Sunday, February 18, 2007

W.E.B. Du Bois: Black Intellectual Extraordinaire

In addition to my daughter's drawings and an autographed photo of Jon Stewart given to me by a student, three pictures grace the walls of my office. One is a poster of the black power salute at the 1968 Olympics. The second is of James Baldwin. And the third is of W.E.B. Du Bois.

Educated at Fisk, Harvard, and the University of Berlin, Du Bois was first and foremost an academic. He was also a writer, editor, sociologist, historian, poet, and civil rights activist. He believed "scientifc study" was the key to solving most of the world's ills (particularly the problem of the color line in the United States and the problem of third world oppression globally) and dedicated his life to this kind of study. For Du Bois, being smart in the world mattered. More than that, being smart obligated you to making a difference. It is his example I think of when I need reminding that I'm not wasting my life away as an academic.


"Teach workers to work, -- a wise saying; wise when applied to German boys and American girls; wiser when said of Negro boys, for they have less knowledge of working and none to teach them. Teach thinkers to think, -- a needed knowledge in a day of loose and careless logic; and they whose lot is gravest must have the carefulest training to think aright. If these things are so, how foolish to ask what is the best education for one or seven or sixty million souls! shall we teach them trades, or train them in liberal arts? Neither and both: teach the workers to work and the thinkers to think; make carpenters of carpenters, and philosophers of philosophers, and fops of fools. Nor can we pause here. We are training not isolated men but a living group of men, -- nay, a group within a group. And the final product of our training must be neither a psychologist nor a brickmason, but a man. And to make men, we must have ideals, broad, pure, and inspiring ends of living, -- not sordid money-getting, not apples of gold. The worker must work for the glory of his handiwork, not simply for pay; the thinker must think for truth, not for fame. And all this is gained only by human strife and longing; by ceaseless training and education; by founding Right on righteousness and Truth on the unhampered search for Truth."

Recommended: Souls of Black Folk

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jesse Lee Peterson's SCAM is focused towards Booker T.Washington's views on education for blacks, in debate with W.E.B Dubois: STRAIGHT UP: cheers for Washington, ZIPPO for Du Bois…
Washington's experience as a former slave triumphs over Du Bois perspective on what status' blacks should retain in society. It seems as though Dubois in defense of "Pan Africanism" is not content of how blacks are misrepresented in society. Although Du Bois intentions are to give blacks a "name" in society, he preaches that their education should be segregated, away from the whites who would deviate blacks from reaching their full potential. Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson’s “Scam” puts into perspective the state of the black Americans in today’s society. The Pan Africanism movement introduced by Dubois is in effect the downfall of the black race. The need to separate from the white American society, and hold onto hatred to America has crippled the black community, distracting them from becoming a successful race in America. Instead of separating blacks from whites, Booker T. Washington had another idea, teaching blacks practical skills, enabling them to contribute and succeed in American society. Dubois preached protest and agitation putting up a wall between the whites and blacks that has done a serious disservice to the black community to this day. The anti American sentiment with in the black race, still bickering about reparations and mistreatment has not gotten the black community any further along. Booker T. Washington preached that hard work, learning practical skills, and promoting racial peace would be the key to delivering the black race from bondage. What happened to the black race throughout American history is inexcusable on the part of the white race, however filling blacks with hate, sorrow, and anti American attitude, will only continue to hold the race back and limit the great potential they have proven capable of achieving.

Conseula said...

I don't know that I'd agree that DuBois was preaching separatism (he did get his phd at Harvard and encouraged blacks to go to war in WWI and WWII) or that Washington was preaching racial peace (there can be no peace without civil rights, in my opinion). But I absolutely get why many more blacks would have been supportive of Washington's plan for education--I probably would have sent my kid to Tuskegee for exactly the reasons you list. That doesn't make Washington any less short-sighted though.

Dan said...

When solving the problem of the color line in this country we cannot be nieve. Du Bois and Booker did not live in todays society, they were making moves in America at a time most crucial to the black race, the reconstruction era. Like most immigrants that came to this country at this time period (Europeans, Asians, Hispanic) they came to this country to provide a future for their families, and not by the means of earning a PhD from Harvard, but more along the lines of taking any work they could find. Du Bois may have had good intentions by urging blacks to strive for more then working the trades, but by far Booker T. was more on track by urging blacks to learn the trades, so that they could provide for their families, and allow the next generations the opportunity to achieve a higher education. I todays world, it would be a major offense to tell one race to stick to the trades, but in the reconstruction Booker T. was just being practical, trying to pull his race up, while Du Bois was just being unrealistic.

Conseula said...

But, as history shows us, Washington was in fact the one who was unrealistic. Without the civil rights to secure whatever economic gains made through practical trades, blacks were unable as a whole to improve their conditions. What good is land and a stash of cash if they can be taken away from you at any time by the people oppressing you? It is also important to note, as the quote in the original post indicates, that Dubois in no way eschewed practical, industrial education. He of course saw the need for newly freed blacks to learn skills they could market in order to become self-sufficient. But, importantly, he didn't agree that blacks should be confined to an industrial education, as Washington suggested in many fundraising speeches. Dubois felt, and rightly so, that those black people capable and willing and desiring a Phd from Harvard (or an MD from Johns Hopkins or a BA from Princeton or an MFA from Columbia) shouldn't be barred from pursuing that education because they were black. He also understood, and I think he's right, that the people in charge of the country were not industrially educated and that, if black people were take their rightful place alongside other American leaders, they had to be educated in the same manner as those leaders.

I think it's incredibly telling that Washington didn't send his own kids to Tuskegee. He clearly intended for them to be something other than laborers and educated them accordingly. And that is all Dubois insisted on, that black students have the education they desired and that best fit them.

Fiza said...

Washington? Unrealistic? Hmmm, and still extablised a very succesfull institute? I think it's irrelevant to say that his own children did not attend, but that is interesting I shall look it up...that's beside the point...so if Washington is unrealistic, that means that agitation and protest as a strategy for "change" is "REALISTIC" as you may say...which is exactly the approach Dubois used..I'll come back to post in regards to your other words..but I just wanted to get that point across...btw im the "anonymous" blogger above :)

Conseula said...

The success of Tuskegee rested on Washington's willingness to tell white people that black people didn't really want civil rights and his willingness to tell black people not to agitate for them. Washington told rich white people what they wanted to hear and they wrote him big checks. I don't find that particularly admirable or impressive.

And Washington's own actions show how unrealistic his accomodationist plan was. While preaching his "five fingers on the hand" philosophy in public, behind the scenes he was funding civil rights cases and working to get anti-lynching laws passed in Jim Crow states. Why? Because Washington, like Dubois, clearly understood that the "Negro problem" couldn't be solved by economic gains alone.

And it is relevant to bring up his kids. He clearly intended for them to take their place among the powerful and influential and educated them accordingly. His daughter went to finishing school in Massachusetts. His oldest son went to Fisk and later went on to study pharmacy. The kind of education he proposed for the masses of black youth was not good enough for his own kids.

And, again, Dubois never rejected industrial education outright. He even planned to teach at Tuskegee, but he and Washington could never agree to the terms of his contract. What Dubois did object to, though, was the notion that the *only* path to success for the masses of black people was industrial education.

And when has change ever come about through anything other than agitation and protest?

Fiza said...

Washington’s experience as a slave would give him more of a justification to choose protest and encourage similar actions, however, Dubois seems to be more aggressive towards the racism as if he himself experienced it. Washington has seen the harsh side of being a black slave and still seems to be composed in his efforts to improve conditions for blacks, but it seems that Dubois took charge of his “revenge” on the white race, which is not the most wise way approach such a sensitive deal. If you read this article http://www.issues-views.com/index.php/sect/1000/article/999 it truthfully explains that Washington made the wiser decision, it attaining equal rights, as a gradual achievement, reacting to racism on an intellectual level, rather than acting as if Whites “owed” the black community equal rights..which brings me to my next point…Washington encouraged that blacks should earn their rights through hardwork and discipline…well doesn’t that sound familiar??? We earn what we work for…Ding, ring a bell? Our great, CAPITALIST country…

Fiza said...

It seems Dubois favored a more aggressive political stance, emphasizing more militant protest approach while Washington educated his race: education as precedence over rebellios nature. Yes, its true Dubois established the NAACP, one of the most important civil rights organization, but Washington established his own Institute to demonstrate his efforts to education the black race. Change through agitation and protest, IS NOT EFFECTIVE by the way…HEllooo Martin Luther KING JR????) is not the way to go about in attaining equality for blacks and that’s exactly the strategy that Dubois followed

Conseula said...

How long would blacks have had to wait for civil rights? Tuskegee was founded at the end of the 19th century. People had to march in the streets for rights in the middle of the 20th century.

And let's not forget that Dubois himself was an educator. He taught at numerous black institutions, conducted numerous sociological and historical studies about black people that remain influential. He helped to educate the kinds of people who became teachers at places like Tuskegee.

The article you cited is wrong: Dubois and Washington were not diametrically opposed. They are presented that way, but they weren't. Dubois wanted all doors of opportunity to remain open to black people, where Washington seemed quite willing to close doors if that meant that white capitalists would write him big checks.

And as far earning what you work for in a capitalist society--I have two things to say to that. 1)I'm not that big a fan of capitalism. I have my doubts about an economic system built on the backs and between the leg of my ancestors. 2) The right to vote, the right to a decent education, the right to raise my children in peace, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not things I have to earn. They are my birthright as an American citizen and I won't give them up for a few pieces of silver.

Fiza said...

Conseula, re-read your statement and tell me your thoughts about it…Tuskegeee would be an ideal for his kids to attend..but once again, we all move on to bigger and better things…OPPORTUNITY awaits those who are knowledgable enough to go ahead in life. Yes, Tuskegee was built to give blacks a formal education like no other, but that doesn’t mean that his children were limited to only that, which once again enhances Washington’s concept (versus Dubois’)— that bias (even in education) has no place in society. I’m not saying that it doesn’t exist, just that his children moved on to higher levels, as they were not limited to ONLY studying in an institution their father established. Washington would not reiterate the limited experience he had towards his children. That would probably have been an action on Dubois part, for he would stand on his word for his children to not even encounter whites in an educational system…that’s not the way to obtain peace Conseula, it seems he had his own racism towards the white population…not to say that his heart wasn’t in the right place, he just approached it in a different, much LESS effective way than Washington. His hatred for the whites does not justify his means of attaining rights for blacks..two wrongs don’t make a right..

Conseula said...

Why do you think Dubois hated whites? I think you demonstrate a really poor understanding of Dubois's life and work. I don't think he was any more or less biased than Washington. Dubois simply refused to shuffle to appease white benefactors. The NAACP was started as a integrated organization. Dubois, whom you are calling biased and separatist, willingly joined with whites for the improvement of black people's lives. And, again, Dubois was educated at Harvard, where he would have been 1 of only a handful of blacks. He encouraged black men to do their patriotic duty and join the armed forces during WWI and WWII. His own daughter was undoubtedly educated among whites. Had his son not died as child, he undoubtedly would have been educated among whites. It is simply not true that Dubois was a separatist or that he was racist. He remained a committed integrationist until the very end of his life. It was only at the end of his life, after a lifetime of watching this country willing to get rich of the labor black people but refusing to extend full citizenship to them, that Dubois rejected the country. To state anything else is simply historically inaccurate.

Of course Tuskegee was a great opportunity for tons of black kids. Many of them were able to improve their lot because of the skills they learned at Tuskegee. But what about those black youth who didn't need their lot improved? What about those youth who were already where Washington's children were? Why shouldn't they be able to get a liberal education? Why shouldn't they be able to vote or hold public office? Why shouldn't they be able to enter certain professions? Why should they have to wait?

And, finally, Washington's experience as a slave doesn't make is opinions more right or authentic. Dubois not having been slave doesn't mean he didn't experience racism.

We simply have to agree to disagree on this matter. My original post about Dubois had nothing to do with Washington. In fact, I find that the "debate" between Washington and Dubois rarely gets at the complexity of both men. I originally posted about Dubois because he is, for me, a model of the black intellectual and academic that I admire. And I still stand by that.

Fiza said...

Not a fan of capitalism eh? And yet you have a birthright as an American citizen. how contradictory…and what I said earn something that you work for, I didn’t mean that you would have to earn the “right”, just the right to those rights. a little confusing I know, but if its misunderstood, think---why would Washington believe in self-reliance and industrial education if it wasn’t something that made you feel as if you had, indeed, earned something? His intentions did not mean to say that blacks should permanently serve in a laboring capacity, just that blacks would be granted civil and political rights after gaining a robust economic foundation. Booker T Washington would support your right to vote, your liberty, and the pursuit of your happiness, and as far as him being “bribed” into duty, he wouldn’t have pursued it to the degree of wanting progress for blacks in the United States. He only encouraged the highest development of the mind, while Dubois preferred militant actions.

Fiza said...

I think my understanding of Dubois is not poor or limited, just that our opinions differ and I suggest you support yours with sound proof.

Would you just let anyone in office Conseula? Anyone without a proper education I suppose? Washington's vocational education would surely point out those who fit the description of those worthy of attaining professions, not even just based on the black race...that's what school is all about, only the hardworking succeed. And those that were already on that level? Why should they have to wait? Wait on what? Freedom from slavery does not mean idealogically, freedom from hard work. Hardwork ultimately leads to success and why would Washington discourage blacks to improve on their status to see more opportunities that the society offers? Washington's educational system TRAINED them to be successful as black men and women, not successful black men and women OVER white men and women. I never said Dubois was racist, he just had a different, more demanding, discontented tactic.

Sadiya said...

I think that Washington being a slave was more free-minded about Black and Whites getting the same education side by side. Whereas, Dubois not being a slave wanted separatism in regards to Blacks having a greater advantage over Whites (seems like revenge of Whites having superiority over blacks). Although you think it is irrelevant that Washington was a slave, and that his viewpoints are opinionated, it still shows the motivation and efforts Washington took to alleviate black suffering in the United States. His non-aggressive approach, in comparison to Dubois’ shows his integrity. Dubois did experience racism, but Washington knew and understood the hardships of being a slave, and finally the grand feeling of freedom of slavery, and he made it his duty to make sure that his people would fit in to society without becoming the type of person he was victim to....

Dylan Waco said...

Ishmael Reed has the most interesting take on this issue that I've ever seen. Reed of course is and always has been a major advocate of multiculturalism and a fierce leftist. However Reed also seems to tacitly endorse Seperatism and self-segregation as the only possible alternative to sustained white supremacy and elitism. Because Reed is essentially a Black populist he is very warm toward Washington and not very kind to Du bois. Reed argues very convincingly that Du Bois was an elitist, who's concept of the "talented tenth" was detrimental to the growth of a black middle class. In fact Reed emerges as a "class warrior", who opposes the Leninist "class warrior" tactics and ideology of Du Bois (can anyone, advocate or opponent, seriously question that the man was a vanguardist?). Washingtons "self reliance" is seen as a populist model through Reeds lense and though I don't find that argument as convincing as his critique of Du Bois, it is still an interesting take from a leading black intellectual.

Annah said...

Consuela, I think you are right on and that you provide great example of Booker T. Washington's behind the scenes hypocrisy but I doubt that you'll ever convince Fiza. There's really no point anyway. If recent events--the arrest of Henry Louis Gates at his own home (is this called living while black?!)--don't do it, then nothing will.

It's ridiculous to suggest that black people should have played by the rules even when the rules were inherently unjust and were rewritten to subjugate blacks. To think that black people should have tried to show white people that we were worthy of equality as though we were not equal to begin with!

Fiza continues to place the burden of change on black people. According to Fiza, we should have proven that we were worthy of rights that white people never had to earn and that their own historic texts tell us are natural and inalienable. Moreover, Fiza assumes, for reasons unbeknown to me, that docility would have earned black people equal protection under the law--that white people would have benevolently bestowed equal rights to black people on the basis of good behavior.

Fiza, I recommend you read Sundown Towns to see what happened to black people all over the U.S. who played by the rules and tried to integrate. I honestly think you and Sadiya should rethink your "black revenge" claims. The great irony is that, for the past few centuries, white people have had the monopoly on violence and have rarely restrained themselves from employing it and, moreover, that this is true on a global scale.
When it comes to black and white relations, history has not shown blacks to be the vengeful race.

Moving on... One of my favorite books is Invisible Man precisely because I think it lays out the challenges faced by black people who want to advance themselves in the U.S. As you probably know, Dr. Bledsoe is a parody of Booker T. Washington--a man who is willing to sacrifice the bright potential of extremely talented individuals for the perceived gradual "gains" of the group.

I'm more of a DuBois fan. I believe that every individual should be able to attain her or his potential and that we should encourage this in our children. Incidentally, I highly doubt that we would have a black president if he had been reared on a Washingtonian intellectual diet of mediocrity.

On the other hand, I have a small bone to pick with DuBois. As much as I love the man, I don't agree with his "top ten" philosophy and wish that he had not allowed white eugenicist and feminist Margaret Sanger to use him so disgracefully.

All that said, I'm of the school of thought (is there a name for it?) that progress requires multiple approaches. We need Washingtons and Duboises and Martins and Malcolms. As well as the Hamers and Davises. :>) Change comes through collective efforts and multifaceted approaches, everyone contributing her or his talents to the cause.