Booker T Washington Vs W. E. B. Du Bois

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Updated: Feb 12, 2019
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Within the literary canon of African American literature, two of the most influential works of that canon would undoubtedly have to be Up from Slavery by Booker T Washington, and The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois. Within these two works, both authors put forth their own ideological solutions to the problems which are faced by African Americans in the 20th century. One arguing for uplifting African Americans through hard work and education within regards to certain practical work skills at the expense of obtaining civil rights, the other arguing that while it is important to get an education, only true racial uplift can be gained by also pursuing civil rights for African Americans.

According to Houston A. Baker Jr. who specializes in African American literature, not only would these literary works become so influential as to define the political philosophies of generations to come, but they also represent two very important concepts within his own personal view of African American literature. These two concepts are the mastery of form and the deformation of mastery. The objective of this paper is to compare and contrast the two differing ideologies of these two significant authors as well as to demonstrate how their work acts as the ideal representations of the aforementioned concepts.

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Though they had been freed, the Reconstruction era after the civil war failed to secure the rights of African Americans as citizens. By the late 19th century lynchings, segregation laws, and restrictions on their ability to vote practically made the rights guaranteed to them by the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments after the war meaningless. During the post reconstruction years in the United States, the primary concern amongst the intellectuals of the African American community were to come up with a solution as to how they could come to live within a society that still refused to recognize them as equals. Two intellectuals emerged with their own ideas as to how to solve this conundrum.

Booker T. Washington was born as a slave on a farm in western Virginia. The exact month, date and year of his birth are unknown as a result of slavery, however the year 1856 is what one will find on his headstone. The rest of his ancestry also remains quite a mystery. Together with his older brother and younger sister, his mother, Jane, an African American woman who was herself enslaved, raised him.

The exact identity of his father is unknown, though it is well understood that he was a white man. It is accurate to say that much of the Booker T Washington’s ideology was influenced by his upbringing. In his book Up From Slavery he writes, “From the time that I can remember anything, almost every day of my life has been occupied in some kind of labor,” (Washington 13). Through his earliest years from being born on a slave plantation, to seeking employment at the age of nine, Washington learned the value of two things, labor and education.

As a young boy Washington was sent to work in salt factories and coal mines, while at the same time working as a houseboy for a white family. Due to Abraham Lincoln’s issuing of the emancipation proclamation this would prove to be somewhat actual employment as opposed to slave labor. As far as education was concerned Washington began taking night classes at a school which was open to African Americans.

He would eventually be allowed to participate in the day classes for a few months. From then on young Booker’s schedule would be comprised of him getting up early in the morning to work until nine, and return for at least two more hours of work straight away after the school was closed in the afternoon. So after he was done working in the salt and coal, Washington officially began and would continue his education at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia.

Upon entering Hampton, Washington learned to value the importance of receiving an education. Though perhaps such is not an accurate statement as it seems he always had an appreciation for learning.

Booker T Washington Vs W. E. B. Du Bois essay

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Booker T Washington Vs W. E. B. Du Bois. (2019, Feb 12). Retrieved from