Black Identity Essay

October 14, 2020 by Essay Writer

The failure of Reconstruction and the implementation of the racial segregation threw the Afro-Americans into a difficult dilemma. The majority of them lived in the Southern States and they faced open hostility and even violence. There were strong doubts that attempts of the Afro-Americans to assert their civil rights would be successful. Booker Washington was a prominent figure of the Post-Reconstruction Era and the leader of the Afro-American community. He was an adherent of the economic development of the Black American population. Another outstanding representative of the African-American civil rights movement was William DuBois who insisted on an uncompromising struggle for electoral and civil rights, which were codified in the Constitution and its Amendments.

Booker T. Washington was born in slavery. At the age of nine, his family gained freedom due to the Emancipation Proclamation. Later on, he entered the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia and succeeded in studying here. He worked as a teacher at the same institute when he was proposed to head a new specialized educational establishment for the Afro-Americans in Alabama.

According to Washington’s opinion, the main factors of a wellbeing of the Afro-Americans are skills in craft and economic independence. As a basis of an educational program in the Tuskegee Institute headed by him, he saw the industrial training. Men learned such trades as blacksmithing or carpentry, while women were taught sewing or nursing. The Tuskegee Institute prepared teachers for Afro-American schools for the Southern states. Such an approach permitted to train skilled specialists and reliable taxpayers. At the same time, there was no need for the government to deal directly with the problem of the civil rights. This educational establishment had a very good reputation.

In his famous speech, which is also known as Atlanta Compromise, Washington states that the greatest dander “is that in the great leap from slavery to freedom we may overlook the fact that the masses of us are to live by the productions of our hands” (Washington 112).

It is no wonder that the representatives of the White population were satisfied with the idea that Afro-Americans would acquire knowledge in the spheres of real property and industrial arts and they would not engage in politics. In addition, the so-called laws of Jim Crow, according to which there were segregated community schools, rail wagons and public libraries, were preserved. In his speech, Washington states, “the opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera–house” (Washington 114).

At the same time the careful examination of the Washingtons speech suggests that he is not about to bear with the permanent racial inequality. Instead, he proposes for Afro-Americans to cumulate social capital. The fact that workspaces are more important than a right to visit opera is a temporary measure for him. He believes in the future success of the Afro-Americans. However, in order to attain this success it is necessary to achieve the economic independence. As Washington puts it, “no race that has anything to contribute to the markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized” (Washington 114).

For many years, Washington was the prominent Afro-American leader in the country, though more and more Black people began to reject his views. The problem was that the Southern states were poorer in comparison with the Northern ones. The opportunities of the southerners were not as high as Washington hoped. His appeals for the slow development were unacceptable for those Afro-Americans who did not want to adjourn their demands for equal rights (Bauerlein 107).

Many black people preferred the views of the prominent historian and social scientist William DuBois. DuBois graduated from Harvard and he was a professor in Atlanta University. It was a specialized educational establishment training Afro-American teachers, librarians and other specialists. Dubois was the author of many scientific researches revealing the life of Black people in America. He was convinced that social sciences were a powerful method of struggle with the race discrimination.

However, in the Southern states there existed the official segregation often realized by means of the Lynch Law. The cases of violence became more frequent and DuBois came to conclusion that the only possible way to protect the civil rights of the Afro-Americans was a direct political agitation and protest. This position led to the confrontation with Washington, who was trying to establish the political connections with the Republicans. Washington considered the economic development of the Afro-Americans to be the most important factor.

Describing his contradictions with Washington, DuBois states that “his doctrine has tended to make the whites, North and South, shift the burden of the Negro problem to the Negro’s shoulders and stand aside as critical and rather pessimistic spectators” (Dubois 33).

DuBois was not agree with Washington s views concerning the prevailing importance of the industrial arts acquisition. He stated that only the most prominent representatives of the Afro-American nation would be able to change the situation. He was convinced that it was necessary to give Afro-Americans good education and not only those practical craft skills proposed by The Tuskegee Institute.

He says that “Mr. Washington’s program practically accepts the alleged inferiority of the Negro races” (Dubois 29). Criticizing Washington, DuBois states that there is a great danger in teaching people just how to earn money without additional disciplines. In such a way, they just bring up craftsmen, but not people. It is necessary to promote the development of such qualities as intelligence and world knowledge. On this basis, it is possible to teach the ability to earn for living.

In spite of the differences in their approaches both these political figures were eager to improve the living conditions of the Afro-Americans and to assert their civil rights. Nevertheless, their views varied greatly. It seems to me that Washington has had a pragmatic view of life. He realized that in spite of the recent Civil War and the Amendments to the Constitution, the existing prejudices in society concerning the race discrimination were too strong. He was convinced that several generations should change in order to make this race gap weaker.

As a basis for the further struggle, he saw the financial and economic independence of the Afro-Americans. DuBois, on the contrary, believed that only decisive actions were able to change the situation. He was one of the establishers of the organization defending the rights of the Afro-Americans known as the Niagara Movement. He was also one of the originators of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. It is rather difficult to judge the rightness of these two approaches, though it must be admitted that DuBoiss methods have been more effective.

Works Cited

Bauerlein, Mark. “Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois: The Origins of a Bitter Intellectual Battle.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. 46(2005):106- 114. The JBHE Foundation. Web.

Dubois, Williams, The Souls of the Black Folk. 1903. Web.

Washington, Booker, Up from slavery. 1901. Web.

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