"Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others"
Chapter 3 of The Souls of Black Folk1
by W. E. B. Du Bois
An essay published as the third chapter in The Souls of Black Folk.
Contesting Booker T. Washington point-by-point, Du Bois rejects a strategy of economic progress at the expense of social and political inferiority for blacks in America.
Easily the most striking thing in the history of the American Negro since 1876 is the ascendancy of Mr. Booker T. Washington2. It began at the time when war memories and ideals were rapidly passing; a day of astonishing commercial development was dawning; a sense of doubt and hesitation overtook the freedmen’s sons,—then it was that his leading began. Mr. Washington came, with a single definite programme, at the psychological moment when the nation was a little ashamed of having bestowed so much sentiment on Negroes, and was concentrating its energies on Dollars. His programme of industrial education, conciliation of the South, and submission and silence as to civil and political rights, was not wholly original; the Free Negroes from 1830 up to wartime had striven to build industrial schools, and the American Missionary Association had from the first taught various trades; and Price3 and others had sought a way of honorable alliance with the best of the Southerners. But Mr. Washington first indissolubly linked these things; he put enthusiasm, unlimited energy, and perfect faith into this programme, and changed it from a by-path into a veritable Way of Life. And the tale of the methods by which he did this is a fascinating study of human life.
It startled the nation to hear a Negro advocating such a programme after many decades of bitter complaint; it startled and won the applause of the South, it interested and won the admiration of the North; and after a confused murmur of protest, it silenced if it did not convert the Negroes themselves.
1 Like all chapters in the volume, this one begins with lyrics and some spiritual music. The lyrics above are from Byron's poem "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage"; the music, from "A Great Camp Meeting in the Promised Land."
PORTRAIT: W. E. B. Du Bois. Library of Congress.