An Essay Written by DAMMEON B. HICKS-MARSHALL
In the beginning stages of a new society, advanced programs such as social welfare were often neglected. New England was no different. They focused on the growth of the economy by stabling themselves as a legitimate nation—separate and a part of England. Consequently, social policies and social welfare reforms were neglected. As the time progressed, African Americans suffered the most due to lack of social policies, specifically those of equality. The United States is portrayed as a nation valuing democracy, freedom, and justice for all. Often, equality and justice were limited to the Anglo-Saxons. Although African Americans were free, racial oppression had manifested and caused them a variety of mental strife. They were burdened, mentally distressed, and struggled with self-identification. Throughout time, leaders emerged in the African American community who addressed their issues with the social policies or lack thereof. Two prominent figures were W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. Although their platforms were very different, they focused on the same struggle. An exploration of both men and their position on certain social policies and welfare reform will reveal the development of a conscious Black America.
The social environments where Du Bois and Washington were raised impacted their ideologies. Du Bois was raised in a peaceful, reserved town in Great Barrington, Massachusetts with few blacks and minimum acts of racism (Stafford, 2005). On the other hand, Washington was raised in Virginia during the time when southern blacks suffered at the mercy of all white men (Stafford, 2005). Their contrasting social environments influenced their individual stages of growth and development from infants to adults. It influenced the way they identified problems, as well as how they determined intervention strategies. Du Bois emphasized the collaboration of economic growth and education. During the process of advancing in society, he wanted advancement without subordination. Washington also emphasized economic growth but without the cost of assimilation. He advocated accepting racial segregation in exchange of land from white southerners to build an educational institution. The two leaders often had opposing views on how to successfully emerge from the inequality, oppression, and abuse they were experiencing. Du Bois believed in order to triumph from these battles, education needed to be the primary weapon for people. On the other hand, Washington believed in a more submissive approach.
As people of color continued to experience inequality, Du Bois became proactive, using his knowledge as a resource. His goal was to establish mutual respect amongst all ethnic groups. Du Bois displayed grave concerns, as some black people experienced horrendous treatment such as lynchings and beatings in their quest for fulfillment or self-actualization. Du Bois, a scholar and an activist, believed in reading, attending and giving lectures, studying and practicing certain discipline methods, and also devoted his energy to the attainment of liberation which seemed to be unattainable by many (Stafford, 2005). Nevertheless, he was steadfast with his philosophies and true to himself to fight for a better America, not just a white America.
As a result, Du Bois attempted several intervention plans to overcome the effects of oppression, racism, and discrimination. These included movements, lectures, and writings. He often faced discouragement from whites as well as blacks. He became frustrated and weary. He could not understand the methodology of black people’s platform on taking a stand for what was “right,” more specially, the lack thereof. Although he received criticism from other leaders such as Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey, Du Bois was persistent. He continued to observe the oppression that blacks were experiencing and knew what kept his internal flame burning. Regardless of what may have come his way, he was persistent in what he felt destined to accomplish. Through Du Bois’s exposure to different countries, he was able to analyze the scandalous and inhumane behaviors demonstrated by Americans. Despite confusion and opposition, he remained vocal and became an advocate for people of color.
The economy controls and dictates a nation’s wealth. It also influences political decisions made in Washington, D.C. The negative effects in our economy such as recessions, have greatly contributed to the oppression of blacks. In the 1890s, blacks started to become an essential part of the nation’s economy. However, a few years later, an economic depression caused the agriculture to decline rapidly. Many whites became unemployed and began competing for the unskilled jobs that were held by blacks (Stafford, 2005). Many believed that blacks should be passive and humble in order to create a perception of being less intimidating to whites. However, Du Bois emphasized taking advantage of economic growth without feeling inferior to the white race. He believed elite and middle class blacks should utilize their influence, wealth, and knowledge to improve their economic status (Du Bois, 1968). Du Bois established great interventions but many were not supported by blacks. Many of the blacks more readily accepted the views of Booker T. Washington, and viewed Du Bois as aloof and ignored his advice on racial matters. This left blacks on a continuum economic struggle. People of color had no or minimum ownership in the means of productions, distributions, wealth, and commodities. Instead, blacks were the economic investments for the feudalistic and capitalistic white Americans, hence an economical domino effect was hence created. The economy greatly affected political decisions and implementation of policy laws for the American people. The negative and positive implications enhanced the severity of the oppression on various levels. Laws enacted only benefited the wealthy and educated, not the uneducated and poor. As a result, policy laws that were derived from pure economic growth demonstrated discrimination, prejudice, racism, and abusive acts toward blacks.
The political arena was the catalyst in which economics traveled. White men dominated political offices. Whether democratic or republican, they all were conservatives. Conservative white leaders possessed the “power.” In the south, Governor Tillman, wanted to enslave freed slaves as well as deplete their right to vote (Stafford, 2005). Many troubling events would occur several times a week. One act was lynching freed slaves which violated the law and their rights. Groups such as the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) and hate mobs of whites would dauntlessly take the law into their own hands and act against black suspects or the accused. Being a radical towards these issues, Du Bois saw only one solution: Black Americans as a whole must undoubtedly demand to fight for their rights for equality before the court of law. In 1903, Du Bois decided to implement a political plan of action to address the unlawful lynchings. A colored man named Sam Hose was accused of raping and murdering a white woman. Du Bois was informed of this situation and was determined to see that Hose received a fair trial (Lewis, 1993). Before Du Bois supported Hose, he learned that Hose had already been lynched (Lewis, 1993). Du Bois was adamant about solving racial issues on a political platform. He continued his efforts by responding to the Georgia legislature’s attempt to disenfranchise black voters, which was spearheaded by Governor Tillman (Stafford, 2005). Du Bois also testified to the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., addressing the importance of education being offered to black southerners (Stafford, 2005). As racism and political oppression increased, he found himself confused in his efforts to help change Black America. Two distinct black movements had developed. A group that wanted to influence racial integration and another group that just wanted to assimilate into the white dominate culture. Du Bois understood that power laid in the stroke of a pen operated by white political officials. This power could alter many lives for the better. During the life of Du Bois, power was in the hands of law makers and it socially set back out-groups, including African Americans.
Social oppression affected the black communities due to ill treatment by whites and increasing racial problems. For this reason, Du Bois was asked to investigate an area called the Seventh Ward, which was classified as the ghetto in Philadelphia. Blacks were denied rights and equality which left them feeling disfavored, and this decreased their chances to succeed in society (Lewis, 1993). Due to the differential treatment amongst races, as a result, Du Bois witnessed an excess amount of crime, violence, and poverty in this community (Lewis, 1993). Du Bois’s research allowed him to live in the midst of his people. Socializing and interacting with them left him in awe. He personally observed the need for social services and welfare programs to help integrate blacks into society.
Du Bois had several service interventions and movements that have impacted life and history and whose presence is still felt today. In the early 1900s, Du Bois joined the Pan-African Association movement. His reputation brought the association to him, and they insisted that he become a member of this movement. He accepted the position as their chairman. Their goal was to globally advocate the unification of blacks in African colonies (Du Bois, 1968). As a result, the African colonies would eventually create some stability to gain their independence from Europe (Du Bois, 1968). The Pan-African Association waned after a couple of years. Du Bois remained faithful to his desire of a free Africa, and later became known as the father of Pan-Africanism.
Five years later, in 1905, Du Bois felt it was critical to implement a movement, because the philosophies of Booker T. Washington were spreading rapidly. With opposing ideologies, he felt that Washington’s philosophies would leave blacks stagnate. He notified an elite group of educated black men, asking them to attend a meeting with him in Ontario, Canada, near Niagara Falls. A total of 29 individuals from 14 states were in attendance (Lewis, 1993). These individuals were known as the “Talented Tenth.” The “Talented Tenth” was described as the best educated of Black America (Du Bois, 1968). They focused on civil justice and decreasing discrimination. The Niagara Movement evolved into the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. The NAACP became an activist organization that had many agendas. Its primary focus was to challenge certain policies and violence acts via the legal system. During Du Bois’s employment with the NAACP, a publication emerged called the Crisis in which he edited. The Crisis was used as a communication tool to reach a broader audience and relay the mission and goals of the NAACP nationally. The publication openly discussed topics such as racism and violence. The NAACP had many accomplishments. America was forever changed when the case of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, which ruled the concept of “separate but equal,” was deemed unconstitutional (Stafford, 2005). NACCP attorney, Thurgood Marshall was in the midst of this Supreme Court decision which desegregated the nation’s schools and became a landmark decision.
Forty years later, Du Bois’s intensity and desire for Africa and its people remained. By the 1940s, the African Independent Movement was the greatest mass movement in the world and it stemmed from the African trade union organization (Du Bois, 1968). He committed himself to fighting against imperialism and for African independence once again. Du Bois was critical of America’s foreign policy and how it affected the people of Africa. His beliefs and advocacy created uncomfortable circumstances for him and his family. It limited their freedom and he was placed under surveillance by the United States. Du Bois’s interventions and movements were necessary to challenge unethical reasoning that shaped the role of the federal government. There was no interest to improve society for blacks. They believed they were biologically civilized and people of color were savages.
For every cause a person advocates, there is an effect. Consequences always followed Du Bois’s bold actions as the scholarly representative spoke out for Black America. Du Bois had a powerful and resounding word for everyone. Between The African Independent Movement, the criticism of America’s foreign policy, and his involvement with the Progressive Party, he was dismissed from the NAACP (Du Bois, 1969). He was later detained by the United States. This experience encouraged him to write and publish the Color and Democracy: Colonies and Peace and The World of Africa: An Inquiry into the Part Which Africa has played in World History (Stafford, 2005). Du Bois was disheartened when he was interrogated on his political interest by the federal government. Rumors and accusations of Du Bois, along with some of his colleagues interacting with communists, emerged. Feeling threatened, the federal government confiscated their passports and ceased all future traveling. He was indicted, tried, and acquitted of charges of being an “unregistered foreign agent” (Lewis, 1993).
W.E.B. Du Bois was fortunate to live a long, prosperous life. He was born on February 23, 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. His home town averaged 25-50 blacks out of a population of approximately 5000. The community behaviors and attitudes sent indirect and uncomfortable notions that Du Bois found very disturbing. This experience influenced Du Bois to become socially withdrawn and concerned about the development of his race. In high school he became involved in lectures and editorials reflecting the importance of black people becoming knowledgeable of the political arena. Du Bois was gifted and very intellectual. Confident about his academic talents, he wanted to attend Harvard University. However, his economic status did not allow him to. But with the support of friends and family, he was able to attend Fisk College in Nashville, Tennessee. Du Bois later entered Harvard as a junior on a scholarship of $300. Du Bois continued his studies at Harvard and at the University of Berlin, earning his doctorate from Harvard in 1896. At the age of twenty-six, he accepted a teaching job at Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio. Du Bois conducted a research project in Philadelphia's Seventh Ward while he was employed with the University of Pennsylvania. In 1897, Du Bois became a professor at Atlanta University where he established the department of sociology. Two years later, his son Burghardt died in Atlanta and Du Bois decided to indulge himself into his work. He published many works: The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study, The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches, and John Brown. In 1909, he joined the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and social organization. In 1911, Du Bois joined the Socialist Party and led blacks to transfer from the Republican to the Democratic Party. After dealing with a prejudice legal system and the death of his daughter, Yolanda, he was emotionally distorted. These experiences determined his move to Ghana, where he resided for the rest of his life.
Du Bois’s footprints will continue to inspire all races. He has made major contributions through his leadership, conferences, lectures, writings, and movements. The first work that involved in depth criminological study and theory was The Philadelphia Negro, in which it reflected his research in Philadelphia. Du Bois continued his perseverance for civil rights with Alpha Phi Alpha. He participated in numerous organizations such as the Council of African Affairs where he served as Vice Chairman (Du Bois, 1968). Du Bois ran for Senator of New York on the American Labor Party, though it was unsuccessful. He has a large number of published works that includes novels, journal articles, books, and research studies. He also has traveled to China as a guest speaker. Du Bois admired China’s lack of class status and discrimination during his visit. His advocacy and contributions stood alone. He profoundly declared his beliefs so others were able to feel the vibration of his voice as it traveled across the oceans into other continents and into the hearts of many.
DuBois has been recognized for his many achievements and contributions globally. Du Bois was a recipient of a gold medal for his exhibit on the achievement of Black Americans in Paris. He also received an honorary doctorate from Moscow University and the Lenin Peace Prize, one of the nations highest honors (Stafford, 2005). Throughout the years, he has been acknowledged from other scholars and publishers for his impeccable writings. Du Bois did not only appear favorable to the black community, but he became greatly admired by wealthy communities as well.
Du Bois was humble and open minded from his adolescence years until his last days. He was not for compromising issues, and always found himself in conflict with all races and political ideologists. In his beliefs, right was right and wrong was wrong. Although he faced many adversities, he remained consistent in his theories and beliefs. His spiritual soul led him to higher dimensions which allowed him to always have integrity. Du Bois displayed great internal sophistication and presence, which was the essence of his intellect. He used these phenomenal characteristics to uplift those in poverty and attack those who surrendered to ignorance.
Being humble can cause reconciliation. When certain outcomes resulted in disagreement, he was readily opened-minded to reconcile them to reach his ultimate goal: a solution of justice and equality for mankind. Du Bois always seemed to seek some type of reconciliation with individuals he had conflicts with, from the NAACP to Booker T. Washington. Reconciliation was always an option for him, hoping it ultimately benefited the welfare of those who were in need. A term that best describes him is altruistic. His advocacy for human equality was not solely about him, but for the American people. This enabled him to become selfless and seek the needs of the American people. Every stride he made, he made for the people. Every pen he used, he advocated for the people. Du Bois saw the needs of Black America, and with increasing speed he defended those who did not have the means, such as education or intellect to defend themselves. His contributions have alleviated some of the racial chains of oppression, but it continues to exist in different forms and on various levels within the systems in our nation.
Du Bois, W.E.B. (1968). The Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois. New York, NY: International Publishers Co., Inc.
Lewis, David L. (1993).W.E.B Du Bois: Biography of a Race. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, Inc.
Moore, O. T. (2005). A Fanonian Perspective on Double Consciousness. Journal of Black Studies, 35(6), 751-762.
Stanfford, Mark. (2005). W.E.B. Du Bois: Scholar and Activist. Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House Publishers.
Young, Jr., A. A., Marable, M., Higginbotham, E., Lemert, C., & Watts J. G. (2004). The Souls of W.E.B. Do Bois. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.
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