Several decades after the war, slavery’s demise had not brought about an integrated society. But W. E. B. Du Bois, a towering intellect from western Massachusetts, was determined to press for progress. He advocated for the right of black Americans to fully develop their minds and talents so that the races might at last meet on equal terms.
Du Bois took issue with the views of Booker T. Washington, whose rise to prominence, Du Bois contended, was attributable to the fact that he told whites what they wanted to hear. As Du Bois would write in his book The Souls of Black Folk, “[Washington] insists on thrift and self-respect, but at the same time counsels a silent submission to civic inferiority such as is bound to sap the manhood of any race in the long run.” He urged black men, “if they are really men,” to oppose their putative spokesman and to “strive for the rights which the world accords to men … ‘That all men are created equal.’”
In 1902, he responded directly to Washington’s celebration of industrial training, arguing that blacks—no less than whites—should avail themselves of a higher education.—Sage Stossel
In rough approximation we may point out four varying decades of work in Southern education since the Civil War. From the close of the war until 1876 was the period of uncertain groping and temporary relief. There were army schools, mission schools, and schools of the Freedman’s Bureau in chaotic disarrangement, seeking system and coöperation. Then followed ten years of constructive definite effort toward the building of complete school systems in the South … Meantime, starting in this decade yet especially developing from 1885 to 1895, began the industrial revolution of the South … In the midst, then, of the larger problem of Negro education sprang up the more practical question of work, the inevitable economic quandary that faces a people in the transition from slavery to freedom, and especially those who make that change amid hate and prejudice, lawlessness and ruthless competition.
The industrial school springing to notice in this decade, but coming to full recognition in the decade beginning with 1895, was the proffered answer to this combined educational and economic crisis, and an answer of singular wisdom and timeliness. From the very first in nearly all the schools some attention had been given to training in handiwork, but now was this training first raised to a dignity that brought it in direct touch with the South’s magnificent industrial development, and given an emphasis which reminded black folk that before the Temple of Knowledge swing the Gates of Toil.