Booker T. Washington was one of the most influential Black Americans in the late 19th century. At the peak of Black discrimination, he delivered what is today referred to as Atlanta Exposition Speech. His speech was delivered before many Whites in Atlanta, Georgia. It appears that while Washington tried to fight for the Blacks, he was also conscious of the fact that the Whites had the opportunities that the Blacks need; such as industrial and technical education. Moreover, on justice seeking, Washington proposed that the Black’s had to seek justice on their own, they had to be separated from the Whites but united by work. He said that “In all things purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress” (Washington 107). According to him, the Blacks had the right to education and employment.
Although Washington was a great advocate of Black liberation, W.E.B. Dubois accuses him of sitting on the fence and not being categorical in his approach to Black liberation. According to him, Washington only compromised with the Whites; he was not categorical on how Blacks should seek justice. In his The Forethought, Dubois cleared stated that for Blacks to fight for justice, they must not spare the Whites: they should not negotiate with the Whites (Du Bois 886). In his Of Our Spiritual Strivings, he outlines the hardships that Blacks face in locating their identity. In these two writings among others, Du Bois differed with Booker T. Washington by stating that what Blacks needed was higher education and not mere industrial training because such training is an indirect way of accepting that indeed, Blacks were not fit for higher jobs (Du Bois 889).
The writings by these two Black liberation agents have been scrutinized by many fictional and poetic writers such as Paul Lawrence Dunbar and Charles Chesnutt. Chesnutt presents a story of a man who had two races but was born free. This man, Ryder, was liked by White women so much so that he planned to propose to one. However, on the day of the proposal, a Black woman turned up. This appears to be a fictional representation of how Booker T. Washington was entrusted with the responsibility of fighting for the Blacks yet he wanted to relate well with the Whites. In addition, although the story is in line with Washington’s theory, it adds a new dimension. The fact that Ryder never got married to a White lady symbolizes that the Black race had no option but to unite since they had a common history and destiny.
Lastly, Dunbar’s poem appears to be as radical as Du Bois’ protest against Washington’s lack of assertiveness. Another similarity with Du Bois’ idea is seen in the spiritual component of the first line of the third stanza “We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries”. The poem appears to point out that Blacks deserved the right kind of treatment because on the basis of their spiritual capacities, they were humans and had the right to be treated as equally as Whites. Therefore, there poem and the short story are direct manifestations of the ideological inclinations of the writers to the two advocates of the Black liberation.