America: the Land of Unequal Opportunity

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America is known as the land of equal opportunity. During the late 19th century and early 20th century, every U.S citizen was in search of that American Promise. During the eras of the Post-Reconstruction and the Industrial Revolution, 99% of the population provided the labor and services of the 1% who made millions in profits. One particular group that was marginalized was African Americans. After the creation of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, African Americans were still treated as second-class citizens. Three black intellectuals had many approaches to solving the root of the inequalities and injustices against African Americans. Ida B. Wells and William Edwards Burghardt DuBois’s approaches to the problems promoted black excellence and did not position blacks as being second-class citizens according to Booker Taliaferro Washington’s ideology of blacks accepting the position they were in as being less superior to whites. Wells and DuBois disagreed with Washington’s ideology of being submissive and silent to the civil and political rights of African Americans, believed in the theory of the color-line and its impact on society. However, Wells was more radical and was aimed towards a violent approach to achieving black excellence in America than that of DuBois. Following the ideologies of Wells and DuBois guided African Americans toward the source of the problems blacks faced in the 19th and 20th centuries rather than treating themselves as second-class citizens.

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DuBois and Wells did not agree with Washington’s theory of “silent submission” for achieving black prosperity in America. Wells and DuBois believed in exposing the issues of the problems in America through their writing. Wells’ approach exposed the issues of lynching in America through the power of her pen. While America was focusing on imperialism and securing freedom and democracy across the world, Wells emphasized there was a problem domestically. Wells was able to achieve in exposing the problems of America to the rest of the world through the introduction of Free Speech. Wells did not believe in being silent and submissive. She established “a pathway to change: documenting agitating, shifting public sentiment, changing the law, upholding the law.”[footnoteRef:1] Her perseverance in changing the system “begin to change the cultural ethos that permitted mob violence without retribution…perpetrators of mob violence were brought before the courts through the persistent activism or organizations.”[footnoteRef:2] DuBois’ directly opposed Washington’s theories of accepting the idea that blacks should remain silent and submissive to the problems whites created for blacks. DuBois disagreed with Washington because Washington “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.”[footnoteRef:3] Washington’s theory makes black citizens weak and close-minded to the problems they face in America. Not taking a stand against these injustices would only continue to escalate the problems to extraordinary levels. DuBois continues by stating “in fact, the burden belongs to the nation and the hands of none of us are clean if we bend not our energies to righting these wrongs.”[footnoteRef:4] Without truly exposing the problems, that sends a message to the racist whites that the horrific acts they commit against the blacks are acceptable and that blacks accept their role as being inferior to them. 

Wells and DuBois also believed in the existence of the “color-line” in America. The “color-line” was a concept that related to the racial segregation and prejudice presented toward blacks in America. Wells and DuBois believed that the “color-line” was a huge problem in America in the late 19th and 20th centuries. The color line had many negative effects on society and Wells understood that the color line put blacks at a huge disadvantage especially going through the justice system. In Southern Horrors: Red Record, Wells emphasizes when white men committed the same or harsher crimes than black men, there was little to no punishment assigned to them. She states that “when punishment is meted out by law to white civilians for this horrible crime [rap of black women], it is seldom, or never capital punishment is invoked.”[footnoteRef:5] It was so difficult for black men to avoid the terror of being lynched. Due to the color line in America, whites were more prone to ease through the justice system even if their crime consisted of raping or assaulting a young black girl. The only case in which a black man would not be indicted tried, convicted, and hang on the same day was only when “a white person’s word is taken absolutely for as against a Negro.”[footnoteRef:6] DuBois stated it directly in The Souls of Black Folks that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line, the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa… it was the phase of this problem that caused the Civil War.”[footnoteRef:7] DuBois believed that the documents of the Civil War such as the Emancipation Proclamation and the War Amendments “seemed but to broaden and intensify the difficulties…and made the Negro problems of today.”[footnoteRef:8] Yes, the Proclamation, War Amendments and Freedman’s Bureau helped African Americans for a short period of time, but that only made the racist whites progress into making harsher laws called the Black Codes which terrified many blacks from participating in the political system and advancing in society through education and the social class.

Despite Wells and DuBois having similar ideologies of advancing African Americans in the U.S, Wells was more radial o how black people should protect themselves when whites were being the aggressor. Wells appeared to other advocates like her as the most “radical” due to the approach she described in her book Southern Horrors and Other Writings. Wells explains in her book that “the only times an Afro-American who was assaulted got away has been when he had a gun and used it in self-defense…every Afro-American should ponder well, is that a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give.”[footnoteRef:9] Wells believed this could solve the problem of the racist whites mistreating African Americans; but in reality, this would only intensify the problems they already faced. This introduction of African Americans having possession of a gun would create harsher laws, bias juries, and more harm done to African Americans for defending themselves. DuBois was aimed towards upholding the rights granted to African Americans during the Post-Reconstruction which includes voting and higher education to advance in society. DuBois stated that to achieve full equality for African Americans, “by every civilized and peaceful method we must strive for the rights which the world accords to men, clinging unwaveringly to those great words which the sons of the Fathers would fain forget.”[footnoteRef:10] We can see that Wells and DuBois did have a difference in going about certain ways of achieving civil rights for African Americans- peacefully or violently but in Wells case “self-defense.” 

In all, the argument I am supporting in this paper is that of the progressives. Wells and DuBois were among the most influential scholars during the late 19th and 20th centuries in promoting the advancement of African Americas during racial discrimination and violence upheld by whites. Wells and DuBois opposed Washington’s theory that blacks should be submissive and silent to the injustices whites used against them. To go against Washington’s theory, they both exposed the issues African Americans experienced domestically and internationally to spread awareness to how the American government was more focused on spreading the idea of freedom and prosperity throughout the world rather than promoting those same ideas domestically among America’s own citizens. Wells and DuBois also understood that the color-line was a prominent concept in America and that the color-line itself created the problems of segregation, inequality, and mob violence towards African Americans. However, Wells was aimed towards African Americans having possession of guns in their household to prohibit whites from committing crimes against blacks. In her case, the possession of a rifle would limit the violence committed towards blacks, but in actuality, that would only present more problems to African Americans. DuBois on the other hand wanted to continue along with a peaceful approach and to not create any more problems than African Americans were already facing. If African Americans abided by being treated only as second-class citizens, we would not have advanced in society as we currently are living in. Colleges, public places, and everyday life itself would not be integrated and everything we do not take the proper time to think about would still be segregated if civil right activists during the Post-Reconstruction and Civil Rights accepted that they were and always would be less of a U.S citizen than the white citizens. To create change in society, DuBois, Wells, and their followers had to take the problem head-on and not accept the role whites labeled them in society. Their grit, sacrifice, and mindset of not being “silent and submissive” to the injustices of Africans helped create the society we see today, and their efforts are continuing to encourage activists to change the injustices African Americans are currently facing against the criminal justice system.

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