The advancement of Civil Rights in the earlier period of the movement was generally based upon giving the black population a sense of self dependency and equal standard of living to the whites. Many black Civil Rights Leaders thought they knew the most effective way to achieve this, and their organisation and ideas were essential to how things panned out.
Booker T. Washington, a former slave himself, did not believe that blacks should fight to forward their political standing, or to end social discrimination. Instead they should learn how to stand on their own two feet, and become self reliant. He was appointed first principal of Tuskegee Institute where he taught young black men and women a vocational curriculum, on how to live, work, and be dependent on themselves.
Washington became known as a racial accomadationist, this route became very attractive to investors, who helped him raise funds to finance his projects. He helped fund many challenges to the Jim Crow laws and also many black newspapers. Washington also became an advisor to Theodore Roosevelt on any racial issues he encountered. Washington was a very important figure in the Civil Rights movement because he helped black people realise they didn’t have to depend on the white people to live. He also showed the USA what black people could really achieve, and their potential as political powers.
Washington, however, was not as hero to everyone. Many African Americans, including William Dubois, another Civil Rights leader, were very critical of his accomadationist philosophy. Dubois criticised Washington failing to realise that without political power, economic gains were only going to be short term, and vulnerable. He also made clear that only teaching vocational courses would deprive African American’s of the well-trained leaders which they need. Dubois urged people to press for Civil Rights and not to just accept inequality and accommodate it.
Washington may have proved to be the most powerful black person in the US at this time. But this didn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of opposition, fronted primarily by William Dubois. These disagreements, and splits between the black population only lessened the amount of power black people had, and meant they were all heading in different directions.
William Dubois was an incredibly intellectual man, who had a great knowledge of African American history. Dubois had also experience the Jim Crow laws first hand, which was what spurred him to campaign for Civil Rights. Very early on Dubois had already forwarded black reputation by becoming the first African American to receive a PhD from Harvard.
The first significant act in his campaign for Civil Rights was to set up the Niagara Movement. This aimed to abolish all Jim Crow laws and enhance Civil Rights. This, however, failed to receive and recognition and was eventually phased out. Slightly miffed by his first failure Dubois went on to co-found the NAACP, which campaigned against lynching, Jim Crow laws, denying black the vote and any racial discrimination. It became the most powerful Civil Rights campaign, and continued to have great effect throughout the movement. Dubois also edited the NAACP magazine, Crisis, until 1934. This became incredibly popular and proved to be a great way to spread the views and aims of the movement. Dubois left Crisis in 1934 but still continued to play a valuable role in the NAACP, including representing them at the San Francisco Conference, which founded the United Nations.
Dubois, like Washington, was a great example of the political and educational potential of black people. He showed the white population that black people could be just as academic and powerful as them. Dubois did however receive much criticism about his support of the involvement in WWI, which many African Americans disagreed with. Dubois also became very critical of Marcus Garvey, calling him a ‘lunatic or traitor’. In return Garvey accused Dubois as being ‘a white man’s nigger’. These petty disagreements again split the African American movement, and gave a reputation as not knowing what they want.
Marcus Garvey was very much inspired by Washington, and had made plans himself to start a school, much like the Tuskegee Institute. Garvey was the founder of the UNIA which had very similar aims to the NAACP, but very different ideas on how to go about it. It became a very popular organisation with many blacks, because it was very much a militarist group. Garvey argued that black’s and whites should stay segregated, and that the Blacks should all move back to Africa. He started an army to go and rid Africa of the white men. He bought two steamers to start transporting black people over to Africa but soon ran out of money, and eventually arrested for fraud. Garvey provided yet another direction for Black people to aim for. Despite admiring the works of Washington, his ideals still differed incredibly from those of Garvey.
With the many different leaders, and their views, the Black population’s demands became confused and diluted. Each of the leaders had brilliant strengths and ideas but all disagreed with each other, and lead in totally different directions. In these early periods the Civil Rights leaders may have stirred a lot of excitement and action from the black people, but all in different directions meaning their effect was not as strong as it could have been. This being said however, organisations such as the NAACP went on to be one of the main factors for Civil Rights enhancement, and the Tuskegee Institute must have been incredibly important for giving the black population a sturdy leg to stand on.
It could be argued however that it wasn’t the Civil Rights leaders who formed the basis of this advancement, but in fact the Government. Soon after the freeing of the slaves the Freedmen’s Bureau was set up. This set out to help former slaves find employment, and improve their health and education facilities. This was incredibly effective at the beginning of its existence and showed the public that the Government was willing to help the black population.
The Reconstruction Acts, which eventually forced the acceptance of the 14th Amendment upon southern states, were another example of this. They threatened martial law and supervised voting unless Southern states incorporated the 14th Amendment into their law. The 15Th Amendment followed on which gave all blacks the vote. These laws however changed legislature, but didn’t manage to change how things actually panned out. For example, many blacks never got to vote because of the harsh entrance tests they had to be put through. It seemed the Government tried to help, but in some instances these laws were just decoration, and not actually intending on helping the black people.
So, in these earlier years of the Civil Rights movement, black advancement wasn’t extremely fast. It was however very hard to change the social and political views of people, who hadn’t ever known any different. The Civil Rights leaders raised a lot of awareness within the black and white communities of the potential of the black man, and the different ways they could improve their lives. Sadly, the disagreements, and completely different strategies of the leaders hindered progress considerably, they needed to all aim for the same goal.