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W.E.B. DuBois Critiques Racial Accommodation

The most influential public critique of Booker T. Washington’s policy of racial accommodation and gradualism came in 1903 when black leader and intellectual W.E.B. DuBois published an essay in his collection The Souls of Black Folk with the title “Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others.” DuBois rejected Washington’s willingness to avoid rocking the racial boat, calling instead for political power, insistence on civil rights, and the higher education of Negro youth.

Mr. Washington represents in Negro thought the old attitude of adjustment and submission, but adjustment at such a peculiar time as to make his program unique.  This is an age of unusual economic development, and Mr. Washington's program naturally takes an economic cast, becoming a gospel of Word and Money, to such an extent as apparently almost completely to overshadow the higher aims of life... Mr. Washington's program practically accepts the alleged inferiority of the Negro races.

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, and concentrate all their energies on industrial education, and accumulation of wealth, and the conciliation of the South... As a result of this tender of the palm-branch, what has been the return?  In these years there have occurred:

1.  The disenfranchisement of the Negro.

2. The legal creation of a distinct class of civil inferiority for the Negro.

3. The steady withdrawal of aid from institutions for the higher training of the Negro.

These movements are not, to be sure, direct results of Mr. WAshington's teachings; but his propaganda has, without a shadow of a doubt, helped their speedier accomplishment.  The question then comes: is it possible and probable, that nine millions of men can make effective progress in economic lines if they are deprived of political rights, made a servile caste, and allowed only the most meager chance for developing their exceptional men?  If history and reason give any distinct answer to these questions, it is an emphatic No.

Black Americans do not expect that the free right to vote, to enjoy civil rights and to be educated will come in a moment; they do not expect to see the bias and prejudices of years disappear at the blast of a trumpet, but they are absolutely certain that the way for a people to gain their reasonable rights is not by voluntarily throwing them away and insisting that they do not want them, that the way for a people to gain respect is not by continually belittling and ridiculing themselves; that, on the contrary, Negroes must insist continually... that voting is necessary to modern manhood, that color discrimination is barbarism, and that black boys need education as well as white boys.  

Source | W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (Chicago, 1903); available from History Matters,
Creator | W.E.B. DuBois
Item Type | Book (excerpt)
Cite This document | W.E.B. DuBois, “W.E.B. DuBois Critiques Racial Accommodation,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed December 4, 2023,

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