The Souls of Black Folk

Booker T. Washington Character Analysis

At the time Du Bois was writing, Booker T. Washington was the most famous African-American leader in history. Born around 1856 into slavery, Washington later worked for the uplift of Southern black people through the promotion of education and philanthropy. In The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois admits that Washington was a pioneer, taking on a role—a Southern African-American leader committed to advancing the welfare of his people—that few would have imagined possible. On the other hand, Du Bois is highly critical of Washington’s leadership style, and the chapter on Washington in The Souls of Black Folk functions mainly to point out the deep flaws in Washington’s approach. Du Bois argues that Washington was far too conciliatory to Southern whites, and is especially disapproving of the Atlanta Compromise, a speech in which Washington claimed he would not fight the legal and political oppression of African-Americans but instead encourage racial uplift through education and hard work. Scholars remain divided over whether Du Bois’ assessment of Washington is fair. On the one hand, Du Bois is persuasive in his argument that Washington’s conciliation paved the way for the stripping of black civil rights in the Jim Crow era. It is also clear now that Du Bois’ criticism of Washington heralded the beginning of a new era of African-American leadership, in which Du Bois and other leaders of the newly-founded NAACP pushed more aggressively (and effectively) for freedom and equality for black people. However, some argue that it would have been impossible for Washington to be any more radical given the context in which he was working. It has also emerged that, even while publically declaring his acceptance of Jim Crow, Washington secretly supported efforts to undo the legal and political oppression of black people. Either way, it is unquestionable that Washington was the most important voice of black people in the US until the arrival of Du Bois.
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Booker T. Washington Character Timeline in The Souls of Black Folk

The timeline below shows where the character Booker T. Washington appears in The Souls of Black Folk. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Forethought
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...of Emancipation. One examines the question of leadership, and features a critique of Booker T. Washington. In the next chapters Du Bois introduces the concept of “the Veil,” and discusses the... (full context)
Chapter 3: Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others
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...strike the blow?”. Du Bois then opens by claiming that the rise of Booker T. Washington is “the most striking thing” in African-American history since 1876. Du Bois argues that Washington’s... (full context)
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Washington was greatly admired by whites in both the North and South; black people, meanwhile, were... (full context)
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Du Bois admits that it is tempting not to criticize Washington, both because he achieved so much having come from so little, and also so as... (full context)
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...1876 revolution and the “oppression of the Negro votes,” a new leader arose: Booker T. Washington. Washington continued previous policies of “adjustment and submission,” but was unique in doing so in... (full context)
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Du Bois criticizes Washington for withdrawing pressure for African-American civil rights at exactly the point when this pressure was... (full context)
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Washington’s views are criticized by two distinct groups of black people: those who reject white society... (full context)
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Du Bois criticizes this group of highly-educated black people for not vocalizing their oppositiontoWashington. He argues that “it is the duty of black men to judge the South discriminatingly,”... (full context)
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Du Bois presents his own modifications of Washington’s arguments. He claims that “slavery and race-prejudice are potent if not sufficient causes of the... (full context)