Being two of the best-known leaders in the African American liberation movement in the late 19th and early 20th century, Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois represented entirely different approaches toward the promotion of equality and the fight against discrimination of African American people. While Washington encouraged the idea of self-help and active education while supporting the concept of further alienation form the white community, Du Bois argued that integration should be seen as the only legitimate way of restoring justice and achieving equality. Although both Washington and Du Bois had legitimate arguments and reasonable support for their statements, in retrospect, Du Bois’ focus on unity and integration was preferable to the idea of further segregation that Washington promoted since it did not imply social isolation and, therefore, offered an opportunity for African American people’s humanity to be recognized.
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To understand the roots of the philosophical approaches of both Washington and Du Bois, a closer look at the values that each saw as fundamental to the liberation movement should be analyzed. Specifically, the existing records show that Washington prioritized education as the vehicle for African American people to gain independence and personal agency, whereas Du Bois emphasized the significance of political involvement. Since education suggests primarily self-directed progress and, therefore, individualistic approach, Washington’ focus on distancing African American people form their oppressors is understandable (Morris 56). In turn, DuBois’ focus on political involvement is rendered useless as long as there are no political opponents with which one could engage in a discussion, hence the need for further integration in order to promote education about the struggles of African American people and their further acceptance (Morris 266).
Although both political figures had legitimate reasons behind their policies and positions, the encouragement of segregation that Washington’s approach suggested was, in hindsight, counterproductive since it would have led to further isolation without changing the status quo. In turn, Du Bois’ philosophy has provided African American people with the tools and opportunities to gain the voice in the American and, later on, global community, thus gaining the opportunity to restore justice and gain access to the resources and opportunities needed to lad decent lives.
Morris, Aldon. The Scholar Denied: WEB Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology. 2017.