on "Booker T. Washington and the Politics of Accommodation" by
1880-90: The Nadir:
- sharecropping system imposed on rural tenant farmers
- only menial jobs
available in cities for unskilled workers
- black workers
shunned by labor unions
- systematic legal and
political disenfranchisement and segregation enforced throughout the
- an unjust system enforced by
mob violence: lynching and race riots
Black Leadership pursues a policy of accommodation:
- toleration of
discrimination and segregation
- focus instead on
self-help to secure an education and achieve economic education
- to earn the respect of
whites, blacks must gain philanthropic support (white money), establish economic
independence, and only then will whites consider civil rights a
Booker Washington: "The Wizard of Tuskegee"
- b. 1856 in slavery
on a West Virginia farm
- came to believe that
reconstruction failed because it had emphasized civil and political
rights rather than economic development and self-determination
- educated at Hampton Institute,
- worked as a high
school teacher and then studied post grad at a Baptist Seminary
- founded the Tuskegee
Institute in Alabama (1881)
Atlanta Compromise Address
(1895); Up From Slavery (1901)
- social peace is
essential to blacks as they climb on their own to the middle class
- militant agitation
for social rights is 'folly'
- the relationship of
blacks and whites should be as separate as the fingers on a hand which,
when the situation is right, can act together as a unit.
- He urges whites to
become the business partners of blacks in all projects essential to
- He urges blacks to
express their solidarity and come to each others' mutual aid to engage
in the construction of institutions for blacks alone: schools,
Tuskegee Institute (The Tuskegee Machine)
- an all black school
with an all black faculty
- a trade school:
educating farmers and craftsmen to participate in the sharecropping
economic system and eventually save enough to buy their own land
- a model community:
teaching middle class manners and values, buying up local farmland to
sell to graduates at reduced interest rates
- Washington built a
constituency of farmers, artisans, teachers and small businessmen
Washington as National Political Boss
- alliance with W.
Thomas Fortune, NY publisher
African-American Council and National Negro Business League
- courts white philanthropists,
like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, to contribute to his own
Washington's recommendations would be essential to other black
organizations seeking philanthropic dollars
- becomes chief black
advisor to Presidents Roosevelt and Taft, and achieves influence in
recommending his people for federal jobs (even so, he never was able
to obtain Presidential support for a federal anti-lynching law)
- media influence:
Washington's financial support enabled him to influence and moderate
the message of many black newspapers and periodicals
Challengers to Washington's Power and Philosophy:
- W. Monroe Trotter, ed. Boston Guardian, confronts Washington in 1903 "The Boston
Riot", Trotter interrupts a Washington speech in a local church
demanding that Washington explain why he refused to fight for federal anti-lynching
legislation or to end segregation on public transportation
- WEB DuBois, Harvard Phd., the leading black
intellectual. DuBois inaugurates the Niagara Movement to promote black agitation
for civil and political rights, job opportunities, equal educational
opportunities, and human rights. He accuses Washington of being a puppet
controlled by whites and their philanthropy. He argues that Washington's
brand of leadership stifled black intellectuals (the Talented Tenth) and
enhanced instead the centrality of acquisitive business types.
- He accused Washington of having traded black
freedom for money and supplying the education for a new form of slavery:
segregations and share cropping.
- Washington was an
effective politician who could draw on support from a much larger
constituency than DuBois' base of highly
educated white teachers and lawyers.
support: black businessmen, alliances in white world, common touch with
masses, even alliances with members of the black intellectual elite
acknowledged that his leadership depended on white support, but he
argued that exploiting the divisions among whites was the only way to
advance the black cause in an age of such racial polarization.
Washington's pragmatic conservatism:
- He allied himself
with the people who had money: planters, coal barons, railroad
tycoons, against the Populists and small farmers who held the most
racist attitudes despite their common economic interests with blacks.
- He regarded
organized labor as an enemy because unions excluded blacks.
- He regarded recent
immigrants as enemy because they competed for jobs with blacks.
- He regarded black
sharecroppers as unqualified to vote due to lack of education and
economic dependence. He supported literacy tests and property tests.
- Much the same as
other more radical black leaders: anti-lynching legislation,
anti-segregation in public transportation, pro-franchise for black
property owners, improved educational opportunities.
- However, instead of
confronting white power in public, he preferred to work the back
channels to pressure white officials for change.
- His support for
industrial education programs fit the predominantly rural, Southern
population he served.
- He offered the
masses education and a self-help philosophy which enabled those on the
bottom of the ladder to achieve dignity
- His support for
small business associations created a new generation of black
entrepreneurs vested in black solidarity, serving black customers:
bankers, insurance salesmen, undertakers, barbers.
- His effective use of
centrist, coalition politics demonstrated that a black leader could
achieve influence in white circles.
- Washington never got
whites to give blacks genuine business opportunities.
- He never got whites
to oppose disenfranchisement or to support equal educational
- Black businessmen
only found real support among other blacks.