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

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Within the literary canon of African American literature, two of the most influential works 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 faced by African Americans in the 20th century. One argues for uplifting African Americans through hard work and education with regard to certain practical work skills at the expense of obtaining civil rights.

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The other argues that while it is important to get an education, true racial uplift can only be gained by also pursuing civil rights for African Americans.

According to Houston A. Baker Jr., who specializes in African American literature, these literary works not only have 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: 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 significant authors, as well as to demonstrate how their work acts as the ideal representation of the aforementioned concepts.

Although 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 among the intellectuals of the African American community was to come up with a solution as to how they could 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. His mother, Jane, an African American woman who was herself enslaved, together with his older brother and younger sister, raised him.

The exact identity of his father is unknown, though it is well understood that he was a white man. Much of 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). From 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 simultaneously working as a houseboy for a white family. Due to Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, this would prove to be actual employment as opposed to slave labor. Regarding education, Washington began taking night classes at a school 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 comprised getting up early in the morning to work until nine, then returning for at least two more hours of work immediately after the school closed in the afternoon. After finishing his work 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. However, perhaps such is not an accurate statement as it seems he always had an appreciation for learning.

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