Social Equality Essay

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During the Gilded and Progressive Era, positive change was happening for most Americans. America was becoming an industrial power and was being reformed to be more democratic. This helped many groups who were disenfranchised at that time, but this did not include African Americans. In the time of the Gilded and Progressive Eras, the Jim Crow period was also occurring. During the Jim Crow era, many African Americans were excluded from almost every type of reform, including anything political, societal, or economic. The only thing these people were looking for was equality and to determine the best way to achieve equality they began looking towards the prominent individuals within the African American community. While many leaders helped lead the cause to help African Americans gain equality, the two leaders who made an impact within the community at that time were Booker T. Washington and W.E.B Du Bois. While they disagreed in multiple ways regarding how African Americans should receive rights, specifically which type of rights, both did achieve so much for their community. However, out of the two of them, W.E.B Du Bois did more for African Americans because he advocated for higher education, social equality, and political equality for African Americans.

While both Washington and Du Bois agreed that education was important, Du Bois believed that having a higher education was more important and beneficial for blacks than the industrial colleges. While Du Bois did acknowledge that some African Americans would thrive more efficiently in an industrial college, his overall belief was that for blacks to even have a small chance of succeeding and improving their circumstances they needed to have higher education to have teachers who could effectively educate the black community. He also believed that with the help of the Talented Tenth, which are those who are in the top ten percent of the black community with valuable skills, they could help teach the rest of the black population and it would encourage African Americans to rise up and out of their hardships and ultimately fight against the discrimination of their race. In the “Declaration of Principles” from The Niagara Movement, Du Bois said, “We favor well-equipped trade and technical schools for the training of artisans, and the need of adequate and liberal endowment for a few institutions of higher education must be patent to sincere well-wishers of the race (p. 154).” Although he did not favor the industrial colleges, Du Bois realized that during the Jim Crow era education was one of the only ways to ensure African Americans had skills that would allow them to be independent within the white-dominated society. Having an education, it did not only help individual blacks get jobs but also allowed blacks to help themselves instead of relying on others.

Despite the skills that higher education supplied to blacks, Du Bois knew that it would not be enough to bring about social equality for the African American community. He believed that for African Americans to progress socially, discriminatory barriers needed to be knocked down which meant having the white community back up the cause which seemed nearly impossible. Washington’s viewpoint of the efforts caused the whites to have an incorrect impression of what was occurring to African Americans at that time. What Washington was saying was that what the southerners were doing, including being prejudiced, was acceptable since blacks had not made any progress and remained in their current state because they chose the wrong type of higher education so it was therefore solely the blacks' responsibility to improve the standard lifestyle within the black community. In his “Atlanta Exposition Address” he even talked about how once African Americans were freed from slavery that they began forgetting their ways and explicitly said, “... we may have overlooked the fact that the masses of us are to live by the productions of our hands and fail to keep in mind that we shall prosper in proportion as we learn to dignify and glorify common labor and put brains and skill into the common occupations of life; … (p. 126)” Although Washington did ask for blacks and whites to lend a helping hand with one another throughout the rest of the speech, he implied to the whites with that one sentence that what was happening to the blacks was because African Americans got their priorities out of line.

This was not the case at all. The truth was that because of what was going on in the South caused the blacks to remain in their current state. Until industrial universities had trained professionals from higher education colleges blacks could not have educational progress; thus this meant that until they could get the industrial universities equipped with trained professionals, African Americans needed support even while they made efforts to help themselves. Du Bois disputed Washington’s viewpoint and criticized it by implying that Washington gave the whites an excuse to not help African Americans when in reality the situation required the assistance of everyone involved and it began with the white southerners taking ownership of their wrongdoings and making things right all while the white northerners begin to actively be involved rather than just put money on the problem to make it disappear.

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To help unite African Americans and whites for this cause, Du Bois helped Alexander Crummell create and organize the American Negro Academy in which black scholars would publish research in regards to the negative stereotypes of African Americans to counteract the negative impressions whites have because of blacks. In an essay known as “The Conservation of the Races,” Du Bois outlines what the academy should believe to accomplish its goals. In point four Du Bois says, “As a means to this end we advocate, not such social equality between these races as would disregard human likes and dislikes, but as such social equilibrium as would, throughout all the complicated relations of life, give due and just consideration to culture, ability, and moral wealth, whether they be found under white or black skins (p. 137).” Although the American Negro Academy was not as successful as Du Bois and Crummell intended it to be, it was a start to improving the social equality for African Americans.

While Du Bois attempted to improve social equality, he could not make a big difference because Washington’s argument allowed the whites an easy way to turn their backs on the problems involving the black community. The whites, in turn, used Washington's speeches to argue that African Americans did not even want social or political equality even though they wanted both. Du Bois did not agree with what was being spewed by both whites and Washington so instead of waiting around for whites to change their mind he wrote an essay titled “Souls of Black Folk” in which Du Bois politically criticized Washington’s belief. Although it did make a difference, however by publishing the article backfired and caused division within the African American community.

Despite all that happened Du Bois still believed that there should be political equality, specifically universal voting rights. In “Of the Ruling of Men” Du Bois defended universal voting rights. Throughout the piece, he brings up the beliefs of others and points out the issues with them. At one point in the piece, he says, “Education is not a prerequisite to political control - political control is the cause of popular education (p. 130).” He goes on to explain that in the old assumption, there are people in the world who believe they know what is best for others than those others know for themselves, but that is not the case one bit. The reality of it is that no one knows a person better than that person. When that reasoning is applied to voting and decision-making, it does not make sense for whites to tell blacks or anyone else they cannot vote.

Eventually, after being vocal about political equality for blacks, Du Bois helped found the Niagara Movement which encouraged African Americans to take action against the challenges of racism and discrimination. Although it was unsuccessful overall, Du Bois used the experience he had with the Niagara Movement to help the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Though the NAACP appeared to be an elite social group for the Talented Tenth, it eventually began initiating lawsuits and campaigning against disenfranchisement, segregation, and lynching. African Americans started to view the NAACP as something that was doing something that was going to help their community.

W.E.B Du Bois made more of an impact than Booker T. Washington on the African Community as a whole. While yes, Du Bois did make mistakes in the way he handled making improvements for the black community, this does not discount the fact that he did make progress for all within the African American community. As Du Bois said in “Credo,” “I believe in Liberty for all men: the space to stretch their arms and their souls … uncursed by color: thinking, dreaming, working as they will in a kingdom of beauty and love (p. 152).” This was a very interesting book as it caused me to look at history regarding Washington and Du Bois deeper than I have been doing in the past. I would recommend this book to everyone who wants to dig deeper into this part of history.

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Social Equality Essay. (2024, February 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 20, 2024, from
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