Saturday, October 27, 2018

CH203.1002-ESSAY #002--African-American Struggle in the Post-Reconstruction Era--U. OF NEVADA, RENO, FALL 2018

University of Nevada, Reno
Dr. S. Pasqualina
Fall 2018     28 Oct 18
James C. L’Angelle

African-American Struggle in the Post-Reconstruction Era

     Progress does not always come easily. Take for instance, the opposing views of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois as to the course of the advance of African-Americans in the United States at the dawn of the 20th century. The former insisted that his race should apply itself to trades and conciliation, reconciliation, with the nation’s white population, namely in the South.  The latter argued that brains not brawn would be deliverance for emancipated slaves.. The former founded the Colored Normal School in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1881; the latter the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909 .  Washington’s “practical” outlook for African-Americans as the 1800s came to a close was an emphasis on manual skills, thus the normal school devoted its curriculum to that aspect. Dubois’ “idealistic” vision for African-Americans was one of education beyond labor, in other fields such as law and political involvement. A showdown of the two was inevitable, did the polarity benefit or impede progress for post-Reconstruction African-Americans?

     Backdrop for the clash of ideals was the Industrial Revolution of the late 19th century. In Atlanta, an exposition allowed the skills acquired by blacks attending the Tuskegee Normal School to be put on display, it’s founder delivered a monumental speech at the fair. Conciliation appeared to be the tone of the speech, at least it was interpreted that way; in other words do what the Negroes had been doing all along, submitting to the Southern whites. Superficial at best, this interpretation became a catalyst for  intellectual blacks who, led by WEB Dubois, placed blame for lack of intellectual progress squarely on BT Washington’s philosophy. In his speech, on September 18, 1895, Washington made it clear that cooperation was the key to integration,
     “To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits for the prosperity of the South, were I permitted, I would repeat what I say to my own race. ‘Cast down your bucket where you are.’” (1)
The “bucket” metaphor was used throughout his speech and it alludes to assimilation, not alienation, of Negroes into Southern white culture. Whether it was the accommodationist  attitude or possibly plain resentment that caused Dubois’ negative reaction can only be surmised from a close reading of his rebuttal. However, WEB Dubois was not the first to criticize Washington’s desire for working, in the fields and factories, to win the hearts and minds of Southern whites.
     William H. Ferris, an African-American Yale graduate, as early as January, 1898 in a Washington Bee article, found troubling consequences for Washington’s philosophy,
     “Mr. Ferris held that Booker T. Washington's love was not the love of benevolence not a Christlike love but Booker T. Washington's love for the white man of the south was the love of complacency, it was a slave's love, a boy's love, the love that kisses the hand that smites one.” (2)
As if a personal affront to the dignity and intelligence of Northern blacks, Washington is put down by Ferris and those who ultimately became the ideological leaders of the “other” progressive effort in African-American culture, The Niagara Movement, organized by Dubois in 1905. (3)  By January, 1898, Dubois had taken up the refutation of the Washington philosophy of accommodation with an essay published in The Annals of the American Academy, titled  “The Study of the Negro Problems.”
     "A visitor to a great Negro school in the South catches the inspiration of youth, studies the work of graduates, and imbibes the hopes of teachers and immediately infers from the situation of a few hundred the general condition of a population numbering twice that of Holland.” (4)
Dubois’ reference to the “great Negro school” probably meant the Tuskegee normal school although there were others in what, at the time, was known not just as the “Black Belt” but also the “Cradle of the Confederacy.” His rather derogatory comparison to the population of Holland seemed quite out of place since it would have been just as appropriate to refer to the number of African-Americans in the South. Here is where a close reading is useful in determining whether there was more than just a difference of opinion or plain jealousy involved in Dubois’ tone for rejection of the Washington philosophy for progress.
     Dubois was a Harvard graduate, by poor Southern Negro standards, born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Washington was an emancipated slave who, once he was given the assignment to create a normal school in the Black Belt, found nearly insurmountable odds against its success when incorporated on July 4th, 1881. Reading his autobiographical account of the struggle in the early days of the school, it is one of remarkable effort for not just the students, but the teachers as well. The initial students were the teachers, they rejected manual labor to construct housing and classrooms. The students studied at night because they worked ten hours a day knee deep in mud to make bricks to sell in town. Progress was slow if any at all, money was scarce if any at all. Toothbrushes were shared by students, a single fork at the dinner table was shared by the family. (5)
Exceptional progress had been made in just a few short years at the normal school, as reported in the Alabama Herald & Times, December 23, 1885,
     “ During these 4 years 500 acres of land have been secured, 2 large buildings (one three story frame, costing $6,500, and one four story brick, costing $11,000,) have been put up, besides one-half dozen smaller buildings.  Industries established are farming, carpentry, painting, printing, poultry raising, sewing, laundry work and brick-making. 700,000 bricks have been made by the students for one of the new buildings and other purposes. “ (6)
Dubois, in his “Of the Training of Black Men” essay of 1903, took a negative view of the normal school’s development,
     “Meantime, starting in this decade, but especially developing from 1885 to 1895, began the industrial revolution of the South.”
Dubois added a quote in the essay from a “prominent Southern journal” but failed to acknowledge the source,
     “The experiment that has been made to give the colored students classical training has not been satisfactory...The whole scheme has proved a waste of time, efforts, and money of the state.” (7)
Noting indeed that the industrial revolution had begun in the South, and the need for labor to fuel it, Dubois ignored the strides made at the normal technical schools citing an unknown source that rejected progress for the African-American seeking to work his way out of the economic dilemma of post-Reconstruction.  Consistency didn’t seem to be a concern of Dubois as prior to his harsh criticism of the normal school charter, in 1895, as reported in the Des Moines Bystander, he delivered a “Creed for the New Negro,” which in its 6 point plan, included,
     “Industrial training and cooperation, and the formation of habits of steady, honest, manual toil, saving of earnings and providence, in order that the race may become self-supporting, and may aid in the development of Africa.” (8)
     Somewhere down the line, Dubois lost faith in the technical school approach to deliver African-Americans from the poor existence they had known following the end of the Civil War up until the turn of the century. It was possibly his Ivy League education, surrounded by colleagues with similar Niagara Movement worldviews. To make it personal as did others, by undermining Booker T. Washington’s  achievements, seemed unprofessional considering his education. Did it create a stigma for blacks to reject working in the fields and factories? Possibly. Did it make it difficult for African-Americans to integrate into the Southern white man’s way of life?  Probably. What had started as a great enterprise to put Negroes to work in trades became a target of political and intellectual criticism, even though the fruits of labor were obvious at the time. Although progress could be weighed by success, it was countered by stubborn refusal of some to take it at face value.

Supporting Documents:
Address at Opening of the Atlanta Exposition, 1895.  Five Hundred Years,  Casper, Davies, Jong, 2016, p. 150
Booker T. Washington, His False Theories Exposed by a Yale Graduate,  Washington Bee, 08 January, 1898.
The Niagara Movement,
The Study of the Negro Problem, WEB Dubois, The Annals of the American Academy,  Jan, 1898, p. 13
Up from slavery: An autobiography, by Booker Taliaferro Washington, 1901,
The Tuskegee Normal School, Alabama Herald and Times, 23 Dec 1885
Of the Training of Black Men, WEB Dubois, 1903, FYH p. 162-163
A Creed for the New Negro, WEB Dubois, Des Moines Bystander, 13 Dec 1895