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Assess the view that Booker T. Washington was the most important leader in the development of AA civil rights Essay

Assess the view that Booker T. Washington was the most important leader in the development of African American Civil rights in the period 1865 to 1915?

It could be argued that Booker T. Washington was the most important figure for developing black civil rights. Washington lived between 1856 and 1915 and was born into a slave family on a Virginia tobacco plantation. He was raised in a log cabin with no windows or beds. After the civil war and the emancipation proclamation his family moved to West Virginia where he worked as a coal miner and domestic servant while acquiring some form of schooling. When he was older he attended the Hampton Institute in 1872 and learnt various trades, his entrance examination consisted of cleaning a room.

He then began a career as a teacher in West Virginia, then at the Hampton Institute and then was finally offered the position of founder and principal of Tuskegee in 1881 which was a college which had neither land nor buildings. Whether he was the most important leader is debatable as there were other leading figures trying to carve the way for black African American rights such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells and Thaddeus Stevens. The aims and methods of Booker T. Washington is one way of assessing if he was the most important figure in the development of African American civil rights.

He was a accommodationist, this is a theory in which he thought that African Americans should accept the situation for the time being and develop a pragmatic approach, demands for civil rights should be put on hold and a longer term strategy of developing their own community through economic development and educational advancement would come to the forefront.

However this was attacked by Northern black militants who thought he “sought to little”. Washington’s views was criticised by another major black leader of the era, W.E.B Du Bois who believed that civil rights must be obtained by protest and that without political and legal rights; the black community could not economically prosper. In my opinion Booker T.

Washing had the better aims as even if blacks did receive civil rights, they wouldn’t of have the economic prosperity to fully express them and so this method would have benefitted the black community greater even though it may of taken longer than the radical protestors at the time thought acceptable. Considering the extend and severity of white hostility towards African Americans at the time, accommodationism was likely to have exploited the few rights that they had gained better than confrontation for more rights.

During the period 1865 to 1915 Booker T. Washington had various successes throughout his career, this is another way of assessing if he was the most important leader in the fight for black civil rights. One of these successes was his “Atlanta compromise” speech in 1895 which was a success as no black speaker had ever spoken at an important southern gathering such as the world fair which expressed his views that “it was foolish to agitate for social equality. Equality would come through work not force.”

It was also successful as other blacks supported his view and thought that economic advancement was all they could gain for the moment and didn’t have the desire to mix with whites. He also benefitted several generations of African Americans with vocational education at Tuskegee which helped them to have more economic opportunities. He also established the National Negro Business league to support black people when setting up businesses in 1900. In could argued that other figures had greater successes in the campaign for African American civil rights such as W.E.B. Du Bois who had a number of successes such a helping to establish the NAACP in 1909 which was one of the most important twentieth century black civil rights organisation .

His influential writings that blacks had special cultural and spiritual aspects this increased the black community’s pride of their race which was shown in the “Harlem Renaissance”. He also helped I believe that the impact of Washington’s success were great than Du Bois as he impressed many whites with the achievements and recognition with important political leaders such a Theodore Roosevelt who invited him to dine at the White House and used him as an advisor, which was remarkable at the time.

Booker T. Washington also had a number of failures during his time when he was trying to improve the lives of African Americans, one of these failures was that by 1901 he was receiving a growing amount of critics who claimed he accepted the idea of white supremacy and had made no attempt to challenge the lower social position that blacks could not escape or to challenge the violent side of control such as lynching and even though he was a black advisor for several Presidents he did not use his position to try to change the political discrimination that blacks faced when trying to vote.

Another failure that could be seen of Washington is that even despite his attempt to improve black education, black the literacy rate didn’t improve much and the gap of educational spending was widening between black and white schools, for every $2 spent on African American schools. Although this lowered his reputation It could be argued that he wouldn’t be able to change these factors however some of the black community argued he didn’t make enough of an effort to, which disagrees with the point that he was the most important leader in the development of African American civil rights in this time period.

The legacy and influence that Booker T. Washington had on the development of African American civil rights, this is another way of evaluating how important he was as a leader. The influence he had on other blacks was inspiring as he advanced from being a slave to being appointed the principal of a college; this changed the mind set of blacks to thinking that if he can do it why can’t they. He also set a good example of self-discipline to his students. Between 1895 to 1905 he was also a main spokesman for the black people and gained several valuable contacts on the political scene which was dominated by whites.

However it could be argued that Ida B. Wells had a great influence in the period due to her wide ranging activism especially in publicising lynching and the false rumours around it such as its cause being male black rape allegations. She also established institutes, national and local organisations that had lasting effect on communities; they benefitted both the black lower and middle classes. She also inspired women to take a more active role in campaigning for civil rights.

Overall, taking all of the above factors into consideration I believe that Booker T. Washington could be considered the most important leader in the development of African American civil rights. Although it could be argued he didn’t achieve much in terms of actually gaining civil rights for blacks, the other prominent black leaders didn’t change much either and at least he was very influential figure and had several successes that were significant at the time, as shown his speech the “Atlanta compromise” which was supported by both whites and blacks.

His connections in politics also seemed show that he was changing minds in the white dominated sector. He aimed to prove that blacks were just as hard working as whites and this was shown by increasing numbers of blacks being given jobs in vocational trades however this did not increase by as much as European immigrants. Other leaders may of contributed more by participating in major organisations such a NAACP that had made some advances in challenging court cases these organisations had more of an impact after the time period mentioned and so Washington can be credited with the most important African American leader between 1865 and 1915.

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