W.E.B. Du Bois and Black Rights

Like Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois served as leader for the black community in the late nineteenth century. In contrast to Washington, however, Du Bois wanted equal rights for blacks immediately. He believed they had the same right to economic and social freedom that whites did. He stated that “they [African-Americans] still press on, they still nurse the dogged hope,–not a hope of nauseating patronage, not a hope of reception into charmed circles of stock-jobbers, pork-packers, and earl-hunters, but the hope of a higher synthesis of civilization and humanity.” In other words, blacks should have the same opportunities as whites.

In his article “Strivings of the Negro People,” he mentioned that black Americans have a “double-consciousness.” By using this phrase, Du Bois meant that because he was an African-American he had two selves—the person he perceived himself to be and the person whites perceived him to be. Instead of comparing themselves as individuals against other individuals, Du Bois and other African-Americans compared themselves to whites.

The way in which whites viewed African-Americans in the nineteenth century, however, was very different from the way African-Americans viewed themselves. African-Americans like Du Bois saw themselves as people capable of learning and working in challenging professions. Whites, however, saw them as ignorant people capable of only working in service jobs such as a maid. As Du Bois said, “the freedman has not yet found freedom in his promised land.” The only way African-Americans could truly be free is if whites were forced to recognize the talents of black people. As a professor of history and economics at Atlanta University, Du Bois was an example of what African-Americans could achieve if they were given a chance.

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