Historically Black Colleges and Universities

What were the divergent views between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois on educating blacks?

Booker T. Washington, renowned among many white philanthropists and political leaders, won the financial backing of rich and powerful whites who gave millions of dollars to Tuskegee Institute. He counseled Southern blacks to stay in the rural South. For their education and to prepare them for survival, his school offered agricultural, trade, and other industrial subjects. He wanted blacks to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” to remove themselves from poverty, and develop a strong labor force for the nation. He never condemned lynching, segregation, disfranchisement, and other perils that the South practiced and that his students and graduates encountered in Southern society.

W.E.B. Du Bois, who became Washington’s most noted opponent, challenged Washington’s views on education, calling his educational program at Tuskegee “too narrow,” and even questioning the type of industrial education that Tuskegee offered, saying that some trades, such as that of blacksmith, were becoming obsolete. To train blacks in industrial education would, in Du Bois’ view, keep them in a subservient position and also set blacks back in their progress toward full civil rights. He also accused Washington of “deprecating institutions of higher learning.” Without teachers who were trained at black colleges, common black schools as well as Tuskegee would close, he thought. Much time would pass before the two leaders respected each other’s views.


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