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Lecture 7 Notes

— filed under: History, African American History, African-American

Uplifting the Race

"The child is the father to the man."

 

In the last lecture, we looked at some of the ways in which the promise of Reconstruction was broken by a combination of northern retrenchment from "southern affairs," court decisions that legalized separate spheres based on race, and the implications of America's increasingly global interests, in particular with lands inhabited by people of color.  In this lecture we will finish our examination of the late nineteenth century, by detailing the philosophies most prevalent among African Americans themselves.  Too often we forcus exclusively on what whites did to blacks or vice versa.  In addition to restrictions and abuse, however, we must also talk about the ideas and practices blacks constructed for themselves -- what strategies they employed, and how they proposed to construct society.  In this lecture we will consider racial uplift ideology, and then focus on the "Twin Towers" of Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois.

 

Conditions of Equality

    • From at least the mid-1600s, blacks in America have believed that there were conditions placed on them to justify equality or citizenship.  These included acceptance of Christianity, participation in the military, acceptance of republican or democratic principles, and economic development.
    • Taken together, these can be encapsulated as the "be like us" theory of equality -- that blacks would be equal to whites when they became like whites.
    • Of course, up to the late 19th c., none of these avenues had proven effective for large numbers of African Americans to be fully accepted into the American body politic.
    • Booker T. Washington was clearly in this tradition.  Education, property, and character were the basis of citizenship in his ideology.

 

Resistance and Protest

    • African Americans were never passive victims of white racism.  They expressed resistance in a number of ways.
    • Overt, physical resistance often took the form of slaves running away, committing suicide, or open violent revolt.
    • Another approach was an attempt to adjust all thought and action to the will of the greater group -- in other words, assimilation into white culture and society.
    • A third path was determined effort at self-realization despite opposition.

 

Racial Uplift Theory

    • Racial uplift was the black elites' response and challenge to white supremacy.  It was a seemingly contradictory position as both an aspiring social class and a racially subordinated caste denied all political rights and protections, struggling to define themselves within a society founded on white dominance.
    • Racial uplift was accompanied by a practical methodology of self-help.  Self-help sought to refute the view that African Americans were biologically inferior and unassimilable by incorporating "the race" into ostensibly universal but deeply racialized ideological categories of Western progress and civilization.
    • Generally, black elites claimed class distinctions -- indeed, the very existence of a "better class" of blacks served as evidence of what they called race progress.  They believed that the improvement of African Americans' material and moral condition through self-help would diminish white racism.
    • Through racial uplift ideology, elite blacks sought the cooperation of white political and business elites in the pursuit of race progress.
    • Whites (southern conservatives and northern liberals) had reasserted control over black and white labor by disenfranchising blacks and poor whites after the democratic experiment of Reconstruction.  In other words, racial uplift ideology must not be regarded as an independent black perspective.  Black middle-class ideology cannot be isolated from dominant modes of knowledge and power relations structured by race and racism.  While black elite oppositional claims of self-help may have symbolized their desire for independence and self-determination, this self-image obscured the extent to which self-help also functioned as an accommodation to blacks' non-citizenship status.
    • One of the significant limits of racial uplift ideology was that the attempt to rehabilitate the image of black people through class distinctions trafficked in claims of racial and gender hierarchy.
    • The appeal implicit in racial uplift ideology for the recognition of black elites’ capacity for citizenship had overshadowed post-emancipation arguments by blacks and whites that posited inalienable rights as the basis for black male citizenship, economic rights, equal protection, and group empowerment.
    • The black elite made uplift the basis for a racialized elite identity claiming Negro improvement through class stratification as race progress, which entailed an associated concept of bourgeois qualification for rights and citizenship.
    • Elites essentially accepted the terms of the debate, accepting that some are more deserving than others are.  Instead of race, though, they argued that it was acculturation and display of western culture and education.
    • Uplift described an ideology of self-help articulated mainly in racial and middle-class specific, rather than broader, egalitarian social terms.  Black elite who spoke of uplift opposed racism by calling attention to class distinctions among African Americans are a sign of evolutionary progress.

 

Liberation Theology

    • Previous liberation efforts held that if free from the oppression of slavery and the planter class, blacks could do well enough on their own.  Struggle was against the slave system and its underpinnings.
    • In the antebellum period, uplift had signified both the processes of group struggle and its object, freedom.
    • Liberation theology of the emancipation era held, generally, that amidst social changes wrought by industrialism, immigration, migration, and anti-black repression, post-Reconstruction advocates of uplift transformed the race’s collective historical struggles against the slave system and the planter class into a self-appointed personal duty to reform the character and manage the behavior of blacks themselves.
    • With the advent of Jim Crow regimes, the self-help component of uplift increasingly bore the stamp of evolutionary racial theories positing the civilization of elites against the moral degradation of the masses.
    • The shift to bourgeois evolutionism not only obscured the social inequities resulting from racial and class subordination but also marked a retreat from the earlier, unconditional claims black and white abolitionists made for emancipation, citizenship, and education based on Christian and Enlightenment ethics.  It signaled the move from anti-slavery appeals based on inalienable human rights to more limited claims for black citizenship that required that the race demonstrate its preparedness to exercise those rights.
    • If successful, they would have had an intra-racial division along class lines virtually as an end in itself, as a sign of race progress.


Black Political Leadership

    • At the end of Reconstruction, blacks had lost so much.  The political and economic repression of Jim Crow was rather complete.  It included peonage, the convict lease system, lynching, and the surge in violence and racist utterances accompanying U.S. imperialism.
    • Blacks moved from an active fight and advancement of political and social rights, to one of accommodations.
    • They protested white supremacy in the South yet appropriated the racial rhetoric of civilization to articulate elite aspirations at the expense of earlier, unconditional claims for equal rights and citizenship.
    • In this context, two prominent leaders emerged, one conservative and one radical.

 

Booker T. Washington:  Beginnings

    • Washington was born into slavery in Hale's Ford, Virginia, in 1856.  There were fewer than ten slaves on the farm, and his owner was not a wealthy man.  Washington was fond of his owner and his owner's family.
    • Following emancipation, Washington pursued education.  After attending a small school, he enrolled at Hampton Institute.
    • Among black elites, there was no disputing the value of education.  Nevertheless, uplift encompassed the tension between competing philosophies of black education orchestrated by the vision of economic development and racial accommodation advanced by white industrialists, reformers, and philanthropists.
    • The democratic aspirations of the freed persons for universal education for citizenship, political leadership, and social advancement were challenged by the program and philosophy of normal school education established at Hampton Institute, and its founder, Samuel C. Armstrong.
    • Armstrong and his wife were missionaries who had worked in Hawaii and among Native Americans.  In the late 19th century, philanthropists, educators, and the American Missionary Association saw the education of former slaves as congruent with educating Indians and other "foreign races."  Washington had actually been a house father at one of the dormitories reserved for Indians at Hampton.
    • Hampton emphasized that students were to go back among their people and work for the uplift of their race.

 

Booker T. Washington and Accommodation

    • Washington personified the accommodationist position.
    • He asserted that American blacks who "went through the school of American slavery" were "materially, intellectually, morally, and religiously" the most advanced "black people in any other portion of the globe."   The "graduates of slavery" were consistently the missionaries who went to Africa to "enlighten those who remained in the father land."
    • His comments were rooted in assumptions of evolutionary racial hierarchy.  They contributed to the view that the African American people of the South were incapable of self-government.  Such evolutionary thinking lent credibility to the fallacy that people of color were culturally undeveloped, rather than at the mercy of political and economic subordination.
    • He manipulated the civilizationist ideology and uplift ideals of self-help.  He made disparaging comments about education and politics, calling them false idols of Reconstruction period.
    • Political rights were the subject of unproductive agitation when they would more certainly accrue to those who had demonstrated their fitness for them through property ownership and dutiful service to the community through self-help.
    • He spoke often of educated black ministers who had to toil in the field.  And of other educated blacks who taught, he said, "a large proportion took up teaching and preaching as an easy way to make a living," rather than as a means of practical service and uplift.
    • He damned the educated blacks as suspect, unproductive, and potentially criminal.  Washington thus echoed the general hostility toward black elites and higher education, and blurred the social distinction that many educated blacks labored to maintain.
    • Meanwhile he educated his daughter in a northern university where she studied piano.

 

Washington at Tuskeegee

    • Washington became the first principal at Tuskegee Normal School in 1881.
    • Almost immediately he saw the need for manual labor education, because it offered students an opportunity to earn their keep rather than pay tuition.
    • He ran the school with an iron hand, and by the 1890s it was a viable, if spare institution.
    • Tuskegee was helped immensely by white philanthropists in the North who saw in Washington’s manual education a practical solution to the race problem.
    • The Hampton-Tuskegee philosophy clashed with the freedpeople’s emancipation vision of education.  It also clashed with the views of unreconstructed southerners that feared that any sort of education, however minimal, was instilling in African Americans a desire for social equality.
    • To appease southern opponents and northern philanthropists and industrialists, the ideological thrust of industrial education, as originated by Armstrong at Hampton, opposed blacks’ involvement in politics, situated the black labor force at the bottom of the southern economy, and acquiesced in the separation of the races.
    • They told their graduates to return to their towns or reservations and spread the gospel of service, piety, and thrift.  This was the SAME message that was implied by those more classically educated -- except the part about equal citizenship.
    • Black intellectuals opposing Washington looked at the prevailing violence directed towards blacks and could not reconcile themselves to the accommodationist view he supported.
    • W. E. B. Du Bois went to Hampton in 1906 and accused the institution of being at the center of educational heresy in its pursuit of a “false distinction” between industrial and higher education.

 

Washington's "Atlanta Compromise"

    • Washington was invited by white business leaders to speak at the Cotton States and International Exposition, held in Atlanta in 1895.
    • Washington’s speech at Atlanta was hardly original.  He had been speaking the same things, even the anecdotes, for years.
    • His speech, about fifteen minutes in length, followed the typical themes of self-help, abdication of civic and political rights in lieu of economic opportunity and advancement, and conciliation between the races in the South.
    • His program removed responsibility from southern and northern whites and placed it on blacks themselves, and set up a dichotomy between political/social rights and economic opportunity.
    • He later said that black Americans would receive citizenship "through no process of artificial forcing, but through the natural law of evolution."
    • Excerpt from Washington’s "Atlanta Compromise" speech:  "In all things purely social we can be as separate as the five fingers, and yet one as the hand in all things essential to human progress."
    • White southerners hailed Washington's Atlanta speech, and stamped him as a wise counselor and safe race leader.

 

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (pronounced "Dew Boyz")

    • Du Bois grew up in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, attending integrated schools as a youth.  He received a traditional, liberal education, and went on to receive his doctorate from Harvard (the first African American to do so).
    • Du Bois believed Washington was in error in almost all his points.
    • He pointed out that before the rise of Washington and the form of education he embodied, blacks had their own objectives for education.  It was hallmarked by a desire to produce educated people who did not reproduce the caste distinctions or the racially segmented labor force desired by white industrialists.
    • The classical liberal arts education was assimilationist, but not necessarily hostile to the ethnic identity and pride of black students.  Furthermore, their education also emphasized the missionary, service-oriented ideals of their liberal New England teachers.  It was informed by a very bourgeois morality--piety, thrift, self-control, temperance, and the work ethic--all were crucial for economic independence and citizenship.
    • Of industrial education, Du Bois asked where the teachers would be developed?  If support was given primarily to manual schools it would be at the expense of institutions of higher learning.  He also wondered if it was a practical agenda in an ever-increasing technological world?
    • Du Bois also resisted the abdication from politics represented by Washington.  He wondered if economic gains could be protected without political power, especially the franchise.  He believed that blacks simply deserved full citizenship and any abdication of that goal was a retreat.
    • He saw American blacks as the vanguard of people of color from around the world, and if they avoided political reform the rest of the world was doomed.
    • He criticized material acquisition and its ensuing spiritual decay:  “riotous material prosperity and business of New America."
    • Du Bois did not write to mollify racism, he wrote to denounce it.  He argued that Washington replaced self-assertion with submission.
    • DuBois claimed that Washington had settled for a compromise between "the South, the North, and the Negro."  He was, however, aware that Washington quietly supported some black colleges and contributed money for legal battles that challenged some Jim Crow laws.  Du Bois believed Washington was promoted and supported by whites because his course of action was the least demanding of whites.

 

Fruits of Du Bois' and Washington's Ideologies

    • Washington's accommodationist policy contributed to the further disenfranchisement of blacks, the legal creation of a distinct status of civil inferiority, and steady withdrawal of aid from black institutions of higher learning.
    • Du Bois' prescriptions were best articulated in the Niagara Movement.  Under the leadership of Du Bois, several black leaders met at Niagara Falls, Canada, in 1905.  They demanded freedom of speech and criticism, universal manhood suffrage, the abolition of all distinctions based on race, the recognition of the basic principles of human fellowship, and respect for the working person.
    • The Niagara group was eventually incorporated into the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Copyright 2009, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource. Pierce, R. (2006, September 05). Lecture 7 Notes. Retrieved October 20, 2009, from Notre Dame OpenCourseWare Web site: http://ocw.nd.edu/history/african-american-history-ii/lecture-notes/lecture-7-notes. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.