To understand what lead to the social state of the African American race during the early 20th century, one must understand the history of disenfranchisement that is rooted in the political, social and economic systems that African Americans had to formulate strategies and organize institutions to enable them to prosper in a hostile society (Hine, 403).
The fight was not only with those who desire to keep African Americans oppressed, but also with African American leaders with opposing philosophy of how to protect and secure the constitutional rights and comforts that whites took for granted. Two historic African American leaders that had different ideas of how to advance race relations were W.E.B Dubois and Booker T. Washington (Hine, 403).
Booker T. Washington was one of the most influential African American figure that started the Tuskegee Institute and who also believed that taking an aggressive stance against white oppression was not the ideal path towards equality. He believed that vocational training and being quietly virtuous towards disenfranchisement and social segregation in exchange for black progress in education, agriculture and economics acceptance was a better way towards social and political acceptance (Hine, 405). Hine explained that Washington convinced Southerners that cooperation between the races in the interest of prosperity did not endanger segregation and that his school had education that would keep blacks “down on the farm”.
Washington solicited the goodwill of powerful white leaders and was comfortable with a gradual approach to eradicating white supremacy (Hine, 407). Unfortunately, his approach was not well received by other African American scholars and leaders such as W.E.B DuBois.
W.E.B Dubois was another influential African American figure that was one of the founders of the National Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and believed in taking a more aggressive stance against oppression in the form of intellectual growth and legal action to advance equal rights. Dubois was determined to confront Jim Crow, and lynching, and was impatient with white people who accepted or ignored white domination. He had little tolerance for black people who were unwilling to demand their civil and political rights (Hines, 407). He disagreed with Washington’s opinion and believed it was a conciliatory approach, however he regarded him as one of the first true intellects who made the attempt to help in the efforts for African American equal rights. Dubois insists that the way for a people to achieve their rights is not by throwing them away, or belittling and ridiculing themselves, but they must recognize that voting is necessary, and education is important to the fight for equality (University of Virginia, 2009).
Washington’s had significant impact on the progression on black institutions and industrialized workers, however the road towards political, social and economic acceptance needed the approach advocated by Dubois. Several African Americans took advantage of educational opportunities and utilize for their fight against racial injustice in America. Civil Rights lawyers like Thurgood Marshall took on ground breaking cases that attack the systems of racial discrimination and won.
University of Virginia. 2009. “Booker T. Washington vs. W.E.B. Dubois”. American Studies. Retrieved on November 20, 2016. Retrieved from http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ug03/souls/washingtonvsdubois.html
Hine, Darlene C., William Hine, Stanley Harrold. The African-American Odyssey, Volume 2, 6th Edition. Pearson Learning Solutions, 08/2013.