The Debate over Means and Ends
In the nineteenth century the problem that faced the Afro- American community was how to destroy the institution of slavery. In the twentieth century the question was how to achieve equality. Frederick Douglass had been in the vanguard of the fight to overthrow the peculiar institution. Later, he was among the first to realize that Emancipation had not solved all the problems. It was his belief that the forces of racism and indifference were responsible for relegating the ex-slave to a second-class status. When the Federal Government terminated Reconstruction without providing his people with the tools for competing in American society, Douglass's disappointment was severe.
At the turn of the century the focus of the problems facing Afro-Americans had changed. Slavery had been abolished, but not race prejudice. The elimination of this scourge became the basis for a new drive. Douglass, who for a half century had been looked upon as the spokesman for his people, was too old to tackle the task of ending segregation and prejudice based on race. When he died early in 1895, the Afro-American community was left without leadership capable of uniting the diverse elements within the movement. The pressing need was for black men and women to escape physical violence and to find acceptance with dignity, and it couldn't wait.
However, within this community there were many who were capable of leadership. What was lacking were the instruments of leadership. Money, power, and the press, for the most part, were in the hands of whites who had concluded that the ex-slave would have to solve his own problems. What this meant was that the Whites wanted to be left in peace. Dozens of Afro-Americans, however, were not content to accept the degrading position which had been assigned to them. Utilizing the limited resources within their own community, new leadership evolved and began to debate the issues of the day. Before Emancipation the problems had seemed simple. All attention was focused on the abolition of slavery, and the only point of controversy centered on the means by which it should be achieved. But segregation and discrimination were not so easily defined and attacked. The debates which ensued widened to include disagreement over both means and ends. A vocal minority, discouraged by the emasculating effects of discrimination, believed that they should withdraw from white society altogether. Some of them wanted to return to Africa and to assist its inhabitants in their liberation from European imperialism. They planned to create an independent African nation. Others, while not wanting to leave America, still wanted to withdraw from white society into a world of their own choosing and making.
The majority, however, insisted that the African immigrant, like those from Europe, had the right to all the privileges of being American. Some of them wanted to join the white society, accept its Euro-American cultural values, forget their past, and assimilate into the mainstream of American life. Still others, while wanting to find their place within the American nation, insisted that the country must be transformed into a genuinely pluralistic society. While they wanted to be integrated into the nation, they did not want to join the white society. Instead of assimilating into Anglo-Saxon culture, they wanted American civilization to become multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and highly fluid.
The means which were proposed to achieve these differing ends were highly diverse. Some argued that the ex-slave must first demonstrate his readiness to be accepted within white society. Others claimed that they need only demand the rights which were legally theirs. In order to do this they planned to make aggressive use of the press and the courts. Mass organization to achieve economic and political pressure was also recommended as another technique.
There were scores of leaders representing dozens of differing positions. In the first half of the twentieth century, the spectrum was limited almost exclusively to the advocacy of nonviolent techniques. Four of these leaders will be discussed below. Their ideas present a broad overview of the concepts to be found within the Afro-American community. Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, and A. Philip Randolph represented a wide variety of approaches, their ideas forming the total spectrum of the thrust for remaking the black role in white society.
Booker T. Washington: The Trumpet of Conciliation
Within a few months of Douglass's death, a new leader was thrust upon the Afro-American community. Unlike Douglass, who believed in self-assertion, Booker T. Washington developed a leadership style based on the model of the old plantation house servant. He used humility, politeness, flattery, and restraint as a wedge with which he hoped to split the wall of racial discrimination. His conciliatory approach won the enthusiastic support of the solid South as well as that of influential Northern politicians and industrialists, Their backing gained him a national reputation and provided him with easy access to the press. Members of his own community were filled with pride to see one of their own treated with such respect by wealthy and influential leaders of white America. When Theodore Roosevelt entertained Washington for dinner at the White House, the Afro- American community was overjoyed. However, some whites believed that it had been a dangerous breach of etiquette. Nevertheless, there were those within the Afro-American community who were not enthusiastic about their new leader. They believed that conciliation was the road to surrender and not the way to victory.
Booker T. Washington was born into slavery on April 5, 1856. His mother had been a slave in Franklin County, Virginia. The identity of his white father remains unknown. After Emancipation the family moved to West Virginia where it struggled to achieve a livelihood. Young Booker attended a school for the children of ex-slaves while, at the same time, holding down a full-time job in the mines. As a courteous, cooperative, hard-working young man he secured a job cleaning and doing other tasks around the house of one of the mine owners. This occupation was less strenuous than working in the mines, and it left him more energy to pursue his studies, In 1872, with nothing to help him besides his determination, he traveled and worked his way hundreds of miles to Hampton Institute. Undaunted by lack of tuition, he insisted that he could do some useful work to cover his expenses. When he was directed to clean the adjoining room as a kind of entrance test, his response was to apply himself to the task. When the teacher's white handkerchief could not discover any dirt in the room, she was so impressed with his work and with his genial personality that she admitted him to the institute and found a janitorial job to ease his financial situation.
Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute had been started after the Civil War by General Samuel Armstrong to train ex-slaves to lead their people in pursuit of land and homes. Armstrong strongly believed that they should not be given what they could earn for themselves. Therefore, the institute strove to teach the student manners, cleanliness, morality, and practical skills with which to make a living, He believed that hard work for its own sake developed moral virtue, and he tried to instill this respect for labor into his students.
After graduating, Washington became an instructor at Hampton Institute. Then in 1881, he was invited to Tuskegee, Alabama to found a similar school there. Louis Adams, a skilled freedman, had made a political deal which led to the establishment of the Tuskegee Institute. In return for his delivery of the Negro vote, the state legislature provided minimal funds for educating ex- slaves. The roof of the building which they were using leaked and the students often had to study with umbrellas over their heads.
In effect, the institute became a kind of commune. The students grew their own food on the adJoining land, and they erected their own buildings. They sold their excess produce to the citizens of Tuskegee. They also developed skills in carpentry, brick-making, and a score of other trades and sold their products to the community. Gradually, as the white citizens realized that the school was not developing aggressive blacks and that the students were providing a contribution to the community, they came to accept it and to help it to develop by contributing funds and supplies. They found that Tuskegee students were hard-working, courteous, and humble instead of being self-assertive and articulate. They realized that their fears of educating the ex- slave had been unfounded.
In an attempt to lure more business and industry into the South, political leaders scheduled a trade exposition for Atlanta, Georgia, in 1895. A delegation was sent to the nation's capital to request financial aid from a Congressional committee. Booker T. Washington was included in the delegation as a token that there was backing from all portions of the community for the project. Speaking to the committee, Washington said that:
"the Negro should not be deprived by unfair means of the franchise, political agitation alone would not save him, and that to back the ballot he must have property, industry, skill, economy, intelligence, and character, and that no race without these elements could permanently succeed."
The delegation admitted that his oratory had significantly helped their cause. They were impressed with his racial views, particularly when he stated that character development was more important than political agitation. This was a position which they could whole-heartily endorse.
The Cotton States Exposition which was held in Atlanta in 1895 strove to project an image of the South as a peaceful and prosperous region. It tried to represent the South as a desirable location for future financial investment. Part of the peaceful image which it tried to create was a picture of racial harmony. The Exposition had a pavilion which was built by ex-slaves and which displayed their products, and it was decided to invite a Negro to speak at the Exposition. The choice fell on Booker T. Washington. His famous speech, which later became known as "The Atlanta Compromise", lay heavily on his mind for many weeks before its delivery. He wanted to cement racial relations as well as to advance the status of his people. He was afraid of saying something which might undermine the cause.
Washington's speech was built around two graphic images. In the first, he told the story of a ship at sea which was out of fresh water. It signaled a passing vessel that it needed fresh water. The other ship told them to let down their bucket. Finally, after much consternation, the crew complied. Instead of finding salt water as they had expected, the bucket was pulled up filled with fresh water from the mouth of the Amazon. Washington used this image to suggest that the racial situation could be improved if both races would begin from where they were. The second picture which he used was that of the hand. He pointed out that while the hand was one, the fingers were separate. Similarly, he suggested that national unity and social segregation could go together.
Washington built on the image of the ship's needing fresh water to persuade Negroes to start where they were in building their future. He said:
"To those of my race who depend on bettering their condition in a foreign land or who underestimate the importance of cultivating friendly relations with the southern white man, who is their next-door neighbor, I would say: 'Cast down your bucket where you are, cast it down in making friends in every manly way of the people of all races by whom we are surrounded. Cast it down in agriculture, mechanics, in commerce, in domestic service, and in the professions. And in this connection it is well to bear in mind that whatever other sins the South may be called to bear, when it comes to business, pure and simple, it is in the South that the Negro is given a man's chance in the commercial world, and in nothing is this Exposition more eloquent than in emphasizing this chance. Our greatest danger is that in the great leap from slavery to freedom we may overlook 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; shall prosper in proportion as we learn to draw the line between the superficial and the substantial, the ornamental gewgaws of life and the useful. No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem. It is at the bottom of life we must begin, and not at the top. Nor should we permit our grievances to overshadow our opportunities."
Washington then turned to the whites in the audience and urged them to start where they were in building national prosperity and racial unity. He said:
"To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits for the prosperity of the South, were I permitted I would repeat what I say to my own race, 'Cast down your bucket where you are.' Cast it down among the eight millions of Negroes whose habits you know, whose fidelity and love you have tested in days when to have proved treacherous meant the ruin of your firesides. Cast down your bucket among these people who have, without strikes and labor wars, tilled your fields, cleared your forests, builded your railroads and cities, and brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth, and helped make possible this magnificent representation of the progress of the South. Casting down your bucket among my people, helping and encouraging them as you are doing on these grounds, and to education of head, hand, and heart, you will find that they will buy your surplus land, make blossom the waste places in your fields, and run your factories. While doing this, you can be sure in the future, as in the past, that you and your families will be surrounded by the most patient, faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful people that the world has seen. . . . so in the future, in our humble way, we shall stand by you with a devotion that no foreigner can approach, ready to lay down our lives, if need be, in defence of yours, interlacing our industrial, commercial, civil, and religious life with yours in a way that shall make the interests of both races one."
He summed up his plea for racial cooperation with the second pictorial image. He told the audience that "In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet as one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress." This proposal brought forth thunderous applause. He went on to say that the wisest in his race were aware that fighting for social equality was folly. The ex-slave, he believed, must first struggle and prepare himself for the assumption of his rights, which were privileges to be earned. While he did believe that his people would receive their full rights at some future date, he insisted that "The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera-house." Economic opportunity was far more important than either social equality or political rights. He closed the speech by praising the Exposition for the effect it would have in bringing fresh material prosperity to the South, and added:
". . . yet far above and beyond material benefits will be that higher good, that, let us pray God, will come, in a blotting out of sectional differences and racial animosities and suspicions, in a determination to administer absolute justice, in a willing obedience among all classes to the mandates of law. This, coupled with our material prosperity, will bring into our beloved South a new heaven and a new earth."
When he finished, the audience applauded wildly. Governor Bullock rushed across the platform and shook his hand. The next day he was greeted and praised enthusiastically on the Atlanta streets. President Cleveland, after having read the speech, wrote Washington and thanked him for what he had said. The following year Harvard University granted him an honorary Master's degree. The press both North and South quoted all or parts of the speech, and most of the newspapers carried appreciative editorials. The Charleston News and Courier, for example said "His skin is colored, but his head is sound, and his heart is in the right place." Money poured in to finance the Tuskegee Institute. Overnight Washington was skyrocketed to national fame.
However, there were those who did not appreciate their new leader's call to conciliation. In view of the growing virulence of racism and the spread of Jim Crow legislation, they believed that his refusal to demand their rights was, in fact, a form of emasculation.
John Hope was one of those who had heard the Atlanta speech and did not want to accept the compromise. He was a professor at Roger Williams University in Nashville, Tennessee, and later was to become president of Atlanta University. The following year, after carefully considering Washington's speech, he made an address of his own to his colleagues in Nashville. He bitterly attacked the compromise and said that he believed it to be cowardly for a black man to admit that his people were not striving for equality. If money, education, and honesty would not bring the black man as much respect as they would to another American citizen, they were a curse and not a blessing.
This was obviously an attack on Washington's statement that the right to earn a dollar was worth more than anything else. He said that if he did not have the right to spend a dollar in the opera house and to do those things that other free men do, he was not free. Hope was not content with demanding equality in vague terms. He insisted that what he wanted was social equality. Instead of urging conciliation, he advocated that the Afro- Americans should be restless and dissatisfied. When their discontent broke through the wall of discrimination, then there would be no need to plead for Justice. Then they would be men. A decade later, those who opposed Washington's leadership decided that they needed to organize and coordinate their activities.
John Hope, W. E. B. DuBois, Monroe Trotter, and several others wanted to speak out more vigorously against racial discrimination, segregation, and lynching. To do this, they created the Niagara Movement to challenge the political domination of Washington's Tuskegee machine. Because he was the recognized advisor to politicians and philanthropists, this was a difficult task. Hope's criticism resulted in the diminution of financial support to Atlanta University where Hope was president.
W. E. B. DuBois, who was a professor at Atlanta University at that time, charged that:
"Mr. Washington distinctly asks that black people give up, at least for the present, three things,--First, political power; second, insistence on civil rights; Third, higher education of Negro youth,--and concentrate their energies on industrial education, the accumulation of wealth, and the conciliation of the South. . . . As a result of this tender of the palm-branch, what has been the return? In these years there have occurred: 1. The disenfranchisement of the Negro. 2. The legal creation of a distinct status of civil inferiority for the Negro. 3. The steady withdrawal of aid from institutions for the higher training of the Negro. These movements are not, to be sure, direct results of Mr. Washington's teachings; but his propaganda has, without a shadow of a doubt, helped their speedier accomplishment. The question then comes: Is it possible, and probable, that nine millions of men can make effective progress in economic lines if they are deprived of political rights, made a servile caste, and allowed only the most meager chance for developing their exceptional men? If history and reason give any distinct answer to these questions, it is an emphatic No "
He believed that beginning at the bottom with a humble trade was the best way to stay at the bottom, respect should be worth more than material advancement. He believed that Washington's policy had replaced manliness with a shallow materialism. Monroe Trotter edited the Boston Guardian which was one of the most militant papers published in the Afro-American community. Trotter used it as a platform from which to attack Washington's leadership. On one occasion when Washington was speaking in Boston, Trotter was among those arrested for creating a disturbance during the lecture. When the Niagara Movement was dissolved in 1909 and most of its leaders joined with liberal whites in founding the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Trotter refused to follow them. Besides distrusting the conciliatory policies of Washington, he could not put his trust in an integrated movement.
In the years immediately preceding his death in 1915, Washington hinted at a growing disillusionment with the way in which his compromise had worked. In 1912 he wrote an article for Century magazine entitled "Is the Negro Having a Fair Chance?" In it he criticized the fact that more money was appropriated for the education of whites than of blacks. He also criticized the convict lease system which had developed in the South. His dissatisfaction with segregation became clear when he pointed out that although Jim Crow facilities might be separate they were never equal. Another article which he had written was published after his death in the New Republic. In it he described the terrible effects of segregation. He said that it meant inferior sidewalks, inferior street-lighting, inferior sewage facilities, and inferior police protection. Such lacks made for difficult neighborhoods in which to raise families in decency.
If Washington's program was a sellout, as many believed, it is becoming increasingly clear that he did not intend his compromise as an end in itself. He believed that it could be the means to a much broader future. When he spoke before the Congressional committee early in 1895, he expressed his opposition to disenfranchisement on a racial basis. His apparent acceptance of it at Atlanta was only a tactical maneuver. In an article which he wrote in 1898, he said that he believed that the time would come when his people would be given all of their rights in the South. He said that they would receive the privileges due to any citizen on the basis of ability, character, and material possessions. He was, in effect, approving disenfranchisement of the poor and ignorant in both races. When Negroes did receive what was due them as citizens, he said, it would come from Southern whites as the result of the natural evolution of mutual trust and acceptance. Artificial external pressure, he insisted, would not help.
The Atlanta Compromise was to be the means to an end and not an end in itself. If the ex-slave would start at the bottom, develop manners and friendliness, Washington believed that he could make his labor indispensable to white society. Acceptance of segregation was, at that time, a necessary part of good behavior. If the whites, in turn, opened the doors of economic opportunity to the ex-slave instead of importing more European immigrants, Washington said that the nation would have an English-speaking non-striking labor force. Gradually, individual Afro-Americans would gain trust, acceptance, and respect. The class line based on color would be replaced by one based on intelligence and morality.
Washington seemed to be unaware that a race which began at the bottom could stay at the bottom. In an age of rapid urbanization and industrialization a strategy which emphasized craft and agriculture was drastically out of step with the economic realities. Moreover the nation did not accept its part of the compromise. The flood of immigration continued unabated for another two decades. When Afro-Americans were given opportunities in industry, it became clear that there were black jobs and white jobs. The former were always poorly paid.
There were two bases for Washington's belief that the Negro should start at the bottom and work his way up. The nineteenth- century economic creed had taught that hard work unlocked the door which led from rags to riches. This teaching was also reinforced by Washington's own experience. Born in slavery and poverty, he rose from obscurity to fame and influence through honesty and industry. However, Washington seemed unaware that the most which his policy could ever achieve was a token acceptance which would leave the Negro masses behind.
W. E. B. DuBois: The Trumpet of Confrontation
In contrast to Washington's policy of conciliation and compromise, W. E. B. DuBois believed that it was necessary to act like men in order to be accepted as men, Speaking the truth as he saw it, loudly, clearly, and fearlessly, was to him the minimum criterion for manliness. This led to a contrasting style of leadership. Where Washington had been polite and ingratiating, DuBois was self-assertive and, frequently, aggressive. Where Washington had tried to win the trust of white bigots, DuBois insisted on confronting them with the truth as he saw it. Where Washington had counseled peace, DuBois clamored for action.
The contrasting leadership styles of Washington and DuBois were rooted in their differing life experiences. DuBois was born in February, 1868, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. His grandfather had procured his own freedom through participating in the American Revolution. DuBois received his elementary and secondary education in an integrated setting which prevented his becoming conscious of the color bar. However, receiving an integrated college education was not so simple. Instead he headed South to Fisk University to further his education, There, the daily insults of discrimination and segregation came to him as a shock. He had not been trained to accept them, and these daily harassments filled him with anger and hostility. He returned north to pursue his graduate education at Harvard University, and he also spent some time at the University of Berlin exploring the new field of sociology.
DuBois's first-class education as well as his own scholarly bent led him to put considerable faith in reason and learning as the tools with which to rebuild the world. He came to believe that bigotry and discrimination were rooted in ignorance and that scholarship could destroy them by exposing them to the light of truth. He strove to demonstrate that the Afro-American was not innately inferior and that his inferior status sprang from his unequal and unfair treatment in America.
While at Harvard, he wrote "The Suppression of the African Slave Trade" which was of such high quality that it became the first volume in an important historical series published by Harvard. Soon afterwards, while teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, he conducted extensive sociological research which resulted in "The Philadelphia Negro". This pioneering sociological work was valuable for the understanding of the Negro in Philadelphia and throughout the North, At that time sociology was a new field, and there was not a single institution of higher learning in the United States or the world which had adopted it as the tool for studying the problems of minority groups. Atlanta University invited DuBois to come there and teach and to conduct sociological studies. There he began a research department which was devoted to studying the problems of the Afro-American community and which resulted in the production of a dozen works.
Besides his interest in scholarly research, DuBois developed a theory of racial leadership. For a people to advance, he believed, they needed leaders. If they failed to develop such people of their own, they would be guided by others. DuBois was doubtful whether his people should entrust themselves to white leaders. He agreed with Washington that the masses would have to make their living with their hands, and he also believed that it was important for them to develop skills which would help them. While wanting to assist the masses, however, he argued that the important priority, at the beginning, must be given to training a leadership elite which he called "the talented tenth." "The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst, in their own and other races." This influential aristocracy would include scholars who would unearth the facts about the race and its problems. It would provide leaders who would examine those facts, make key decisions, and lead the race forward. This elite would also include professionals and businessmen who would set an example of good citizenship for the whole community.
Moreover, the achievements of "the talented tenth" would provide living evidence that the racial stereotypes held by white bigots were untrue. This would lead gradually to the acceptance of "the talented tenth" within the majority community, and they would provide the wedge which would break open the walls of preJudice and discrimination forever.
His work at Atlanta University was only one of the ways by which he strove to build "the talented tenth." In 1905 DuBois and several others had founded the Niagara Movement to provide a common platform from which to speak. They also intended it to become the framework within which they could exchange their ideas. In it "the talented tenth" tried to oppose the policies of conciliation and submission which were being propounded by Booker T. Washington. However, in 1906 Atlanta was rocked by a race riot which shook DuBois's faith in reason and scholarship as a panacea. In the very city in which he lived and where his influence should have been strongest, white bigotry exploded, and mobs roamed the streets for days beating Afro-American citizens and burning their homes. DuBois began to wonder whether scholarly discovery of the truth was enough.
Following another race riot in Springfield, Illinois, in 1908 and the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, DuBois left his post at Atlanta to become the director of publicity and research for the N.A.A.C.P. While continuing his interest in scholarly research, his new job involved him in the aggressive exposure and condemnation of discrimination. He became editor of "Crisis" which he developed into a journal of protest. Instead of a scholar dispassionately unearthing and publishing his findings, DuBois's new position made him a passionate journalist and engaged him in a righteous crusade.
However, some blacks questioned the wisdom of entrusting their future to a biracial organization like the N.A.A.C.P. When it was formed, Monroe Trotter refused to join it, claiming that its white membership would blunt its efficiency and militancy. The fact that for many years DuBois was the only black on its executive board led many to wonder whether it had genuine biracial participation in its decision making.
Later, Ralph J. Bunche, professor of political science, U. N. diplomat, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, attacked the N.A.A.C.P. on the same grounds. He argued that its dependence on white middle-class leaders, to provide financial backing, the sympathy of a large segment of the public, and on favorable court decisions prevented it from achieving significant results. He claimed that whenever a controversial crisis arose, it would be prohibited from taking a truly militant position. Even if its white leadership was capable of making such a radical decision, it was always forced to consider the effect of an action on its white, middle-class, liberal financial backers.
Bunche also criticized the N.A.A.C.P. for relying on the courts and the Constitution for support. He claimed that the Constitution was a brief, general document which always required interpretation to relate it to specific, contemporary issues. This interpretation, he maintained, was always shared by public opinion. While the courts' understanding of the Constitution might not always conform precisely to the majority opinion, the influential, vocal, and dominant segment of the public inevitably influenced the courts' thinking on important subjects. While in individual cases it might even contradict this force, in the long run the Constitution could never be more than what the vocal maJority wanted it to be. Bunche believed that the N.A.A.C.P. thinking was always sensitive to the feelings of the white middle class, and therefore could never afford to alienate that group. At the same time, he believed that racism was so ingrained in the white mentality that it would have to receive a series of hard jolts if significant changes were to occur.
In the final analysis, he said, the N.A.A.C.P. would have to bargain and conciliate. Like Booker T. Washington, he felt that it could not afford to be as militant as was necessary. At about the same time DuBois, himself, became disillusioned with the gradual conciliatory approach of the N.A.A.C.P. While he still wanted to work for a integrated society, he had lost faith in the effectiveness of a biracial organization to achieve significant change. In an article which he wrote in Crisis before resigning from the N.A.A.C.P., he suggested that black separatism or black unity could provide a more solid front with which to attack discrimination and segregation than cooperation with white society. His goal, he insisted, was still to make ten million of his people free. He wanted to help them break the bondage of economic oppression, to shake off the chains of ignorance, to gain their full political rights, and to become exempt from the insults of discrimination and segregation.
This kind of freedom, he maintained, was not inconsistent with self-organization for self-advancement. He wanted to see the Afro-American community develop control over its own churches, schools, social clubs, and businesses. This was not, DuBois insisted, a surrender to segregation. He believed that a community which controlled its own basic institutions was in a better position to make its own decisions and work for its own advancement. This solidarity and cooperation was necessary to achieve significant change resulting in an integrated society. Indirectly, he admitted that this was a shift away from his concept of "the talented tenth." The assumption that an educated and cultured elite would be accepted within white society had proved to be erroneous. To the contrary, he noted, whites often feared educated blacks as much or more than uneducated ones. "The talented tenth" had not even gained token acceptance. Therefore DuBois shifted to a concept of a group solidarity instead of an elite leadership. This concept of group cooperation must not be confused with that of Washington. DuBois's type of solidarity was to be the platform from which to assert one's manhood even if it meant personal deprivation:
"Surely then, in this period of frustration and disappointment, we must turn from negation to affirmation, from the ever-lasting 'No' to the ever-lasting 'Yes.' Instead of sitting, sapped of all initiative and independence; instead of drowning our originality in imitation of mediocre white folks; instead of being afraid of ourselves and cultivating the art of skulking to escape the Color Line; we have got to renounce a program that always involves humiliating self-stultifying scrambling to crawl somewhere where we are not wanted; where we crouch panting like a whipped dog. We have got to stop this and learn that on such a program they cannot build manhood. No, by God, stand erect in a mud-puddle and tell the white world to go to hell, rather than lick boots in a parlor."
Both Walter White and James Weldon Johnson took on the task of countering DuBois's position. Johnson argued that DuBois ended where Washington began. He noted that the conflict between integration into a biracial society and withdrawal into black separatism had existed throughout American history. There had always been a minority who wanted to build a separate community, but he said that what was favored by the maJority was to gain entrance into American society. Yet the daily insults which were felt even by the most avid integrationists led them to curse white society and, at times, to consider retreat into isolationism. According to his point of view, Johnson pointed out, isolationism had to be based on economics and although one could talk about black capitalism and could even develop some prospering businesses, the economic realities favored mass production and economic interdependence. Separate black institutions were always contingent institutions which were subservient to the country as a whole. Therefore they could never really be free or independent. The separate society would always be subJect to external control by the larger economic and political institutions on which it relied. Johnson also noted that integrationists like himself had been charged with failing to see the intensity of the institutional racism which existed all about them. He denied this and claimed that racism and discrimination were patently obvious. To the contrary, he suggested that the real danger was in overemphasizing their importance and becoming paranoid.
After the Second World War, DuBois Joined the N.A.A.C.P. staff for another short period. However, his disillusionment with society had deepened, and he was ready to consider even more radical solutions than before. He had become increasingly convinced that racism was a world problem and not merely an American problem. The series of Pan-African Congresses which he had helped to organize forced him to see a connection between American racism and European imperialism in Africa. At the same time, communism was representing itself as the foe of both racism and imperialism, and for many of the oppressed peoples throughout the world the communist claim had become attractive. To the N.A.A.C.P. it seemed that DuBois's new "pink" ideas and associations were not good for its image, and it asked him to resign. The government charged DuBois with failing to register the "Peace Information Center", where he was employed, as an agent for a foreign principal. Although acquitted, the harassment deepened his cynicism and hostility. Finally, he became a communist, and he moved to Ghana in 1960. He died there in 1963. As a young scholar, DuBois had begun by believing that reason and research would dispel ignorance and prejudice. Obviously, prejudice was not so easily eradicated by reason alone. "The talented tenth," which was to lead the Afro-American community into the mainstream of American life, had not been successful. White bigots were especially antagonized by educated blacks. When DuBois had advocated black solidarity, it had failed to take root because the intellectuals had become alienated from the masses. The black bourgeoisie had been hindered by their color from assimilating into white society, and their newly acquired education, values, and middle-class style of life prevented them from returning to their people. Finally, DuBois's work with the N.A.A.C.P., while it achieved some significant results, failed to bring about the kind of structural social change he desired. Despairing of bring about racial advancement in America, DuBois decided to work for it in Africa.
Marcus Garvey: The Trumpet of Pride
Marcus Garvey's personality differed markedly from that of both Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois. Washington's image was one of humility and courageousness bordering, many believed, on obsequiousness. DuBois proJected the picture of a self- confident, hostile, and reserved individual. In contrast, Garvey was easy-going and flamboyant. The personalities of both Washington and DuBois minimized the fact that they were black. On one hand, Washington appeared to be a man who knew his place and who did not intrude as an individual or a Negro into any situation. On the other hand, DuBois had shaken off the habits of both the 'house nigger" and the "field nigger" in order to adopt the characteristics of a cold intellectual which was more in keeping with the Anglo-Saxon character. Garvey, however, flaunted his blackness wherever he went. Black pride and black identity were the cornerstones of his philosophy, and they vibrated through everything he said and did. He was not ashamed of the personality characteristics of the lower classes, and he readily identified with them. It was the black middle class, which had adopted the life style of the mainstream of white society, that earned his scorn.
Marcus Garvey was born in St. Anne's Bay, Jamaica, in August, 1887. His parents were of unmixed African descent. His ancestors had belonged to the Maroons, a group of slaves who had escaped and established their own community in the Jamaican hills. They fought so well and had been so thoroughly organized that the British found it necessary to grant them their independence in 1739. Garvey was very proud of this heritage and of his unmixed ancestry. Jamaican society was structured hierarchically along color lines. The whites were at the top, mulattoes in the middle, and blacks at the bottom. The mulattoes enjoyed displaying and projecting their superiority over the blacks. In turn, Garvey was scornful of the mulattoes, and he distrusted all people with light skin throughout his life.
As a young man, Garvey began making his living as a printer's helper in a large Kingston printing firm and worked his way up to foreman. His leadership ability became evident when, during a walkout, the workers chose him to lead the strike. He had been the only foreman to join the workers, and the company later black-listed him for it. The union failed to come to his aid, and thereafter he distrusted labor organizations as a source of help for his people.
He then traveled extensively around Central and South America, staying briefly in several large cities and supporting himself by his trade. Wherever he went, he found blacks being persecuted and mistreated. In 1912 he crossed the Atlantic and spent some time in London. There he met large numbers of Africans and became interested in their plight as well. While he was there, he was influenced by a Negro Egyptian author named Duse Mohammed Ali. His ideas further intensified Garvey's interest in Africa. At the same time, Garvey read Booker T. Washington's "Up From Slavery" and was impressed with his philosophy of self-help and moral uplift.
By this time, Garvey had become aware that black people were persecuted all around the world:in the West Indies, in Central America, in South America, in the United States, and even in Africa, their homeland. When he returned to Jamaica, he determined to establish an organization to work for the improvement of the conditions of black people the world over. The result was the founding, in 1914, of the "Universal Negro Improvement and Conservation Association and African Communities League". In 1916, Garvey came to the United States to solicit the support of Afro-Americans. He had hoped to get the backing of Booker T. Washington with whom he had already corresponded, but, unfortunately, Washington died the previous year.
In the United States Garvey found the Afro-American community ready to support his program of encouraging aggressive racial pride.The hopes which had accompanied the end of slavery, half a century earlier, had turned to ashes. Then, thousands moved from the rural South to the urban North to escape the growth of segregation and to find economic advancement. In the "promised land," they were continually confronted by socially sanctioned segregation, constant racial insults, and relentless job discrimination.
In 1919 white race hatred exploded in race riots all across the country. In that year, there were also some seventy lynchings, mostly black, and some of them were soldiers who had Just returned from defending their country. Urban whites resented the influx of rural blacks from the South who were pouring into their cities, and they tried to confine the newcomers to dilapidated, older neighborhoods. To do this, they were quite willing to resort to violence, and, between 1917 and 1921 Chicago was struck with a rash of house bombings as whites tried to hold the line. During these years, there was one racially motivated bombing every twenty days.
In the midst of such conditions, white America did not seem very beautiful, and black pride, black identity, and black solidarity had an appeal which was novel. Chapters of the Universal Negro Improvement Association sprang up all across the country. Although there has been considerable debate about the number of members in the U.N.I.A., it was clearly the largest mass organization in Afro-American history. Its membership has been estimated between two and four million. In any case, its sympathizers and well-wishers were ubiquitous. The "respectable" N.A.A.C.P. never reached such grass-roots support, and even with its white liberal financing, its capital was much smaller than that which Garvey was able to tap from the lower-class blacks alone.
Garvey advocated a philosophy of race redemption. He said that blacks needed a nation of their own where they could demonstrate their abilities and develop their talents. He believed that every people should have its own country. The white man had Europe, and the black man should have Africa. Race redemption did not mean that all blacks must return to Africa. However, when there was a prosperous, independent African nation, blacks throughout the world would be treated with respect. He noted that Englishmen and Frenchmen were not lynched, but that blacks, in contrast, were treated like lepers. Garvey did plan to encourage those blacks who had particularly useful skills or who desired to return to Africa to do so, in order to become the back-bone of this new prosperous black nation.
Garvey was harshly critical of the leadership in the Afro- American community. With the exception of Booker T. Washington, they had all advocated social equality, intermarriage, and fraternization. Garvey said that these only led to increased racial friction, He argued that racial purity for both whites and blacks was superior to racial integration, Blacks should also be proud of their race and their ancestry. Africa was not a dark and degenerate continent; instead it was a place of which to be proud.
To demonstrate this, Garvey adopted African clothes and hair style long before they became popular. The black bourgeoisie was shocked and ashamed by his blatant display. Whites were totally incapable of understanding why anyone would try to glorify blackness and the African heritage. To them, he seemed merely a clown. However, to the black masses who had no hope of achieving middle-class respectability, his pride in blackness came as a release. Instead of a life buried in shame, he offered them pride and dignity. Instead of being considered "nobodies," he gave them a sense of identity. In place of weakness, he offered solidarity and strength. These ideas spread through the ghettoes of large American urban centers like a fever. In 1920 the Universal Negro Improvement Association held its annual convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City. There were 25,000 delegates in attendance. Garvey told them that he planned to organize the four hundred million blacks of the world into one powerful unit and to plant the banner of freedom in Africa. In response, the convention elected him as the Provisional President of Africa.
Garvey's black separatism led, naturally enough, to black capitalism. Businesses connected with the U.N.I.A. sprang up all across the country. They were usually small enterprises: grocery stores, laundries, and restaurants. Larger businesses included a printing house and a steamship line. The New York World, which was begun in 1918, was the only black daily in existence at that time. After its demise, Garvey began The Black Man, which was published monthly. Although most of these businesses only served to sink Negro roots deeper in American society, the purpose of the Black Star Steamship Line was, eventually, to provide a means of transportation for those who desired to return to Africa. The black middle class felt that Garvey was hurting its image. White politicians were nervous about the existence of such a large and potentially powerful organization, especially when it was led by a man like Garvey whom they could not understand. When the steamship line ran into financial trouble, many were convinced that Garvey had been defrauding the ignorant masses.
After a power struggle within the U.N.I.A., Eason, who had led the fight, was murdered in New Orleans. Two Garveyites were accused of the crime, and opposition to the movement grew even stronger. Finally, with the urging of middle-class Negroes, the government brought Garvey to trial for using the mails to defraud. He insisted on being his own lawyer, and he took great pleasure in harassing the witnesses and haranguing the jury. When he realized that this was undermining his own case, he began taking advice from a white lawyer. Nevertheless, he was fined $1,000 and given a sentence of up to five years in prison. In 1925, he was sent to the Atlanta Penitentiary. At that point, many of his opponents had second thoughts about his case and asked the government to reopen it. President Coolidge commuted the sentence, but as soon as he was released Garvey was again arrested and was deported as an undesirable alien.
As the movement had been largely dependent on Garvey's magnetic personality, the organization began to dissolve as soon as he left the country. Garvey tried to establish a worldwide movement with its base in Jamaica, but a power fight for control with the New York leadership developed. The outbreak of the Second World War further diminished the influence of his organization. Garvey died in London in June, 1940.
Both James Weldon Johnson and W. E. B. DuBois claimed that emigration of blacks from America to Africa was merely a form of escapism. (Ironically DuBois's disillusionment drove him to Africa some thirty years later. ) Johnson argued that a small independent African nation would have to be dependent on Europe and America for capital. Therefore Garvey's program could not achieve the kind of freedom and equality which it claimed. Johnson maintained that it would still be subject to oppression from white imperialism. As such, the nation would only be an underdeveloped area dependent on external financing and continually subjected to economic exploitation. In foreign affairs it would always be small and weak, and it would have to depend on some stronger ally for its defense. It would only become a pawn for the great powers, all of which were white Europeans or Americans. Johnson claimed that a separate African nation would not provide the kind of power base which Garvey promised.
Although Garvey had, overnight, created the largest mass organization in Afro-American history, it crumbled almost as quickly as it had been built. The movement had been overly dependent on his personality. However, Garvey cannot be dismissed so easily. Although his movement disintegrated rapidly, the interest in black identity and black pride which he had sparked, lingered on. Lacking a structure within which to operate, it was not very obvious to the external observer. Nevertheless, his ideas have clearly provided the spawning ground from which more recent organizations have developed.
A. Philip Randolph: The Trumpet of Mobilization
The leadership style of A. Philip Randolph differed from that of Washington, DuBois, and Garvey. His interest in providing jobs and skills for the working class was akin to that of Washington. His aggressive outspoken manner was more like that of DuBois. While lacking the flamboyant style of Garvey, he was able to work among the ranks of the working class and gain their acceptance. He, too, has demonstrated considerable ability in mass organization. Like DuBois, he wanted to use black solidarity as a wedge with which to break through discrimination into a biracial society and not as an end in itself.
Asa Philip Randolph was born in Crescent City, Florida, in 1889. He was raised in a strict religious home. His father was a local minister but he also had to hold down another full-time job in order to support his family. Early in the century, Randolph moved north and attended City College in New York. During the First World War, Randolph, with Chandler Owen, edited The Messenger and made it into an outspoken vehicle for their own opinions. In its pages, they espoused a radical, American brand of democratic socialism. They supported the International Workers of the World, which many viewed as being alien and communistic, and they questioned the advisability of Negroes supporting the war effort. They were charged with undermining the national defense, and they spent some time in Jail. Both advocated a working-class solidarity of blacks and whites which would resist exploitation by capitalism. In their view, every nonunion man, black or white, was a potential scab and a potential threat to every union man, black or white. While the white and black dogs were fighting over the bone, they pointed out, the yellow capitalist dog ran off with it. The Messenger encouraged blacks to join unions, and it tried hard to persuade the unions to eliminate discrimination. The view they propagated was that unions could not afford to be based on the color line; instead they should be based on a class line.
Randolph and Owen attacked Samuel Gompers and the A. F. of L. for failing to be truly biracial. Randolph criticized DuBois and the N.A.A.C.P. for their lack of concern with the real day-to-day problems of the masses. He charged that the N.A.A.C.P. was led by people who were neither blacks nor workers, and that they were incapable, therefore, of articulating the needs of the masses. He argued that an organization for the welfare of the Irish would never be led by Jews. Therefore, he suggested that an organization for the welfare of Blacks should not be led by whites. He was especially critical of the gradualist, peaceful policy which DuBois appeared to support during the early years of the N.A.A.C.P. He questioned DuBois's professed stand against violence and revolution.
Randolph said: "Doubtless DuBois is the only alleged leader of an oppressed group of people in the world today who condemns revolution." To Randolph, violence and revolution were not anti-American, but were justified by the Declaration of Independence.
During the twenties, Randolph tried several schemes to increase black and white cooperation in unions. Along with Chandler Owen, he founded the National Association for the Promotion of Unionism among Negroes. The most successful of Randolph's efforts came in 1925 when he established the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. The Brotherhood appeared to demonstrate the futility of his basic thesis. Randolph, who believed in biracial unionism, had established, in the Brotherhood, an organization which, by the nature of the occupation, was to be an exclusively black union. He found himself being pushed relentlessly away from biracial unionism into supporting racial organizations for racial advancements.
In 1936, he played a key role in forming the National Negro Congress. It was a broad alliance of all kinds of groups to advance the welfare of the race. Although it did not receive the backing of the N.A.A.C.P., the Urban League, an even more conservative organization, became a cornerstone in the Congress. The Urban League has always been primarily interested in securing employment for the Negro working class. During the thirties, the communists adopted a united-front policy, and they tried to infiltrate the N.N.C. Some of the left-wing unions which did support the N.N.C., were largely white.
Randolph's talent for mass mobilization was demonstrated most clearly in his efforts to organize two gigantic marches on Washington in order to dramatize Afro-American needs and to pressure the government into action. As American industry began to gear up for war production at the beginning of the Second World War, it needed to find new sources of labor. The Afro- American community was eager to support the war effort, particularly because it meant fighting Hitler's racism. But they were also eager to find jobs. However, defense industries in America continued to display their own brand of racial discrimination. Many of them said quite openly that, while they were willing to hire blacks, they would only give them menial positions regardless of their skill and training. It became clear that racism had to be fought at home and abroad.
Many tried to get the government to take action, but it seemed more concerned with protecting its political image and with avoiding alienating the party's financial backers. In January, 1941, Randolph suggested a mass march on Washington to demand government action against discrimination both in government services and in defense industry. The idea took root, and a mass march was being organized for July. On June 25, 1941, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 which forbade further discrimination either in government services or defense industries, on the grounds of race, creed, or nationality. While some discrimination still continued, the order and the Fair Employment Practices Commission, which resulted from it, played an important role in opening large numbers of new jobs to the Afro-American community. The planned march, which will be discussed more fully in a later chapter, was then called off. Although the march was canceled, Randolph hoped to keep the March on Washington Movement alive. He wanted to create a permanent mobilized community. This, too, failed to materialize, but, if it had not been for the war, his efforts might have been more successful. In September, 1942, Randolph called a meeting of the March on Washington Movement before which he outlined his program. He told the conference that slavery had not ended because it was evil, but because it was violently overthrown, Similarly, he said that if they wanted to obtain their rights, they would have to be willing to fight, go to jail, and die for them. Rights would not be granted; they must be taken if need be. His plan was to organize a permanent mass movement on a nationwide basis and to conduct protests, marches, and boycotts. This was an adaptation of some of Gandhi's techniques to the Afro-American problem.
The March on Washington Movement was to be an all-Negro movement. Yet, Randolph did not intend it to be anti-white. He pointed to the fact that every organization must have its own purposes, that Catholic groups concentrated on their interests in the same way as labor groups strove to gain their objectives. Any oppressed people must assume the maJor responsibility for furthering their goals. They might accept help and cooperation from outside, but they must, in the final analysis, rely on self- organization and self-help. One of the by-products of this, Randolph believed, would be the development of self-reliance within the Afro-American community and the destruction of the slave mentality. Although individual blacks within the community could join other organizations, and while the movement itself might cooperate with other organizations, the March on Washington Movement itself was to be exclusively for blacks. It was a racial movement for racial advancement.
Randolph went on to envision an organization with a challenging action program. Millions of supporters would be divided into a network of small block units. Each would be headed by a block captain. This would facilitate instant, mass mobilization. At a moment's notice, a chain of command could be activated, and millions of marchers would be in the streets. Randolph also envisioned repeated, gigantic marches aimed at Washington and state capitals. He could also see smaller, regular marches on the city halls and other establishments in dozens of cities across the country. To him it was desirable for blacks to picket the White House, if need be, until the nation came to see that blacks were willing to sacrifice everything to be counted as men. Randolph also wanted to encourage the mobilization of registration and voting.
Besides being reminiscent of the Gandhi nonviolent campaign in India, Randolph's March on Washington Movement, although it never materialized, foreshadowed the civil rights movement of the late fifties and sixties. This later civil rights movement, however, was directed by several separate organizations which, at times, were involved in power fights with one another. It lacked the central organization and national, instant mobilization which Randolph had in mind. It also included a substantial number of white supporters and leaders which Randolph had excluded from his program. He had predicted that this kind of white participation would back down in times of crisis and thereby emasculate the movement. This is precisely what the Black Power advocates of the late sixties claimed had happened to the civil rights movement, and they gave the same reasons for its collapse.
In 1947, Randolph cooperated with Grant Reynolds in organizing the League for Non-Violent Civil Disobedience Against Military Segregation; its aim was to encourage draft resisters objecting to serving in a segregated army. Randolph was also one of a delegation which told President Truman that America could not afford to fight colored people in Asia with the army as it then existed. Truman, then, took the first real steps in ending military segregation. In 1963, Randolph and Bayard Rustin did organize a massive march on Washington. Most of the publicity, however, went to Martin Luther King, Jr., its main speaker. This march contributed significantly to the passage of civil rights legislation. However, most of Randolph's efforts continued to be in the realm of union organization. In 1957, he was made a vice president in the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and a member of its executive council. Two years later, he was censured for charging organized labor with racism.
Although Randolph was not able to achieve his dream of mass mobilization, he did display considerable organizational ability. In part, his ideas have been put into effect by subsequent groups, and his philosophy was similar to that which became popular in the 1960s. The whole civil rights movement bore a marked resemblance to his philosophy, and undoubtedly it drew considerable motivation from it. The idea of an all-black mass organization, with a vast network of local action groups participating in it, is still alive. He had envisioned a grass- roots black power movement a quarter of a century before it became popular. Although dozens of such groups have sprung up across the country, they still lack the kind of mass mobilization and national coordination which he had planned. His was to have been a militant, all-black movement without its becoming anti- white. It was to teach self-reliance to the Afro-American community. Local control and power were to be used to achieve freedom and civil rights within a genuinely biracial society.