History And Development Of Black Protest Rhetoric Of Web Dubois

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W.E.B DuBois was a very educated man he received his Doctoral degree from Harvard University and was the first black male to do so. Dubois was an activist of the black community. As remarked once by Martin Luther King Jr. 'history cannot ignore W.E.B. DuBois because history has to reflect truth and Dr. DuBois was a tireless explorer and a gifted discoverer of social truths. His singular greatness lay in his quest for truth about his own people. There were very few scholars who concerned themselves with honest study of the black man and he sought to fill this immense void. The degree to which he succeeded disclosed the great dimensions of the man.' Throughout his career, his ideas of 'educate and agitate' certainly agitated other black leaders and revolutionaries such as the likes of Marcus Garvey and his Back to Africa Movement or Booker T. Washington founder of Tuskegee Institute. His rivalry with Washington the most famous as Washington produced as many results as he did. His belief was firmly in the idea of 'racial uplift' and using agriculture as a way to do that. Washington also was for reconciling with the South and forgetting past discrepancies against blacks when they were once slaves and even after emancipation facing Jim Crow and lynching’s for those who did not abide the 'separate but equal' doctrines. DuBois was a firm believer of the 'Talented Tenth' of blacks and working toward making them the leaders and educators of the race. As well as forging ahead to make the black race of great repute in America.

Born February 23, 1868, William Edward Burghardt DuBois in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. DuBois became one of the most successful social activist, scholar and writer of the twentieth century. He descended of African, French, and Dutch lineage hence his name. DuBois was one of 25-50 blacks who lived in Great Barrington out of 5,000 whites. (http://www.naacp.org/pages/naacp-history-w.e.b.-dubois) So therefore signs of blatant Jim Crow and racism were not made blatant, there was a tone underlying the attitudes of those whom lived there? DuBois' personality became abrupt and sullen as he got older as opposed to cheerful and outgoing as he had been when he was young. (http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/web-dubois-is-born)

DuBois was very intellectually gifted, doing very well in high school. He got a full scholarship to Fisk University in Tennessee, a black institution. After receiving his A.B. he then attended Harvard where he was to receive his B.A. graduating cum laude. His speech on Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy during the Civil War, was to make a stir and make news in the national press. (http://www.naacp.org/pages/naacp-history-w.e.b.-dubois) It would be the first of many scholarly honors he would receive and also the turning of heads. Studying in Europe was a dream of DuBois' and after earning his M.A. in History at Harvard he went on to study at the University of Berlin with some of the great German minds in philosophy and sociology and economics. DuBois returned to the states to become the first man of African descent to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University. (http://www.naacp.org/pages/naacp-history-w.e.b.-dubois)

In his lifetime, DuBois accomplished much putting his intellectual gifts to work. In 1897, he directed the Atlanta Conferences which convened annually to generate concise scientific research on the living conditions of African Americans. From those conferences he collected, collated, and analyzed socioeconomic data about every conceivable facet of being a black person in America. Ambitious at the time and still is he published about sixteen volumes on his findings. (http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/web-dubois-is-born)

In 1903, he published his first of remembered works The Philadelphia Negro and later the Souls of Black Folks. The latter being his most prophetic and remembered. (http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/web-dubois-is-born) His essays on race and society and economics were published in such journals as The Independent, Nation, The Southern Workman, Harper's Weekly, World's Work, The Outlook, The Missionary Review, and the Literary Digest, the annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science and the Dial. DuBois plunged himself into anthropological, sociological, historical, economic, and philosophical studies of blacks in America hoping to elude a 'cure' for the race problem in America. (www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/race/etc/road.html)

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He was editor for the Crisis, the official magazine for the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) which he helped to find in 1910. He used his knowledge and position to write many influential articles on blacks in America. Making him extraordinarily popular. As a representative of the NAACP he went to the Peace Conference after the Armistice was signed at the end of World War I. (http://www.naacp.org/pages/naacp-history-w.e.b.-dubois) He organized a Pan African Conference (he wasn't the founder) to discuss the situations of Africans everywhere, realizing for blacks to be free they must be free everywhere.

Back tracking a bit to the year 1903 W.E.B Dubois was in a heated intellectual battle with a few southern leaders Booker T. Washington was the main target of Dubois. Booker T. Washington delivered a speech that would later be known as the “Atlanta compromise”. At the time, the Washington/Dubois dispute polarized African American leaders into two wings--the 'conservative' supporters of Washington and his 'radical' critics. The Du Bois philosophy of agitation and protest for civil rights flowed directly into the Civil Rights movement which began to develop in the 1950's and exploded in the 1960's.

Dubois’s speech in response to Washington wrote in one of his most acclaimed works “The souls of black folk” was called “Equality and Education”. Dubois employed a Value claim in order to deter everything that was stated in the “Atlanta compromise” a Value claim is where the speaker is advocating a judgment claim determining whether it was good or bad right or wrong. In this instance he was saying that Washington’s solution was the wrong one and would the black community in a very bad state. Dubois stated this clearly in his letter when he stated: ‘The criticism that has hitherto met Mr. Washington has not always been of this broad character. In the south especially has he had to walk warily to avoid the harsh judgments, and naturally so, for he is dealing with the one subject of deepest sensitivities to that section. Twice ,once when at the Chicago celebration of the Spanish-American War he alluded to the color-prejudice that is “eating away he vitals of the south,” and once when he dined with President Roosevelt has he resulting Southern criticism been violent enough to threaten seriously his popularity in the North the feeling has several times forced itself into words that Mr. Washington’s counsels of submission overlooked certain elements of true manhood and that his educational pregame was unnecessarily narrow.’ (W.E.B Dubois)

Dubois was attacking the very fundemtals of Washington’s integrity as well has his true motives for his program. America was going through an age of unusual economic development and Dubois felt that Washington was trying to pull blacks down in the very time he should have been encouraging them to accomplish things they never thought possible. However without the proper education we could not do that, education was one of the very things that Washington’s program was trying to limit, Dubois felt that if Washington could build Tuskegee institute the should know how import education was to the Black community. There were three vital things to our advancement that Washington neglected in his speech: Political power in a time that we needed to be represented the most, Civil Rights we had just been freed civil rights weren’t just going to be handed to the blacks of the south, and higher education of the Negro. Dubois knew that knowledge of lue collar work would not help us reach the next level in citizenship. Dubois didn’t stop there he went on to break down how none of the “Atlanta compromise would not help us. He stated that “Washington is striving nobly to make Negros artisans, business men, and property-owners: but it is utterly impossible, under modern competitive methods, for workingmen and property owners to defend their rights and exist without the right of suffrage. Washington insists on thrift and self-respect, but at the same time councils a silent submission to civic inferiority such as is bound to sap the manhood of any race in the long run. Washington advocates common-school and industrial training, and depreciates institutions of higher learning, but neither the negro common-schools, nor Tuskegee itself, could remain open a day were it not got teachers trained in negro colleges, or trained by their graduates.” (W.E.B Dubois)

Dubois gave his points and refuted his points in three’s. He didn’t rip Booker T. Washington to shreds at first he gave him acknowledgement for his accomplishments for they was numerous then he gave his view on the state of blacks, he stood on the backs of negro leaders in history such as Nat Turner, and Gabriel in Virginia. Then he told his opinion on the state of the Negro south but it wasn’t exclusive to just the southern Negro but it was inclusive of all people of color in America.

He used a mixture of two appeals in his writing, logos or logical and ethos or credibility. He used logical in the fact that he gave real examples of how Washington’s plan would not work, yet it was ethos because while using logic to refute Washington he inevitably called him out on his credulity in doing so. This is why his letter was pure genius. The use of these two appeals made Dubois point of view very effective added on to the fact that blacks never really agreed with Booker T. Washington’s views. They felt that trying to dodge our oppression was not the way to eliminate it.


  1. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/web-dubois-is-born. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.history.com: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/web-dubois-is-born
  2. http://www.naacp.org/pages/naacp-history-w.e.b.-dubois. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.naacp.org: http://www.naacp.org/pages/naacp-history-w.e.b.-dubois
  3. W.E.B Dubois. (n.d.). , Equality and Education . In T. R. Frazier, African American History.
  4. www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/race/etc/road.html. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.pbs.org: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/race/etc/road.html
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