The first African American to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard, W.E.B. Du Bois went on to become a professor of economics and history at Atlanta University and the University of Pennsylvania. He was co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (the NAACP) and for over two decades edited its magazine, Crisis.
The following essay is an excerpt from Chapter Three of Du Bois's revolutionary collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk, published in 1903. Here he criticizes "the old attitude of adjustment and submission" that had been articulated eight years earlier by Booker T. Washington in the "Atlanta Compromise Address."
from Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others
by W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963)
Mr. Washington represents in Negro thought the old attitude of adjustment and submission; but adjustment at such a peculiar time as to make his programme unique. This is an age of unusual economic development, and Mr. Washington's programme naturally takes an economic cast, becoming a gospel of Work and Money to such an extent as apparently almost completely to overshadow the higher aims of life. Moreover, this is an age when the more advanced races are coming in closer contact with the less developed races, and the race-feeling is therefore intensified; and Mr. Washington's programme practically accepts the alleged inferiority of the Negro races. Again, in our own land, the reaction from the sentiment of war time has given impetus to race-prejudice against Negroes, and Mr. Washington withdraws many of the high demands of Negroes as men and American citizens. In other periods of intensified prejudice all the Negro's tendency to self-assertion has been called forth; at this period a policy of submission is advocated. In the history of nearly all other races and peoples the doctrine preached at such crises has been that manly self-respect is worth more than lands and houses, and that a people who voluntarily surrender such respect, or cease striving for it, are not worth civilizing.
In answer to this, it has been claimed that the Negro can survive only through submission. Mr. Washington distinctly asks that black people give up, at least for the present, three things,--
- First, political power,
Second, insistence on civil rights,
Third, higher education of Negro youth,--
- The disfranchisement of the Negro.
- The legal creation of a distinct status of civil inferiority for the Negro.
- The steady withdrawal of aid from institutions for the higher training of the Negro.
- He is striving nobly to make Negro artisans business men and property-owners; but it is utterly impossible, under modern competitive methods, for workingmen and property-owners to defend their rights and exist without the right of suffrage.
- He insists on thrift and self-respect, but at the same time counsels a silent submission to civic inferiority such as is bound to sap the manhood of any race in the long run.
- He advocates common-school and industrial training, and depreciates institutions of higher learning; but neither the Negro common-schools, nor Tuskegee itself, could remain open a day were it not for teachers trained in Negro colleges, or trained by their graduates.
The other class of Negroes who cannot agree with Mr. Washington has hitherto said little aloud. They deprecate the sight of scattered counsels, of internal disagreement; and especially they dislike making their just criticism of a useful and earnest man an excuse for a general discharge of venom from small-minded opponents. Nevertheless, the questions involved are so fundamental and serious that it is difficult to see how men like the Grimkes, Kelly Miller, J. W. E. Bowen, and other representatives of this group, can much longer be silent. Such men feel in conscience bound to ask of this nation three things:
- The right to vote.
- Civic equality.
- The education of youth according to ability.
Concluded on page two.