Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


W.E.B. Du Bois criticizes Booker T. Washington

W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963), a sociologist and educator, challenged the current system of education as restricting rather than socially and economically advancing African Americans. He challenged what was called the "Tuskegee machine" of Booker T. Washington. In 1903, W.E.B. Dubois wrote, "Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others" in The Souls of Black Folk, calling for more determined leadership than what Washington claimed. He further blamed Washington for perpetuating a caste system view while neglecting the vast potential and intellect of African Americans.

Booker T. Washington (1865-1915), an ex-slave, was the chief spokesman and leader of education for African Americans. At the Hampton Institute, Washington studied the educational ideas of Samuel Armstrong, who established the school to prepare African American youth. Armstrong believed that industrial education (i.e., teaching, agriculture, and industry), would build character and competence among African Americans. In 1818, Washington headed the Hampton Institute and prepared the curriculum according to his ideals for southern African Americans, which included basic academic, agricultural, and occupational skills that emphasized hard work. He encouraged the study of agriculture in order to provide greater economic security, as opposed to pursuits in medicine, law, and politics. Washington believed that pursuits in these professional areas would only increase strife with whites in the South, based upon his theory that blacks and whites should be mutually dependent of each other and that social equality was impractical. Such views were criticized by Du Bois and others as being overly compromising and perpetuating a myth that African Americans were inherently inferior. It is important to note, however, that Washington's moderate views were positively accepted amongst many African Americans, especially in light of the particular time and negative racial climate.

Unlike Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois was raised in the agricultural community. He also had extensive formal education, including degrees from Fisk University and Harvard University. Among his writings, Du Bois was especially praised for his sociological work, The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study, in which he made recommendations for the educational system for African Americans. Along with his extensive involvement in the civil rights movement and the establishment of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909, Du Bois was especially interested in promoting immediate social change among African-Americans.

To read Du Bois' criticisms of Washington's ideas, click here


Ornsetin A.C. & Levine D.U. (1987). Foundations of Education. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Pullman, J.D. (1982). History of Education in America. Ohio: Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company.

Jenny J. Lee

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