by Christina Evelyn
Introduction We study history for the purpose of guiding our lives today in light of its lessons. Booker T. Washington and WEB Dubois are two of the most recognized leaders of African Americans 20 years after the demise of Reconstruction, and the re-enslavement of Black folk in the South in the new slavery system called Jim Crow. In the context of the new slavery system, Washington offers to the White American nation then governing the South that Black men will do their best to serve the economic interests of that nation, asserting that by industrious labor Black men will simultaneously be serving their own best interests (Washington, 1895). Dubois insists that the emphasis should be on the gaining of political rights for “black men” such as voting, and in developing social and political skills and power through “civilized” means (Dubois, 1903). This analyst chooses a third course, that of social revolution: It is the thesis here presented that evil social systems are eclipsed through social revolutions, and the evil system of white/male supremacy now persisting in the United States will likewise meet its demise only through social revolution.
Historical Context Millions of Africans were kidnapped from their homeland by European imperialists, and enslaved in the United States. In the course of the prosecution of this military/political/economic system of white supremacy millions of Africans died before they were able to become enslaved. This is a genocidal system, basic elements of which persist today. This system of chattel slavery was abolished through a revolution called “The Civil War.” Over 560,000 soldiers from the slavers side and the Union died fighting over whether or not Black people are humans and to be treated as such. Immediately following this revolt, a counter-revolution occurred which erected the Jim Crow form of de facto slavery.
Washington These are the social conditions under which Washington offered his plan of begging the White American nation to allow Black men to conduct industrious labor, and to eschew social and political equality, to say “no thanks” to being understood to be fully human. His argument, to the former slavers-now turned would be philanthropists, is that “…[W]e have proved our loyalty to you in the past, nursing your children, watching by the sick-bed of your mothers and fathers, and often following them to their graves…” (1895). Please note that in these devotions it was mostly African American women taking care of White children, the elderly and infirm. He further reminds his White mentors that loyalty includes naming calls for social equality “extremist folly” (1895). Washington wants to remind the former slavers that “we” were loyal while slaves, and we will be loyal as your servants. In the course of this “convincing,” he commits to a number of manifest inaccuracies, the first of which is to reduce our numbers in the South at that time to “one-third” of the population (1895). African American former slaves made up fully half of the Southern population at that time, and this reduction serves Washington as a hologram for his reduction of our stature to that of sub-human servants for White America.
The “Civilized” Response Dubois’ counter offer can be summed up in this one argument: “Negroes must insist continually…that voting is necessary to modern manhood, that color discrimination is barbarism, and that black boys need education as well as white boys” (1903).
Dubois refers to the great revolutionaries responsible for bringing down chattel slavery in Haiti, and those who forced the emergence of the Civil War — “Toussaint the Savior,” Denmark Vesey, Gabriel Prosser and Nat Turner as being about “revenge,” and hating “the white south blindly…” (Note in this regard that he failed to name any of the great African American women revolutionaries whose effect was at least as responsible for the bringing down of the chattel slavery system.)
This is where Dubois leaves us. He judges the revolutionary uprisings, such which made it possible for his freedom, without evidence. Fully 100 years after the revolution to overthrow chattel slavery, another revolution was needed to overthrow Jim Crow. Dubois “left himself” (in other words, he dropped his former position held in 1903) and became a communist revolutionary during this next revolution, called by some “the Civil Rights Movement” and by others the Black Liberation Movement.
Conclusion To repeat, there is only one bottom line reason to study history — to learn from its lessons to guide us today. Today, in the quasi war conditions under which Corona and Trump have imperiled us, African American death at the hands of the virus is proportionally triple that of White Americans. Even though African Americans constitute a number of the service frontline positions that far accedes our numbers in the population, nevertheless our unemployment, homelessness, malnutrition and hunger also far accede our numbers in the population. When applying the lessons from yesterday — “humble service to the White man,” or voting and education, a position which Dubois himself was to realize was inadequate to the task of bringing down this white supremacist/male supremacist system; let me ask my reviewer of this essay a question: Does this African American Sister sound like someone who is willing to take care of sick, elderly, child, infirm White people, as we were forced to do under chattel and Jim Crow slavery, at the same time as pursuing my education full-time, while allowing my own children to starve to death? Don’t count on it. We need a new social system free of the oppression of women, poor people and People of Color.
Dubois, WEB. (1903). “Of Booker T. Washington and Others.” In Chapter 3 of Souls of Black Folk. Penguin Classics.
Washington, Booker T.. (1895). “The Atlanta Exposition Address.” National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/bowa/learn/historyculture/atlanta1-1.htm