History 17B Lecture 2 Race and Segregation Page 7

VI.  The African American Response

Life for African Americans was extremely difficult in the post-Civil War era, and whatever optimism there was immediately after the Civil War was shattered by the spectacular failure of race relations after the initial successes of Reconstruction.  Just how did African Americans respond to this new form of bondage once Union troops left the defeated Confederacy and racist lawmakers regained control?  There were at least three important strategies put forward by prominent African Americans which you should be aware of.

A.  Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington was the most prominent African American leader in the United States at the end of the 19th century.  He founded the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama which offered manual training, industrial education, carpentry, masonry, and agricultural training.  Washington promoted "accommodation" with the goal of creating economic independence for black Americans from an economic base from which blacks could exert power.  
His "Atlanta Compromise Address" in 1895 put forward his thoughts:  in all things social, he said, blacks should be separate.  Make peace with segregation, he counseled, and even accept disenfranchisement.  Instead, blacks should try to strengthen their position through economic means.  Only with economic independence would the white man take the black man seriously.

B.  W.E.B. Du Bois 

W.E.B. Du Bois was highly regarded for his academic genius and publicly dissented from Washington's views of economic independence and accommodation.  Du Bois argued that without legal equality, blacks could not fight to maintain any economic advantages gained.  African Americans needed to fight to achieve suffrage and equal rights.  In 1909, Du Bois was a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a group formed to mount challenges to the Jim Crow system of segregation.

C.  Marcus Garvey and Black Nationalism

Other black leaders called for a more radical approach, one which would unite the African American community through racial pride and a sense of nationalism.  When Jamaican born Marcus Garvey arrived in Harlem in 1914 to open a chapter of his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) to unite all the "Negro peoples of the world" and establish a black nation in Africa, thousands joined.  Garvey's message was simple:  black is beautiful and Africa had a glorious past.  The whites already had Europe, he said; Africa should be for the Africans and he envisioned building a great nation on the African continent.

He promoted black capitalism, establishing a newspaper, small business enterprises like grocery stores and laundries, and a shipping company by the name of the Black Star Line.  But Garvey was a better dreamer than he was a businessman.  Thousands of African Americans invested in his shipping company which was so poorly run that it went bankrupt.  Garvey was convicted of fraud and served two years in prison before being deported back to Jamaica as an undesirable alien.  But his calls for black nationalism and economic unity would live on and eventually would be echoed by other black leaders.