African Americans Essay Research Paper TERM PAPERLife

African Americans Essay, Research Paper


Life of African Americans in the period after the civil war was

stimulatingly difficult. Among the host of challenges were the Black codes

which made their life no better than it was before the civil war. The Congress

promised to emancipate African Americans from slavery, but it appeared as if

blacks were still deprived of their basic rights. They still did not achieve the

status equal to that of the whites. During this time of political unrest two

prominent African American spokespersons, Booker T. Washington and

W.E.B Du bois arose and put forward their views about how this racial

conflict could be ended and the blacks and whites could be united. They both

strived real hard to help blacks achieve recognition of the civil and political

promised by the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the Constitution.

They even wanted blacks to rise out of poverty. Although their final goals

were the same, the route that they took to it differed drastically. Du Bois

could be categorized as a person who was more liberal while Booker T.

Washington chose to take the more conservative path. Knowing the

differences between Washington’s and W.E.B Du Bois’s ideas as an African

American living in the postwar south, I would follow Du Bois as his views

were more satisfying and would prove to be a more effective way to pursue

the goals of achieving recognition of the civil and political rights promised by

the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments and also to life the blacks out

of poverty.

Booker T. Washington and W.E.B Du Bois were people with conflicting

personalities. Washington’s approach was more moderate as he seemed to

be averse to rapid change. He believed in order for blacks to gain complete

respect from the whites, they would have to live a life quite similar to the

one they led in the period before the civil war. They would have to perform

the same menial tasks. He believed that in this manner as soon as the

economic condition of the South improved, blacks would be given equal

status by everyone.

Booker T. Washington put forward a program of industrial

education, conciliation of the south , and submission and silence as to civil

and political rights ( W.E.B Du Bois , 31.) He believed that industrial

education was extremely important because it was a way by which students

could acquire knowledge as well as skill while working and earning money. It

also gave students confidence and moral independence. Mr. Booker T.

Washington wanted African Americans to compromise by giving up their

civil and political rights . Adjustment and submission of blacks was

represented by his program. (W.E.B Du Bois, 37.) Since he was a

conservative , he desired that the African Americans also give up the ideas of

political power , civil rights and higher education. He tried to divert their

attention to things such as earning money to support their families,

reconcilement of Southern states etc.

On the other hand, W.E.B. Du Bois held views that were in

contradiction to those of Booker T. Washington. Du Bois chose a more liberal

path to achieve his goals. According to him African Americans should have

used any means available to resolve the equality and cultural problems. He

had complete confidence in the ability of African Americans and did not

consider them inferior to whites and believed that they could govern

themselves. Unlike Booker T. Washington whose program for

emancipation focused more on work and money, W.E.B Du Bois aimed for

more spiritualistic and honorary things. The period of time before W.E.B Du

Bois came into the limelight, the blacks had suffered a great deal from the

whites. They had been disfranchised, not been given the right to higher

education and were considered inferior to whites. Du Bois wanted to change

all this completely and thus his ideas appeared to be more radical and

demanding. as compared to those of Booker T. Washington.

W.E.B Du Bois was an elitist who believed it was the intelligence and

smartness of the African Americans that had help elevate the masses and the

sole obstacles that had retarded their efforts were slavery and racial

prejudice. He believed that the black race had been transplanted by the

foolishness of its forefathers( W.E.B Du Bois, 38) Higher education and hard

work could uplift them from this servitude and he knew that he could assist

them through it.

W.E.B Du Bois’s ideas and his way of pursuing goals was more

convincing and appropriate . Unlike Booker T. Washington , Du Bois was

more direct in his approach of achieving civil and political rights promised to

the blacks. The environment in the post-emancipation south was not the

same as before the civil war. Before the war, the blacks had not yet been

declared emancipated so they did not expect themselves to be given the

same status as that of the whites. But after the civil war, not been given

their basic rights would aggravate them even more because now they were

being deprived of something they lawfully possessed. Booker T. Washington

emphasized that African Americans should work under whites, gain their

trust and thus gradually they would attain their freedom. This was irrational

because the blacks had waited long enough for the emancipation

proclamation. They had suffered a lot of hardships through this period of

time. And making them wait even longer through his slow process would

aggravate them even more would cause them to burst into revolt. Booker T.

Washington’s program of achieving civil and political rights for the blacks

also had its own shortcomings. His program was designed to please the

North and invigorate the South. The Northern states had invested in

Southern enterprises and so Washington’s plan came as a welcome method

of peaceful cooperation. Du Bois, unlike Washington did not preach

surrendering to white supremacy. He insisted on self reliance and self-

respect. He even believed that Booker T. Washington’s idea of industrial

training was pointless as he did not encourage higher education. Only if the

black teachers were well educated could they teach in these industrial

training schools, and Washington failed to understand that.

Booker T. Washington mentioned in his Atlanta compromise, “The

wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social

equality is the extremist folly….. It is important and right that all privileges

of the law be ours, but it is vastly more important that we be prepared for

the exercises of these privileges ( Washington, 101.) It was cowardly of

Booker T. Washington to say that his people were not striving for equality.

He even said ” The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth

infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in the opera house.”

Washington was just trying to demand equality in vague terms. But instead

he should have been more specific and demanded social equality. This is

because social equality was what the blacks in the south were striving for

and they would not settle for anything less than it.

Even though it is believed that Washington’s program came as a

relief to some southerners but yet it cannot be wholly accepted because it

consists of less straightforward honesty and more of indiscriminate

flattery. The black men of the post emancipation south were completely

aware of the importance of voting. It was a way by which they could choose

representatives who would better their conditions of living and work

towards their welfare. W.E.B Du Bois put this insight into their minds and

made them realize that they should rebel against servitude and fight for

equal rights and status as the whites.


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