Booker T. Washington (19th century) and Martin Luther King Jr. (20th century) Essay
For decades, Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) was the major African-American spokesman in the eyes of white America. Born a slave in Virginia, Washington was educated at Hampton Institute, Norfolk, Virginia. He began to work at the Tuskegee Institute in 1881 and built it into a center of learning and industrial and agricultural training. A handsome man and a forceful speaker, Washington was skilled at politics. Powerful and influential in both the black and white communities, Washington was a confidential advisor to presidents. For years, presidential political appointments of African-Americans were cleared through him. He was funded by Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, dined at the White House with Theodore Roosevelt and family, and was the guest of the Queen of England at Windsor Castle. Although Washington was an accommodator, he spoke out against lynchings and worked to make “separate” facilities more “equal.” Although he advised African-Americans to abide by segregation codes, he often traveled in private railroad cars and stayed in good hotels.
Any number of historic moments in the civil rights struggle have been used to identify Martin Luther King, Jr. — prime mover of the Montgomery bus boycott, keynote speaker at the March on Washington, youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate. But in retrospect, single events are less important than the fact that King, and his policy of nonviolent protest, was the dominant force in the civil rights movement during its decade of greatest achievement, from 1957 to 1968.
II.BOOKER T. WASHINGTON
Booker T. Washington was born a slave in Hale’s Ford, Virginia, reportedly on April 5, 1856. After emancipation, his family was so poverty stricken that he worked in salt furnaces and coal mines beginning at age nine. Always an intelligent and curious child, he yearned for an education and was frustrated when he could not receive good schooling locally. When he was 16 his parents allowed him to quit work to go to school. They had no money to help him, so he walked 200 miles to attend the Hampton Institute in Virginia and paid his tuition and board there by working as the janitor. Dedicating himself to the idea that education would raise his people to equality in this country, Washington became a teacher. He first taught in his home town, then at the Hampton Institute, and then in 1881, he founded the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama. As head of the Institute, he traveled the country unceasingly to raise funds from blacks and whites both; soon he became a well-known speaker. In 1895, Washington was asked to speak at the opening of the Cotton States Exposition, an unprecedented honor for an African American.
His Atlanta Compromise speech explained his major thesis, that blacks could secure their constitutional rights through their own economic and moral advancement rather than through legal and political changes. Although his conciliatory stand angered some blacks who feared it would encourage the foes of equal rights, whites approved of his views. Thus his major achievement was to win over diverse elements among southern whites, without whose support the programs he envisioned and brought into being would have been impossible. In addition to Tuskegee Institute, which still educates many today, Washington instituted a variety of programs for rural extension work, and helped to establish the National Negro Business League. Shortly after the election of President William McKinley in 1896, a movement was set in motion that Washington be named to a cabinet post, but he withdrew his name from consideration, preferring to work outside the political arena. He died on November 14, 1915.
From 1872 to 1875, he attended the Hampton Institute, an industrial school for blacks in Hampton, Virginia. He became a teacher at the institute in 1879. Washington based many of his educational theories on his training at Hampton. In 1881, Washington founded and became principal of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. He started this school in an old abandoned church and a shanty. The school’s name was later changed to Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University). The school taught specific trades, such as carpentry, farming, and mechanics, and trained teachers. As it expanded, Washington spent much of his time raising funds. Under Washington’s leadership, the institute became famous as a model of industrial education. The Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site, established in 1974, includes Washington’s home, student-made college buildings, and the George Washington Carver Museum. Though Washington offered little that was innovative in industrial education, which both northern philanthropic foundations and southern leaders were already promoting, he became its chief black exemplar and spokesman.
In his advocacy of Tuskegee Institute and its educational method, Washington revealed the political adroitness and accommodationist philosophy that were to characterize his career in the wider arena of race leadership. He convinced southern white employers and governors that Tuskegee offered an education that would keep blacks “down on the farm” and in the trades. To prospective northern donors and particularly the new self- made millionaires such as Rockefeller and Carnegie he promised the inculcation of the Protestant work ethic. To blacks living within the limited horizons of the post- Reconstruction South, Washington held out industrial education as the means of escape from the web of sharecropping and debt and the achievement of attainable, petit-bourgeois goals of self-employment, landownership, and small business. Washington cultivated local white approval and secured a small state appropriation, but it was northern donations that made Tuskegee Institute by 1900 the best-supported black educational institution in the country.
Washington was married three times. His first wife, Fannie N. Smith, his sweetheart from Malden, gave birth to a child in 1883, the year after their marriage, but died prematurely the next year. In 1885 Washington married Olivia Davidson; they had two children. This too was a short marriage, for she had suffered from physical maladies for years and died in 1889. Four years later he married Margaret J. Murray, a Fisk graduate who had replaced Davidson as lady principal. She remained Washington’s wife for the rest of his life, helping to raise his three children and continuing to play a major role at Tuskegee.
As Tuskegee Institute grew it branched out into other endeavors. The annual Tuskegee Negro Conferences, inaugurated in 1892, sought solutions for
impoverished black farmers through crop diversity and education. The National Negro Business League, founded in 1900, gave encouragement to black enterprises and publicized their successes. Margaret Washington hosted women’s conferences on campus. Washington established National Negro Health Week and called attention to minority health issues in addresses nationwide.
By the mid-1880s Washington was becoming a fixture on the nation’s lecture circuit. This exposure both drew attention and dollars to Tuskegee and allowed the black educator to articulate his philosophy of racial advancement. In a notable 1884 address to the National Education Association in Madison, Wisconsin, Washington touted education for Negroes–“brains, property, and character”–as the key to black advancement and acceptance by white southerners. “Separate but equal” railroad and other public facilities were acceptable to blacks, he argued, as long as they really were equal.
This speech foreshadowed the accommodationist racial compromises he would preach for the rest of his life. During the 1880s and 1890s Washington went out of his way to soft-pedal racial insults and attacks on blacks (including himself) by whites. He courted southern white politicians who were racial moderates, arguing that black Americans had to exhibit good citizenship, hard work, and elevated character in order to win the respect of the “better sort” of whites. Full political and social equality would result in all due time, he maintained.
Washington believed that blacks could benefit more from a practical, vocational education rather than a college education. Most blacks lived in poverty in the rural South, and Washington felt they should learn skills, work hard, and acquire property. He believed that the development of work skills would lead to economic prosperity. Washington predicted that blacks would be granted civil and political rights after gaining a strong economic foundation. He explained his theories in Up from Slavery and in other publications. During Booker’s lifetime, many African Americans were former slaves who did not have an education. Booker’s goal was to provide African Americans with opportunities to learn vocational skills and obtain an education. He thought former slaves would gain acceptance through education and financial independence.
In the late 1800’s, more and more blacks became victims of lynchings and Jim Crow laws that segregated blacks. To reduce racial conflicts, Washington advised blacks to stop demanding equal rights and to simply get along with whites. He urged whites to give blacks better jobs. In a speech given in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1895, Washington declared: “In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.” This speech was often called the Atlanta Compromise because Washington accepted inequality and segregation for blacks in exchange for economic advancement. The speech was widely quoted in newspapers and helped make him a prominent national figure and black spokesman. Washington became a shrewd political leader and advised not only Presidents, but also members of Congress and governors, on political appointments for blacks and sympathetic whites. He urged wealthy people to contribute to various black organizations. He also owned or financially supported many black newspapers. In 1900, Washington founded the National Negro Business League to help black business firms.
Throughout his life, Washington tried to please whites in both the North and the South through his public actions and his speeches. He never publicly supported black political causes that were unpopular with Southern whites. However, Washington secretly financed lawsuits opposing segregation and upholding the right of blacks to vote and to serve on juries. Washington offered black acquiescence in disfranchisement and social segregation if whites would encourage black progress in economic and educational opportunity. Washington’s position so pleased whites, North and South, that they made him the new black spokesman. He became powerful, having the deciding voice in Federal appointments of African Americans and in philanthropic grants to black institutions. Through subsidies or secret partnerships, he controlled black newspapers, stifling critics.
Overawed by his power and hoping his tactics would work, many blacks went along. However, increasingly during his last years, such black intellectuals as W.E.B. Du Bois, John Hope, and William Monroe Trotter denounced his surrender of civil rights and his stressing of training in crafts, some obsolete, to the neglect of liberal education. Opposition centered in the Niagara Movement, founded in 1905, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which succeeded it in 1910.
Washington’s power involved not only close relationships with influential white political leaders and industrialists but also a secret network of contacts with journalists and various organizations. He schemed with white and black Alabamians to try to keep other black schools from locating near Tuskegee. He engineered political appointments for supporters in the black community as a way of solidifying his own power base. He planted spies in organizations unfriendly to him to report on their activities and at one time even used a detective agency briefly. Despite public denials, Washington owned partial interests in some minority newspapers. This allowed him to plant stories and to influence their news coverage and editorial stands in ways beneficial to himself. Beginning in the mid-1880s, and lasting for some twenty years, he maintained a clandestine relationship with T. Thomas Fortune, editor of the New York Age, the leading black newspaper of its day.
He helped support the paper financially, was one of its stockholders, and quietly endorsed many of Fortune’s militant stands for voting and other civil rights and against lynching. He also supported the Afro-American League, a civil rights organization founded by Fortune in 1887. Washington secretly provided financial and legal support for court challenges to all-white juries in Alabama, segregated transportation facilities, and disfranchisement of black voters. As black suffrage decreased nonetheless around the turn of the century, Washington struggled to keep a modicum of black influence and patronage in the Republican party in the South. From 1908 to 1911 he played a major, though covert, role in the successful effort to get the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a harsh Alabama peonage law under which Alonzo Bailey, a black Alabama farmer, had been convicted.
1. DISSENT: Lawful Rights
Booker T. Washington’s methods included speeches, arguments, and agreements with both races; blacks and whites, without having to associate violence to achieve these goals.
“h As Washington’s influence with whites and blacks grew he reaped several honors. In 1901 he wrote a bestseller called Up From Slavery – his autobiography. He also became an advisor to the President of the United States – Theodore Roosevelt. He became the first black ever to dine at the White House with the President. This created a huge scandal. Many white people thought that it was wrong for whites and blacks to mix socially, and for their President to do it horrified them. Roosevelt defended his actions at the time, and he continued to ask for Washington’s advice, but he never invited him back. Eventually Washington’s leadership of blacks began to decline. It became apparent that the white people that had gained control of Southern institutions after Reconstruction did not ever want the civil and political status of blacks to improve – regardless of how hard they worked or how much character they had.
They passed laws to keep them from voting and to keep them from mixing with whites in schools, stores and restaurants. Many blacks came to believe that a more forceful, demanding approach was needed. By the last years of his life, Washington had moved away from many of his accommodationist policies. Speaking out with a new frankness, Washington attacked racism. In 1915 he joined ranks with former critics to protest the stereotypical portrayal of blacks in a new movie, “Birth of a Nation.” Some months later he died at age 59. A man who overcame near-impossible odds himself, Booker T. Washington is best remembered for helping black Americans rise up from the economic slavery that held them down long after they were legally free citizens. Was chosen in 1861 to head the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute
“h Caused Tuskegee Institute to grow into one of the world’s leading centers of education for African-Americans
“h Founded the National Negro Business League in 1900
“h Advised Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft on racial matters
“h Wrote an autobiography, Up From Slavery in 1901
“h Stressed the importance of education and employment for African-Americans
“h Became a chief spokesperson for his race
“h Advocated cooperation between the races
“h His views caused strife with other African-American leaders, especially W.E.B. Dubois, although in his later years he began to agree with them on the best methods to achieving equality
Close analysis of Washington’s autobiographies and speeches reveals a vagueness and subtlety to his message lost on most people of his time, whites and blacks alike. He never said that American minorities would forever forgo the right to vote, to gain a full education, or to enjoy the fruits of an integrated society. But he strategically chose not to force the issue in the face of the overwhelming white hostility that was the reality of American race relations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In this sense, he did what he had to do to assure the survival of himself and the people for whom he spoke.
III.MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
King was born on Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. He was the second oldest child of Alberta Williams King and Martin Luther King. He had an older sister, Christine, and a younger brother, A. D. The young Martin was usually called M. L. His father was pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. One of Martin’s grandfathers, A. D. Williams, also had been pastor there. In high school, Martin did so well that he skipped both the 9th and 12th grades. At the age of 15, he entered Morehouse College in Atlanta. King became an admirer of Benjamin E. Mays, Morehouse’s president and a well-known scholar of black religion. Under Mays’s influence, King decided to become a minister.
King was ordained just before he graduated from Morehouse in 1948. He entered Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, to earn a divinity degree. King then went to graduate school at Boston University, where he got a Ph.D. degree in theology in 1955. In Boston, he met Coretta Scott of Marion, Alabama, a music student. They were married in 1953. The Kings had four children–Yolanda, Dexter, Martin, and Bernice. In 1954, King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
In December 5, 1955 King began to be significant in the changing of the Black man’s way of life. The boycott of the Montgomery Bus was begun when Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat on a bus to a white man on December 1st. Two Patrolmen took her away to the police station where she was booked. He and 50 other ministered held a meeting and agreed to start a boycott on December 5th, the day of Rosa Parks’s hearing. This boycott would probably be successful since 70% of the riders were black. The bus
company did not take them seriously, because if there was bad weather, they would have to take the bus.
The Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA)was established to co-ordinate the boycott. They had a special agreement with black cab companies, in which they were allowed to get a ride for a much cheaper price than normal. Blacks had to walk to work, and so they did not have time to do any shopping and therefore the sales decreased dramatically. On January 30, while M.L was making a speech, his house was bombed. Luckily his wife and baby had left the living room when the bomb exploded, but a black mob formed and was angry about what had happened, and Policemen were sent to the scene to control the situation, even though they were outnumbered. King, however, because of his strong belief in nonviolence, urged the crowd to not use their guns and to go home.
What made Martin Luther King striking was his conviction on non-violence. He believed that this belief could give blacks a superior level of morality over whites. This ideology was important for his success in later years. As a result, it helped restrain the use of violence from whites to blacks and vice versa. This philosophy was tested during the Montgomery bus boycott. Before the successful boycott, blacks used violence in order to protest racism. During the boycott, however, on both sides violence was not a measure to be taken. When someone bombed King’s home,the fact that violence was used against a nonviolent group made the idea of the black man’s cause more agreeable.
In 1967, King became more critical of American society than ever before. He believed poverty was as great an evil as racism. He said that true social justice would require a redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. Thus, King began to plan a Poor People’s Campaign that would unite poor people of all races in a struggle for economic opportunity. The campaign would demand a federal guaranteed annual income for poor people and other major antipoverty laws.
Also in 1967, King attacked U.S. support of South Vietnam in the Vietnam War (1957-1975). He regarded the South Vietnamese government as corrupt and undemocratic. Many supporters of the war denounced King’s criticisms, but the growing antiwar movement welcomed his comments.
Dr. King and the SCLC organized drives for African-American voter registration, desegregation, and better education and housing throughout the South. Dr. King continued to speak. He went to many cities and towns. He was greeted by crowds of people who wanted to hear him speak. He said all people have the right to equal treatment under the law. Many people believed in these civil rights and worked hard for them
Dr. King believed that poverty caused much of the unrest in America. Not only poverty for African-Americans, but poor whites, Hispanics and Asians. Dr. King believed that the United States involvement in Vietnam was also a factor and that the war poisoned the atmosphere of the whole country and made the solution of local problems of human relations unrealistic
This caused friction between King and the African-American leaders who felt that their problems deserved priority and that the African-American leadership should concentrate on fighting racial injustice at home. But by early 1967 Dr. King had become associated with the antiwar movement
Dr. King continued his campaign for world peace. He traveled across America to support and speak out about civil rights and the rights of the underprivileged
King’s civil rights activities began with a protest of Montgomery’s segregated bus system in 1955. That year, a black passenger named Rosa Parks was arrested for disobeying a city law requiring that blacks give up their seats on buses when white people wanted to sit in their seats or in the same row. Black leaders in Montgomery urged blacks to boycott (refuse to use) the city’s buses. The leaders formed an organization to run the boycott, and asked King to serve as president. In his first speech as leader of the boycott, King told his black colleagues: “First and foremost, we are American citizens. … We are not here advocating violence. … The only weapon that we have … is the weapon of protest. … The great glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right.”
Terrorists bombed King’s home, but King continued to insist on nonviolent protests. Thousands of blacks boycotted the buses for over a year. In 1956,
the United States Supreme Court ordered Montgomery to provide equal, integrated seating on public buses. The boycott’s success won King national fame and identified him as a symbol of Southern blacks’ new efforts to fight racial injustice.
With other black ministers, King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957 to expand the nonviolent struggle against racism and discrimination. At the time, widespread segregation existed throughout the South in public schools, and in transportation, recreation, and such public facilities as hotels and restaurants. Many states also used various methods to deprive blacks of their voting rights. In 1960, King moved from Montgomery to Atlanta to devote more effort to SCLC’s work. He became co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church with his father
In the North, however, King soon discovered that young and angry blacks cared little for his preaching and even less for his pleas for peaceful protest. Their disenchantment was one of the reasons he rallied behind a new cause: the war in Vietnam.
Although he was trying to create a new coalition based on equal support for peace and civil rights, it caused an immediate rift. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) saw King’s shift of emphasis as “a serious tactical mistake” the Urban League warned that the “limited resources” of the civil-rights movement would be spread too thin;
But from the vantage point of history, King’s timing was superb. Students, professors, intellectuals, clergymen and reformers rushed into the movement. Then, King turned his attention to the domestic issue that he felt was directly related to the Vietnam struggle: poverty. He called for a guaranteed family income, he threatened national boycotts, and he spoke of disrupting entire cities by nonviolent “camp-ins.” With this in mind, he began to plan a massive march of the poor on Washington, D.C., envisioning a demonstration of such intensity and size that Congress would have to recognize and deal with the huge number of desperate and downtrodden Americans.
King interrupted these plans to lend his support to the Memphis sanitation men’s strike. He wanted to discourage violence, and he wanted to focus national attention on the plight of the poor, unorganized workers of the city. The men were bargaining for basic union representation and long-overdue raises. But he never got back to his poverty plans.
Lawful Rights: While at seminary King became acquainted with Mohandas Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolent social protest. On a trip to India in 1959 King met with followers of Gandhi. During these discussions he became more convinced than ever that nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience was the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom. He also used his speeches and demonstrations as tools to accomplish his goals such as: the “I Have A Dream” Speech, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
An African American Baptist minister, was the main leader of the civil rights movement in the United States during the 1950’s and 1960’s. He had a magnificent speaking ability, which enabled him to effectively express the demands of African Americans for social justice. King’s eloquent pleas won the support of millions of people–blacks and whites–and made him internationally famous. He won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize for leading nonviolent civil rights demonstrations.
In spite of King’s stress on nonviolence, he often became the target of violence. White racists threw rocks at him in Chicago and bombed his home in Montgomery, Alabama. Finally, violence ended King’s life at the age of 39, when an assassin shot and killed him. Some historians view King’s death as the end of the civil rights era that began in the mid-1950’s. Under his leadership, the civil rights movement won wide support among whites, and laws that had barred integration in the Southern States were abolished. King became only the second American whose birthday is observed as a national holiday. The first was George Washington, the nation’s first president.
King and other civil rights leaders then organized a massive march in Washington, D.C. The event, called the March on Washington, was intended to highlight African-American unemployment and to urge Congress to pass Kennedy’s bill. On Aug. 28, 1963, over 200,000 Americans, including many whites, gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in the capital. The high point of the rally, King’s stirring “I Have a Dream” speech, eloquently defined the moral basis of the civil rights movement.
The movement won a major victory in 1964, when Congress passed the civil rights bill that Kennedy and his successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, had recommended. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited racial discrimination in public places and called for equal opportunity in employment and education. King later received the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1965, King helped organize protests in Selma, Ala. The demonstrators protested against the efforts of white officials there to deny most black citizens the chance to register and vote. Several hundred protesters attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery, the state capital, but police officers used tear gas and clubs to break up the group. The bloody attack, broadcast nationwide on television news shows, shocked the public. King immediately announced another attempt to march from Selma to Montgomery. Johnson went before Congress to request a bill that would eliminate all barriers to Southern blacks’ right to vote. Within a few months, Congress approved the Voting Rights Act of 1965
By 1965, King had come to believe that civil rights leaders should pay more attention to the economic problems of blacks. In 1966, he helped begin a major civil rights campaign in Chicago, his first big effort outside the South. Leaders of the campaign tried to organize black inner-city residents who suffered from unemployment, bad housing, and poor schools. The leaders also protested against real estate practices that kept blacks from living in many neighborhoods and suburbs. King believed such practices played a major role in trapping poor blacks in urban ghettos.
King and the local leaders also organized marches through white neighborhoods. But angry white people in these segregated communities threw bottles and rocks at the demonstrators. Soon afterward, Chicago officials promised to encourage fair housing practices in the city if King would stop the protests. King accepted the offer, and the Chicago campaign ended.
Washington kept his white following by conservative policies and moderate utterances, but he faced growing black and white liberal opposition in the Niagara Movement (1905-9) and the NAACP (1909-), groups demanding civil rights and encouraging protest in response to white aggressions such as lynchings, disfranchisement, and segregation laws. Washington successfully fended off these critics, often by underhanded means. At the same time, however, he tried to translate his own personal success into black advancement through secret sponsorship of civil rights suits, serving on the boards of Fisk and Howard universities, and directing philanthropic aid to these and other black colleges.
His speaking tours and private persuasion tried to equalize public educational opportunities and to reduce racial violence. These efforts were generally unsuccessful, and the year of Washington’s death marked the beginning of the Great Migration from the rural South to the urban North. Washington’s racial philosophy, pragmatically adjusted to the limiting conditions of his own era, did not survive the change.
Martin Luther King’s contributions to our history places him in this inimitable position. In his short life, Martin Luther King was instrumental in helping us realize and rectify those unspeakable flaws which were tarnishing the name of America. The events which took place in and around his life were earth shattering, for they represented an America which was hostile and quite different from America as we see it today. Black Americans needed a Martin Luther King, but above all America needed him. The significant qualities of this special man cannot be underestimated nor taken for granted.
Within a span of 13 years from 1955 to his death in 1968 he was able to expound, expose, and extricate America from many wrongs. His tactics of protest involved non-violent passive resistance to racial injustice. It was the right prescription for our country, and it was right on time. Hope in America was waning on the part of many Black Americans, but Martin Luther King, Jr. provided a candle along with a light. He also provided this nation with a road map so that all people could locate and share together in the abundance of this great democracy.
We honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. because he showed us the way to mend those broken fences and to move on in building this land rather than destroying it. He led campaign after campaign in the streets of America and on to the governor’s mansion – even to the White House – in an effort to secure change.
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