Invisable Man

– Black Leaders Essay, Research Paper

At the time that Ralph Ellison writes the novel The Invisible Man there were, as there are today, many ideas on how to improve the black mans status in a segregated nation. Marcus Garvey was a militant black nationalist leader who created a "Back to Africa" movement. On the other side was Booker T. Washington who preached for racial uplift through educational attainments and economic advancement. A man who strayed more on the middle path was W.E.B. Du Bois. He was less militant than Marcus Garvey but was more so than Booker T. Washington. Ellison uses characters from the novel to represent these men. Marcus Garvey is fictionalized as Ras the Exhorter. Booker T. Washington is given voice by the Reverend Barbee. W.E.B. Du Bois is never directly mentioned in the novel. However, the actions and thoughts of W.E.B. Du Bois are very similar to that of the narrator. While all three men were after the same dream they all went about making that dream reality in different ways. There are strengths and weakness that can be found in all three men?s philosophies.

The most militant and extreme of the three was Garvey. Marcus Garvey was born Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr. on August 17 1887, at Saint Ann?s Bay, Jamaica. He was the youngest of eleven children. His father, Malcus (Marcus) Mosiah Garvey, was a stonemason and his mother, Sarah Jane Richards, was a domestic servant and produce grower. He left school at the age of fourteen to serve as a printer?s apprentice. After completing his training he took a job with a printing company in Kingston. There he organized and led a strike for higher wages. He then traveled to Central and South America. He moved to London in 1912 and became interested in African history and culture. He returned to Jamaica two years later and founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and the African Communities League. The UNIA helped found the Black Muslim movement. In 1916 Garvey moved to the United States. He went to New York City and set up a branch of the UNIA and began a weekly newspaper called the Negro World. Garvey preached that blacks should be proud of who they are. He called for racial pride. Because of his persuasiveness and his eloquence people started to listen to Garvey. Blacks became proud of who they were. Booker T. Washington said to bow down to the whites and accept being inferior. When they heard Garvey say he was proud of his race and his heritage they listened to him. The black community gathered around him and accepted his message. Here was a man who was happy to be black: not only happy but also proud. Garvey?s racial pride movement helped the Harlem Renaissance. Blacks started to express their feelings and thoughts through art and music. This was a time when whites really took a look at black art and culture. Garvey?s most extreme movement was the "Back to Africa" movement. He called all blacks to return to their true homeland, Africa. To help make this possible Garvey created the Black Star Line in 1919 to provide transportation. He also started the Negro Factories Corporation to encourage black economic independence. Garvey attracted thousands of supporters and had two million members for the UNIA. Garvey?s rise to fame was amazing; speaking to an audience in Colon, Panama in 1921 Garvey said "two years ago in New York nobody paid any attention to us. When I use to speak, even the policeman on the beat never noticed me." Depending on whom you talked to Garvey was the new Moses of blacks or a complete madman. In "After Marcus Garvey—What?" an article in Contemporary Review, Kelly Miller writes that:

Marcus Garvey came to the U.S. less than ten years ago, unheralded, unfriended, without acquaintance, relationship, or means of livelihood. This Jamaican immigrant was thirty years old, partially educated, and 100 per cent black. He possessed neither comeliness of appearance nor attractive physical personality. Judged by external appraisement, there was nothing to distinguish him from thousands of West Indian black people who flock to our seaport cities. And yet this ungainly youth by sheer indomitability of will projected a propaganda and commanded a following, within the brief space of a decade, which made the whole nation mark him and write his speeches in their books. (492)

Robert Bagnall in his 1923 article in Messenger said, "We may seriously ask, is not Marcus Garvey a paranoiac?" W.E.B. Du Bois in a psychological assessment said Garvey is suffering from "very serious defects of temperament and training," and described him as "dictatorial, domineering, inordinately vain and very suspicious."

Just as Garvey was at the climax of his following he encountered some economic disasters. In 1922 he was arrested for mail fraud and served prison time. His sentence was dropped and he was deported back to Jamaica. He was forgotten and could not win back his supporters. He moved and finally died in London in relative obscurity.

Garvey?s racial pride movement helped the black community accept who they were. Before others can accept you, you must learn to accept yourself first. The "Back to Africa" movement was too radical and extreme. Although he did have quite a following, many people did not like the idea. Only a few thousand blacks actually went back to Africa. Garvey?s ideas seem to evade the problem, which is segregation. Garvey is saying we can?t stop segregation so lets just move back to Africa.

The second black leader was a soft-spoken man named Booker T. Washington. The black child known simply as Booker was born a slave on a farm in Franklin County, Virginia. He chose the last name Washington when he attended school and later learned that his real last name was Taliaferro. He lived a typical slave boy life; he did what his master told him to do. Although he had no education during his time in slavery he was smart enough to know he needed more food, clothes, and love. He later recalls that he had no ill feelings toward his white master. This thought would be the idea that Booker would later preach in his life. With the coming of the Emancipation Proclamation he was set free at the age of eight. Booker had a desire to get himself an education. He was accepted at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute. He paid for his education by working as a janitor. After graduation he taught at Malden for two years and studied in Washington D.C. He then became an instructor at Hampton and taught Native Americans and founded a night school. He was then hired to start a school in the city of Tuskegee, Alabama. He built the school up from a shack to an institution of more than forty buildings. Booker T. didn?t think teaching blacks how to read and write and memorize from books would really help them. Booker instead taught how to live in a white society. He taught them how to use a tooth bush and how to bathe properly. In the process of building his school he became known for his speaking ability. On September 18, 1895, in Atlanta Georgia, Booker made his famous speech. He told blacks that they should accept their inferior social positions. He went on to say that blacks should improve themselves through vocational training and economic independence. This passive stance pleased many whites, because Booker had gained so much respect the black community accepted what he said. The more militant W.E.B. Du Bois objected to such a quiescent approach and strongly opposed Booker. Before he died Booker founded several organizations and wrote several books. He died on November 14, 1915, at Tuskegee.

Booker?s strong point is that he told blacks that they should get a better education; they should better themselves. Better themselves? What about bettering their position in life? What good does it do to have an education if you can?t get a job because of the color of your skin! While Garvey was too extreme, Booker was too laid back. If you don?t protest against the status quo then nothing will happen to change it.

The third leader was a man who borrowed a little from both Marcus Garvey and Booker T. Washington. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He was a descendant of African American, French, and Dutch ancestors. He was extremely gifted even at an early age and graduated from high school at the age of sixteen. He was the valedictorian and the only black in his graduating class of twelve. He was abandoned after his graduation and was forced to pay for his college education by himself. He gained a scholarship to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. At college he finally understood the problem that faced Southern blacks. Growing up Du Bois had never encountered racism. However, at college he kept hearing of the growing number of racial related violence. The desire to help improve the lives of all blacks grew. Du Bois graduated from Fisk and was accepted at Harvard where he had to enroll as an undergraduate. He attained his second BA in 1890, his MA and finally his Ph.D. in 1895, becoming the first black to attain that degree at Harvard. Du Bois then went on to study the historical and sociological conditions of blacks. His research was published in a series of articles and books. In 1897 Du Bois made a speech on the condition of black society he said, "One feels his two-ness?an American, a Negro, two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideals in one dark body." With his book The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois openly challenged Booker T. Washington, who was then the most respected and influential black in America. Du Bois did not like Booker T. stance on compromise and accommodation. In 1905 Du Bois helped organize the Niagara Movement, which led the way for the formation the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The NAACP was a group of men who were opposed to the ideals of Booker T. Washington. They named Du Bois as one of the founding officers in 1910. Because of his essays on lynching, his positions on the war, and his criticisms of Marcus Garvey, Du Bois gained respect. The head officers of the NAACP were all white. The organization then took a stance that blacks should integrate with whites. Du Bois left the organization, which he helped found, because he was unwilling to advocate racial integration in all aspects of life, a position that was adopted by the NAACP. Du Bois? idea was that blacks should join together, separate from whites, and start businesses and industries that would allow blacks to advance economically. He felt that if whites and blacks were to join then the blacks would be taken advantage of. Du Bois wanted equality with the whites; he did not want racial integration with them though. After he left he wrote many books and fought for world peace and nuclear disarmament. In an act of rebellion he joined the American Communist Party and moved to Ghana. In Ghana he denounced his American citizenship and became a citizen of Ghana. Du Bois lived to the age of ninety-five.

Du Bois? ideals were a blend of both Booker T. and Garvey. Like Garvey, Du Bois wanted to have no part in racial integration. Du Bois also thought that education and economic independent was important for the advancement of black society. Du Bois? ideas were not too radical nor were they too subtle. Du Bois criticized Garvey?s black power movement and he looked down upon Booker for having such an emphasis on economic independence. Du Bois only fault, like Garvey, was in his belief in racial separation. He would not compromise with whites.

During the civil rights movements, individuals and organizations challenged segregation and discrimination with a variety of activities. In the forefront of these movements were Marcus Garvey, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. Du Bois. All three of these men had a dream of equality; they lead the way for future leaders such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Marcus Garvey preached for racial pride among his people and told them to return to Africa. Booker T. Washington told his followers to accept the status quo and improve themselves through hard work and economic independence. W.E.B. Du Bois told the black community to separate themselves from whites and to gain economic self-reliance. All three men went after the same goal; they just did it in their own ways. There is a thin line between doing nothing and doing too much

Works Citied

"Garvey, Marcus," Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000, 1997-2000 Microsoft Corporation. Harlan, Louisr.

Booker T. Washington The Making of a Black Leader, 1856-1901. New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.

Lewis, David Levering. W.E.B. Du Bois Biography of a Race 1868-1919. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1993.

Marable, Manning. W.E.B. Du Bois Black Radical Democrat. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986.

Van Deburg, William L. Modern Black Nationalism From Marcus Garvey to Louis Farrakhan. New York: New York University Press, 1997.

Washington, Booker T. Up From Slavery. Williamstown, Virginia: Corner House Publishers, 1900.


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