Washington argued for Afrikans to focus on sectors of the economy where they were then dominant, in particular mechanical engineering and agriculture and to use their market power in those areas and skills to build a domestic economic infrastructure. He urged to the power structure that Afrikans were in fact the builders of the US civilization and that therefore they should build their economic relationship with Afrikans. He believed that such relationships would increase the relative power of Afrikans vis a vis the elites. In the interim, he argued that any rush to political and civil rights with no economics would result in a collective of broke ex-slaves, dependent on the state, and with no jobs and economic wealth. He was 100% correct because that is collectively where we are. He argued AGAINST discrimination and racism and in fact that was a large portion of his rhetoric to the power structure that permitting terrorist groups like the Klan and so on where enemies of the overall economic development of the South which like it or not Afrikans were going to be a key part of. He did not attack Dubois, Dubois attacked him. Dubois was a believer in white supremacy ideology and elitism. He believed that he was the chosen one, superior because of his proximity to whiteness and that if Afrikans were going to progress, they would do so by assimilating to white organizations and white culture. He advocated symphony and ballet and Greek philosophy believing that a group of Afrikan men who could function as white culturally would then lead the so-called ignorant masses, the talented tenth. Woman had a subordinate place in his framework because he argued they would not get the respect of men in a patriarchal order. His NAACP was dominated by white liberals and still is today and largely financed by them. His attack against Washington was less philosophical than personal in the sense that Washington wielded far more influence than that one who thought he was chosen. Unfortunately, we chose to follow Du Bois rather than Washington and Garvey..as a result we ended up assimilated, broke, and with a bunch of Negro elites that Washington and Woodson and Garvey warned us would be little more than appendages of the system.
One of the reasons Washington took so much incoming fire from Dubois and his blind disciples is that he considered himself wiser and in the Afrikan tradition did not bother to respond to the insulting allegations. The myth is that he said racism was okay, that he did not want civil rights, that he did not condemn white supremacy, and that he wanted to be a second class citizen. That is all false and his own words establish it. Washington is now far more understood as the father of Afrikan conservatism in the way that Dubois is the father of Afrikan liberalism.
He did not support segregation, but he also was not concerned about integration as we know it to be. He argued that I can work with you economically, but I don’t have to go to your school, live in your community, join your organization, or any of that to do so and that focusing on that was wrongheaded. As a person who also thinks the strategy of pursuing political rights with no economic power was also idiotic and still is, Washington is far more relevant to me as is Garvey and Delaney and Woodson than Du Bois who himself realized he was dead wrong. And in fact, he called for a socialist economic revolution of sorts and eventually got booted out of the NAACP he created because he argued that simply having HBCUs was not a problem (a problem for the “white” liberal NAACP because their integration in education model at the time called for a folding of HBCUs into “white” state institutions). He realized that having our own was not at odds with larger social participation. It was Dubois and not Washington who taught us that in order to be free we had to participate in someone else’s civilization and that that was the goal of the movement. Washington argued that even if you were declared a citizen by gift from those in power, you would never be respected because you remain a collective of relatively poor people with little power and whose political position rested on the largess and charity of the system. This is why today Negro leaders lament the attack on affirmative action, on the voting rights act, the civil rights act. I predict that will ALL die and I said this decades ago. Washington said the same thing. You cannot legislate respect, nor economic progress. You must as Claude Anderson and others have argued, build for yourself. You must work with the economic forces and political forces that do have power in the society. Dubois did this as well. But where they differ is the goal. Dubois dreamed of a day where we would be accepted in “white” society, Washington dreamed of a day where we would be able to take care of and provide for ourselves whether we were accepted or not.
The bias against Washington is not because he was some Uncle Tom. Think about it, if he truly was, the power structure would promote him as a model we should all follow. It teaches us to condemn him because it figured out that Washington’s rhetoric was not the substance and that if Afrikans truly did what he said, they would become the dominant economic and ultimately, social and political power in the New South and since the South at the time was the most dominant region in terms of national power, that position would force the changes that Du Bois and many others were going to have to try to die for to get.
Washington tells the elites that they need to accept the economic position of Afrikans and stop the violence and racism against them as it is not in their own interests. THAT is what got him labeled an Uncle Tom. He tells Afrikans to stop trying to force by law what they can earn by their own work. And when they earn it for themselves, no one can take it away and even if they are not liked or respected by others, they will be able to do for themselves because they will control the means of production. Use any other arrangement he argued and you will be a beggar, stuck at the doors of the palaces of social power, and existing only to the extent that they allow and even worse, you will have to suffer a crew of talking heads who are hired by those palaces to represent your requests before the emperor.