Ida B. Wells vs. Booker T. Washington

Topics: Black people, African American, Southern United States Pages: 3 (1001 words) Published: September 14, 2014
In post-reconstruction America, many Black writers, ministers, teachers and others eloquently argued on behalf of freedom and justice for Black Americans, advocating various strategies for achieving racial and economic equality. Two such leaders who helped shape the political discourse were Ida B. Wells and Booker T. Washington. Urging politically divergent approaches, they both wanted African American people and men in particular, to be valued and respected by the white south. However, they differed significantly in the means by which they believed such change would come about. Ida B. Wells told the truth in a way that made many whites uncomfortable, addressing lynching and other racially motivated atrocities directly and proposing that African Americans collectively leverage economic power through strikes and boycotts, and individually protect themselves from lynches with weapons. In contrast, Washington was more conciliatory, appealing to whites to give African Americans the opportunity to prove their technical capacity and participate alongside whites as legitimate economic partners. While the “gradualist” gained unprecedented access to formal political power through his white benefactors, I believe Ida B. Wells’ argument that African Americans stop conceding power to whites was more persuasive in advancing racial equality for African Americans in post-reconstruction America. Wells and Washington’s thoughts were formed in the period immediately following reconstruction. The 14th and 15th amendments had been ratified in 1868, three years after the civil war ended, bringing much hope about the potential for an economically stable south with enough resources to go around. Wells was born a slave in Holly Springs, Mississippi, in 1862. She started teaching in a rural school for blacks, and eventually taught in Memphis schools for African Americans. Around 1887, Wells started writing for several black-owned newspapers, including Free Speech, which she...
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