According to Mungazi (2007), Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois are among the most influential leaders of the black Americans in the entire history. He, however, noted that the two scholars supported the use of different methods and approaches of how the black people would uplift their status in the American society. While Washington emphasized the need for empowering the Africans to enable them be competence in industrial, agricultural, and trade related skills against the whites, Du Bois insisted that the only way in which the Africans would climb the economic and social status ladder is by fighting for their civil rights while at the same time acquiring higher education. This seeks to compare and contrasts the works of this two great black leaders while also looking at the advantages and divagates of each contributions as well as their relevancy at the time.

Comparison of Du Bois and Washington's Approaches and Methods

According to Brock (2010), the main arguments put forward by Washington was that the best way in which the conditions of the Africans could be improved was through providing them with the necessary industrial and trade education. Washington saw the key to the Africans progress in the development of specific skills useful to the community. Additionally, he also noted the need for interracial harmony. To Washington, there was a need for the Africans to gain wealth first before agitating for their civil rights. According to him, this would convince the whites that they too deserved to be respected. A part from industrial education, Washington also saw the need of providing additional job opportunities for Africans as a way of uplifting the race which he believed could be achieved by providing the blacks with trade education.

Mungazi (2007) observes that, Du Bois, in what is seen as the influence of his life experience, rooted for the need of the attainment of higher education as the way of uplifting the condition of the Africans. According to Brock (2010), Du Bois had no experience much of racism as his talent gave him advantage, even becoming the very first America to obtain a doctorate degree. In his method, Du Boise identified a small group of blacks who had attained college education. He called this group ’the Talented Tenth’ (Brock, 2010). He believed that it was through such a small group of exceptional men that the Negroes were going to be saved. He stressed on the need for the ‘Talented Tenth’ to be developed through providing them with opportunities to attain higher education and later using them to uplift the black masses (Brock, 2010).

Though Du Boise agreed to Washington’s argument on the need of the blacks to be productive workers and to further own property, he insisted that this would not help much without the Blacks attainment of the rights to vote. He saw this right as the only way in which the blacks would be guaranteed of their own security and the security of their properties under the law. He argued that without the civil right, the blacks would be robbed of the property without any political challenge.

Washington, on the other hand, called for a thrift and self respect while also emphasizing the need of Africans to submit to the whites. To him, there was the need for the blacks to agree that they were inferior to the whites, an argument that Dubois disagreed to, terming it a way of robbing the blacks their self-respect (Brock, 2010). Even though Du Boise agreed with Washington that industrial education was necessary for the blacks, he rooted more for higher education. Du Bois warned that it is only through training the blacks in the higher learning institutions that there would be enough teachers for the industrial schools (Mungazi, 2007).

Advantages and Disadvantages of Their Work

It is also clear that Washington focused on having education aimed at preparing the blacks for real time jobs instead of looking for equality from the whites. His focus could allow the blacks to secure help from the white Americans while accepting their low status as the blacks. Washington’s emphasis on the need for the blacks to work hard was also appropriate and could enable them to elevate themselves economically. Washington also stressed on the importance of education with special focus on crafts, industrial and farming sectors which were very relevant and attainable during this time (Knight, 2008).

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On the other hand, Du Bois method could enable the blacks to gain equality as well as high level educated. Du Bois successfully pointed out the need for the blacks to say no to oppression instead of practicing virtues that would literally keep them in their low position. His interpretation of Washington’s work as asking the blacks to surrender their political power, civil rights, and the higher education was useful. It seemed to have corrected the interpretation, by some of the southerners, of ‘Washington’s Atlanta Compromise’ that the blacks had completely surrendered their demand of equality with the whites (Mungazi, 2007). He accomplished this by vigorously advocating for the civil rights agenda. He even helped develop a small group of the blacks believing that they could in turn empower their fellow blacks. He was right to say that the industrial education would only work to keep the blacks in the service careers though his suggestions could best complement these ideas.

Together, the two scholars also acted as great segregation leaders with different views which, without any doubt, strengthened the nation. However, their contributions have received various criticisms. Mungazi (2007) noted that Washington seemed to have encouraged the blacks to accept discrimination during his time. He criticized him of having cultivated virtues such as patience and enterprise with a mere aim of enabling the blacks to be fully accepted and integrated into all the levels of the society at the expense of their liberty. Mungazi (2007) also argued that Du Bois ideas seemed to have been a head of his time as they were unattainable.

The Possibility of the Two Scholars Working Together

Though it can be argued that because the two scholars emphasized on the need for education, they could better have worked together to complement each other ideas, this was not possible. Because of his seemingly smooth background, the fortunate Du Boise strongly believed that others too could only attain freedom by gaining higher education. On the other hand, Washington who had suffered in the hands of the whites knew that equality could not just be achieved through agitation but by the economic empowerment. Washington strongly emphasized the need for the blacks to gain industrial, trade, and agricultural skills which he believed could enable the blacks to rise economically and gain both respect and acceptance from the whites.

Relevancy of Their Work

Though it had its weaknesses, Washington’s work was more tenable during this time. The priority of the Africans at this time was the economic empowerment. This would easily be achieved through providing relevant skills in the industrial, agricultural and trade sectors, as he pointed out. Additionally, because of the high level of segregation and hatred at the moment, agitation would not be the best approach for the blacks to use in airing their grievances. Being patience, as suggested by Washington, could allow them to secure economic support and security as well as reducing the level of anti-black violence against them at the time (Knight, 2008). However, in today’s highly competitive and diversified world, Du Boise’s method of the higher education would be the more appropriate as it produces an individual with diverse knowledge and skills able to take up the challenges in the increasingly complex world.


In conclusion, it is without any doubt that both the two scholars made great attempts towards improving the lives of the blacks during the 19th and the 20th century. Though the two saw the need for education they differ with Du Bois calling for the need for the higher education while Washington called on the need for industrial education. However, the two scholars’ ideas, if harmonized, would be more applicable in the today’s society.

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