Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
In the early 20th century immediately after the Civil War, segregation, racism, and discrimination escalated across the United States. African Americans suffered the aftermaths of Reconstruction as white Southerners salvaged power of state legislatures and passed discriminatory laws, which confiscated the rights of African Americans gained after the Civil War. Lynching and racial violence amplified, and newly freed slaves confronted a dilemma of demanding their humanization in a society that once considered them as property. During this period, movements, as well as various African-American leaders, rose to power. The three main advocates in this period included towering intellectual figures of opposing philosophical camps, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B Du Bois, and Ida B. Wells.
Although all agreed that it was time to end the maltreatment of African Americans and achieve equality, they keenly disagreed on strategies to combat racism in this period. In the “Atlanta Compromise” speech, Washington anticipated African Americans’ participation in society and solutions to their problems through vocational education, believing that it will prove their value to whites. He thought that discriminatory laws were a great compromise to create mutualistic relationships with the whites. However, while Du Bois also believed in self-improvement through education, he criticized Washington’s conciliatory approach of accepting racial segregation to satisfy whites as it would encourage the revocation of civil rights in “Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others.” Du Bois instead pressed for voting rights and sought out political power and social regeneration, arguing that civil rights are inherent. Wells decided to lead an anti-lynching crusade and encouraged African Americans to move to the North where lynching wasn’t as acute. In the North, she published articles such as in “Lynch Law in America” to shed light on the atrocious practice of lynching. Like Dubois, Wells believed that racial prejudice towards African Americans through Jim Crow laws, or the color-line, meant that equality was unachievable. While Washington gradualist’s strategy of obtaining rights for African Americans gained unprecedented access to political power through his white benefactors, Wells and Dubois’s arguments were more compelling in promoting racial equality for African-Americans in post-reconstruction America.
Washington refusal to challenge racial segregation and recommendation for African-Americans to “cast down their buckets why they are” in hopes of promoting harmony amongst whites for economic advancement risked the exploitation of African Americans. Reconstruction in America recently concluded, but Washington’s solution to race relations resembles slavery. Washington’s focus on how African American can help develop the economy stemmed from a profitable end. He risked being exploited by a white power establishment, to justify the contribution of white political power. African Americans were familiar with the land and farming and knew better English than immigrants, making them a far superior partner for whites. In return from this alliance, casting down of the bucket would lead to economic growth in Washington’s eyes.
However, this parasitic partnership would cast African Americans separate from whites. As a result, African American’s would accept their position and indeed stay “where they are” and overlook political or social equality. Nevertheless, Washington’s pacifist approach did appeal to many whites, which financially helped with his vocational school, Tuskegee Institute. One may argue that the ends justify the mean as he successfully accommodated everyone through his conservative approach. The Tuskegee facility was able to educate African American students on basic skills that could be shared in communities throughout the South. However, as Dubois indicated, Washington’s emphasis on vocational education for African Americans was narrow. The consequences of African Americans concentrating all of their energy into industrial education were disenfranchisement, civil inferiority, and a gradual decrease in aid from institutions for the higher training of African Americans. Overall Washington’s approach is compelling as the last resort.
Dubois was right to advocate political action and a civil rights agenda in post-reconstruction America. As he mentioned, freedom meant true equality through access to education, civil equality, and the right to vote. Like Dubois mentioned, for African Americans to pursue self-respect, the South should be led by honest criticism for wronging them. Du Bois acknowledged the attempts made for the opportunity of African America and sees “the most meager chance in developing their exceptional men,” in the community. His observations are rationalized by the landmark court case of Plessy v. Ferguson, where the idea of “separate but equal”, which is also included in Washington’s address, is deemed constitutional. The legitimization of segregation codified in Plessy v. Ferguson played a role in the disenfranchisement of African Americans and the lack of aid for education.
Dubois recognized that separate is not equal. The ability for everyone to converse, worship, and eat in the same spaces marks true freedom. For African Americans to gain full emancipation, intellectual training was pertinent. Dubois address the notion of the Talented Tenth in that the best and brightest African Americans, or the talented ten percent, must be afforded higher education to see progress in the community. The ten percent will constitute leaders that successfully initiate change through their leadership. While optimistic, his approach also seems narrow. Dubois failed to acknowledge the significance of infrastructure, a health care system that supports a population, and a robust public sector that provides job security. The rich aren’t easily donating their money to finance schools for African American. Superficially, Dubois was correct to advocate for classical education but ignored the fact that classically educated persons need practical skills, an idea that Washington highlighted and whose ally, Theodore Roosevelt promoted with classical education. But overall, Dubois was correct to push for voting rights were key.
Wells approach of advancing racial equality after the Reconstruction era increased self-sufficiency for African Americans. Although her approach was more radical and dismissive in the eyes of white, she exhibited bravery when confronting those who held important positions in the government. She utilized her resources and print platforms to uplift and incite change among African Americans. Wells sought to value African American lives and demand, rather than implore, respect through collective economic power. She addressed lynching and leveraged economic power through strikes and boycotts to protect African Americans from lynching and weapons. Strikes were organized against white employers and boycotts against white businesses to increase independence amongst African Americans. Evidence of the effectiveness of her campaigns included the case where a white streetcar company acknowledges the power of the black consumer, indicating that African Americans could ignite a “bloodless revolution” by determining what happens to the white man’s dollar. Nothing can change if there aren’t any attempts. There would be continued misuse of power on legislature ends. In “Lynch Law in America,” there were unwritten laws where whites could escape punishments that black people couldn’t. It made no difference if the white accuser fabricated lies or not.
Legislature trusted the voice of the white man and the phrase “every man is innocent until guilty” was in reality “every man is innocent unless black”. If Wells didn’t shed light on the horrific practice of lynching and the justification towards it, there would be less awareness and possibly an increase of contradictory laws in the post-reconstruction era. Challenging legislatures in the past and present played a principal role in ratifying laws. The 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were proof of this approach in the Reconstruction era and later the 19th amendment. Furthermore, her approach was severely different than Washington as she believed that respectability politics didn’t exist. In her essay “Booker T. Washington and his Critics,” she mentioned that lynching isn’t invoked to punish crime, but skin color and not even vocational education will alter that. Although Washington sets up the dogma that when the race becomes the taxpayers or a product of what the white man wants, African Americans are respected, this isn’t a feasible idea for working-class African-Americans but property-owning ones. In conclusion, Wells approach for direct action of civil rights and equality was best for the African Americans diaspora and wasn’t as narrow as Washington’s.
Furthermore, the best civil rights strategy for African-Americans in the post-reconstruction era would have been the amalgamation of some of the components in all three leader’s approach. I believe a combination of their approach, or what seems best is quite similar to Martin Luther King’s nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience to achieve equality and civil rights in the Civil Rights movement era. Washington was partially correct in following a more conciliatory approach, but he accepted white supremacy place of African Americans in an inferior position. He could have led a more direct, yet peaceful action to place African Americans adjacent to whites, not below. While Dubois and Well’s radical approach towards racial equality is far better than a submissive one, it didn’t fully garner support from its members considering the circumstances of African Americans in the post-reconstruction era. The NAACP for example ousted Wells and Dubois’ Niagara group disbanded a few years later after its formation. Of the three, Wells seemed to have the best strategy that led to many firsts for Africans Americans in media and club organizations, But Dubois had the healthiest. King and Dubois both acted in the ideologies held through rhetoric to promote social change. But Dubois didn’t practice direct action, which may have created more changes for African Americans. In a way, he lacked what Wells had, a more direct technique, but Wells lacks what King, civil disobedience.
In summation, Ida B. Wells, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B Dubois recommended possible methods that would assist African Americans in overcoming their difficulties in attaining equality in the post-reconstruction period. Washington promoted a patient plan that risked civil rights in exchanged for pragmatic outcomes, Du Bois advocated for economic opportunities and political representation for African Americans, while Wells favored immediate results and exposed the horrific truths of lynching. While Wells had the best approach, Dubois, the healthiest, and Washington, the worst extracting components from each of the three leaders to create one approach may have provided the best civil rights strategy. The approach may have been similar to Martin Luther King’s, who believed in a non-violent direct-action goal in achieving racial equality.