The Vitality of Black Leadership in the Struggle for Equality for Black Americans
Vivienne Sanders described the years between 1880-1925 that individual
activists emerged- as 'decades of disappointment' (1) because even
with growing political activeness only certain measures proved
successful. It could be argued then that this was the case for first
real black activist and spokesperson Booker T Washington.
It was in the educational aspirations of blacks that reconstruction
would have a great impact and as an ex-slave and now a teacher,
Washington was to provide vocational education through his Tuskgee
Institute. Feeling the best opportunities for blacks lay in industrial
trade he established the National Negro Business League and later
spoke of how it was foolish to agitate for social equality. His
support for hard work and self-reliance meant many whites as an
effective leader of 'his people' (2) accepted him. By 1895 becoming
known as the leading spokesman for African Americans and their
concerns Washington was invited to address prestigious conferences and
spoke of racial harmony.
It was thought by many including the new activist DuBois that
Washington only sought for limited economic opportunity through slow
progress and regarded him as an 'Uncle Tom' a character that deferred
to whites. Though according to sociologist Myral:
'Where he [Washington] worked and where nine tenths of all Negroes
lived his policy of abstaining from talks of rights was realistic'.
And for other members of the community Washington's achievements were
better than nothing.
Those who saw minor significance in Washington's activism opted for
the views of W.E.B DuBois. Initially both had worked together wanting
to achieve equality for blacks but adopted different tactics due to
Born a free man in the North, DuBois experienced little racial
prejudice and believed civil rights must be obtained first. DuBois
focused on the elitist Northern blacks while Washington on the more
pragmatic in the South.
Washington was being superseded as a universal figure and it became
difficult to sustain his position as a national leader, as the
Northern and Southern states required very different handling. Under
the leadership of DuBois came the most famous organisation-NAACP in
its dealings with political and legal matters of black equality.
Notably some blacks felt the divisions among people like DuBois and
Washington damaged the black cause.
Soon after Washington's death most articulate blacks favoured DuBois'
social and political activism, yet neither gained mass support from
the African American community.
There were divisions of class, colour, creed and career opportunities
and a new activist Marcus Garvey promoted these amongst...