Daily Class OutlineDaily Class QuestionsDaily Class Web LinksDaily Class Notes

Question for Discussion: What are the major
arguments used to deny Southern Blacks'
civil rights and to segregate them from
White Society in the 1890s?

Reading: Gerster, pp. 62-71; Washington "Atlantic
Exposition (web)
; DuBois "A Critique of Washington"
; A Red Record (web); Stannard Baker article (web)
Tillman "Lynch Law" (web)

Daily Class Web Links

Blacks in late 19th Century America

Black Migrations in late 19th-Century America

The Rise of Jim Crow and
Segregation in the 1890s

Washington vs. Du Bois on the
Black response to Jim Crow

Segregation and the Rise of the Civil Rights Movement

Daily Class Outline

1. The Collapse of Southern Populism

2. How does Ray Stannard Baker's article
help us understand growing Southern White
fears of Blacks getting "out of their place" in
the 1880s and 1890s?

3. The Plessy vs. Ferguson ruling

4. Washington vs. DuBois over Blacks in
the South

5. The Brutal Reality of Jim Crow in the South

Daily Class Questions

1. According to Booker T. Washington, who is
responsible for the problems Blacks face in
the South in the 1890s?

2. Why does Washington encourage Blacks
to stay in the South and seek their fortune
working in the South?

3. According to Washington, why should
Southern Whites hire Black rather than
 immigrant workers?

4.  Why does Washington believe that
segregation isn't a threat to Black rights and

5. According to Washington, how will Blacks
gain equality and full rights in  the South?

6. Why does DuBois believe that Washington
is arguing that "the Negro can survive only
through submission"?

7. What are DuBois's major arguments against
Washington's belief that if Blacks work hard and
prove themselves they will one day achieve
social and economic equality?

8. According the DuBois, why are Southern
Whites trying to segregate Blacks from White
society and deny Blacks their rights as Americans?

9. What is the basis of the Supreme Court's
argument in Plessy vs. Ferguson that
segregation and social inequality do not deny
Blacks their basic legal and political rights and

10. Do you agree with the Court's argument
that the 14th Amendment does not prevent
local communities from passing laws
segregating Blacks and Whites, and that
communities are free to pass their own laws
"with reference to the established usages,
customs, and traditions of the people"?

11. Do you think the Supreme Court here is
assuming that Blacks are a race socially and
racially inferior to Whites?

12. Do you agree with Justice John Harlan in
his dissent to Plessy vs. Ferguson that "our
Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows
nor tolerates classes among citizens"?

13. Do you agree with Justice Harlan that
segregation is wrong because it places 
 "a badge of inferiority" on Blacks.

14. According to Harlan, what is the real goal
of segregating Blacks from White society?

15. According to Ray Stannard Baker, what
are Southern White attitudes' towards Blacks?

16. Does Baker's article shed any light on
the Supreme Court's Plessy vs. Ferguson
ruling?  Is the Court lying about the real
reason for segregating Blacks?

17. According to Blair what role can Blacks
play in creating economic growth and
prosperity in the "New South"?

17. What does Blair believe are the larger
causes of poverty and lack of industrial 
development in the South?

18. According to Blair, what role does racism
playing in Southern society?

Daily Class Notes

From 1865 to the early 1890s, Blacks had more rights in the South than will have from the early 1890s to the mid-1960s. After the Civil War, Blacks could vote, participate in the larger White Southern society, get a good education, own successful businesses and farms, and freely travel throughout the South. However, by the earlier 1890s many of these rights were being taken away from Blacks. By the 1900s, Blacks can't vote, they are brutally segregated from the larger White Southern society, they cannot get a good education but must go to inferior schools, successful Black businessmen and farmers are threatened with violence and the loss of their property, and Blacks are prevented from freely traveling in the South for fear that they would try to escape the South. How did this happen? Why did the Federal government allow this denial of Black rights and citizenship in the South from the 1890s to the mid-1960s?

In the 1880s and early 1890s, the Populist party was winning the support of poor White and Black farmers and small businessmen. Southern Populist were so successful challenging the Southern Democratic Party that it seemed that soon the Populists would dominate local and state governments in the South. But the Southern Democratic Party and the economic and political elites whose interests they represented were determined to prevent this. They decided that the only way to break the back of the Populist party was to stir up racism and racial division between Blacks and Whites. Southern Democratic party demagogues in the 1890s and early 1900s charged that Blacks were becoming an increasing threat to Southern society, they were once again trying to dominate the South as they had during "Reconstruction." To prevent the growing threat of "Black Rule," Southern Democratic leaders argued that Blacks must once again be put back in their place.

In addition to stirring up White racial fears about Black domination, Southern Democratic leaders convinced Southern workers and poor Southern farmers that their problems were caused by Black competition for jobs and for economic opportunities. They argued that if Blacks were forced to stay in their place that White Southern workers and farmers would be guaranteed high-paying, good jobs and could once again manage successful farms. In addition, Southern Democratic leaders convinced large plantation farmers and agricultural interests that their growing economic crisis caused by Blacks increasing refusal to work as underpaid farm laborers could be solved if Blacks were forced to stay in their place. In the end, Southern Democratic leaders convinced Southern whites that their success depended on keeping Blacks in their place as second-class citizens with little rights.

By the early 1890s, Southern states were holding constitutional conventions to re-write their state constitutions to deny Blacks their basic rights as Americans and create laws to keep Blacks in their place as second-class, underpaid, uneducated, laborers. By the mid-1890s, many Southern states had denied Blacks the right to vote, created rigid "Jim Crow" laws that brutally segregated Blacks from the larger White society, denied Blacks the right to get a good education, and greatly limited Blacks' freedom. In addition to these laws, Southern white mobs terrorized and violently threatened Blacks who challenged these new laws and refused to accept their new place as permanent second-class citizens in the White South. White mobs targeted successful Black farmers, businessmen, educated Blacks, and Black teachers for attack. These successful Blacks were dangerous to Whites because they provided Blacks with role models, proving that Blacks weren't racially inferior, ignorant, and unable to participate in the larger Southern society. Southern vigilante violence led to widespread lynchings, burning of Blacks businesses, farms, and schools, and driving successful Blacks and their White supporters out of their communities.

But all of these action violated Blacks Constitutional rights as American citizens. The 14th amendment should have prevented Southern states and local communities from passing laws denying Blacks their rights as Americans. But the Supreme Court in its 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling concluded that segregation and the denial of social equality to Blacks in the South did not violate Blacks political and civil equality. The Court declared that states and local communities are "at liberty to act with reference to the established usages, customs, and traditions of the people, and with a view to the promotion of their comfort, and the preservation of the public peace and good order." In its Plessy v. Ferguson ruling, the Supreme Court is ignoring the larger mandates of the 14th amendment--which guaranteed that the Federal government would protect the basic rights of American citizens--and allowing the South to pass laws re-enslaving Blacks, denying Blacks their full rights under the law and forcing them to remain second-class citizens.

In addition to the Court's refusal to protect Blacks' right from the egregious violation of Southern states and communities, the federal government and Congress refused to use its power and authority to protect Blacks rights as American citizens. Why did they federal government do this? Was it, too, like the South, giving up on the larger goal of granting Blacks full civil and political equality in the United States? Not entirely. Northern and Western Congressmen and politicians decided to allow the South to deny Blacks their rights and create a separate, inferior status for Blacks as a part of a larger political compromise with Southern Democratic politicians. In return for Southern Democratic Congressmen and politicians supporting Northern and Western Congressmen's efforts to create an American Empire, to expand American imperial control and domination in Latin America and Asia, the Federal government and the Republican and Democratic parties looked the other way as Southern states and communities undermined the basic rights of Black Americans.

It is in this context that we must now look more closely at Booker T. Washington's speech at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895. In the 1880s, Booker T. Washington at created a Black school called the Tuskegee Institute, which focused on giving Blacks an industrial education, teaching them the skills they needed to get good jobs in factories and on farms. Fearing White threats and reprisals for his efforts to educate Blacks, Washington reached out for the support of Southern economic and political elites. He promised them that the wasn't educating Blacks to compete with whites but to give them the skills they needed to do the low-paying jobs they already had. Because Washington preached a message of Black uplift and social inferiority to Whites, Southern economic and political elites invited him to speak at the Atlanta exposition in 1895. The larger goal of the Exposition was to highlight what Southern leaders called "the New South," an industrializing, modern South, no longer torn by racial divisions and conflicts. Washington's was asked to give his speech to try to convince Northern and American investors that the South was no longer a place they should avoid because of its racial division and turmoil.

In his speech at the Exposition, which W.E.B.Du Bois called "the Atlanta Compromise," Washington praised the New South and the place of Blacks in the South. He argued that if Blacks were facing difficulties in the South it wasn't the fault of racist Whites and Southern local and state governments but was the fault of Blacks themselves. Washington diagnosed Blacks larger problems by saying that "ignorant and inexperienced, it is not strange that in the first years of our new life we began at the top instead of at the bottom," when we should have begun at "the bottom of life...and not at the top." Instead of demanding full civil and political equality and full American citizenship, Washington argues, Blacks should have focused on becoming economically successful and pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps. He declares that "the wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly, and that progress in the enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than an artificial forcing." Here, Washington is arguing that Blacks hadn't earned their full civil and political equality, they hadn't proved to White Americans that they were worthy of their respect. He argues that "it is important and right that all privileges of the law be ours, but it is vastly more important that we be prepared for the exercises of these privileges." In this speech, Washington is telling Southern Whites that Blacks will except their second-class citizenship, segregation, and the denial of their political and civil rights if the South allows Blacks to contribute to the Southern economy by getting an industrial education and helping to build the New South.

Speaking as a Harvard-educated Ph.D, W.E.B.Du Bois in his 1903 essay, "Of Mr.Booker T.Washington and Others," accuses Washington of selling out Blacks rights and denying them their full political and civil equality as Americans. But should we take Washington's argument simply at face value. After all, at one point he says "it is in the South that the Negro is given a man's chance in the commercial world," which is simply not true. It is, in fact, growing Black competition for industrial jobs that convinces Southern Whites to support Democratic efforts to create laws to force Blacks to stay in their place. Ray Stannard Baker quotes one Southern White worker who said, "Finish him up with a good industrial education...send him to take my work away from me and I will kill him." Given this larger reality of White violence and antipathy towards Black economic success, how can we take Washington's argument seriously? But maybe Washington is trying to reach a "compromise" with Southern whites as Du Bois charges.

In 1895, Washington gives his speech fully aware of the violence and threats against Blacks throughout the South. He knows that Blacks are losing their right to vote and losing their civil and political equality. So why doesn't he scold the South for being racist, violent, unjust, and for violating Blacks basic rights under the Constitution? Du Bois would have Washington do this. But what would have happened to Washington if he had made such charges against the South in his speech? He probably would have been lynched, and he knew it. His speech washes over and ignores this larger reality of growing White violence and threats to Blacks. Washington chose to ignore the larger, bleaker reality Blacks faced in the South in his speech, feeling that if he offered a desperate compromise with the White South that someday White could be convinced of the injustice they were now doing to Blacks. What was Washington's compromise?

Washington offered the South Black's acceptance of their second-class citizenship and the denial of their political and civil rights if the South promised to allow Blacks the opportunity to prove themselves worthy of such rights and full first-class citizenship by contributing to the economic growth and success of the New South. He argues that with "the product of field, of forest, of mine, of factory, letters, and art, much good will come, yet far above and beyond material benefits will be that higher good, that, let us pray God, will come, in a blotting out of sectional differences and racial animosities and suspicions, in a determination to administer absolute justice, in a willing obedience among all classes to the mandates of law. This, then, coupled with our material prosperity, will bring into our beloved South a new heaven and a new earth." But could Blacks really contribute to the South's economic success by getting industrial education and developing skills that would not only improve their economic lot but help the South develop? Washington is asking the South to give Blacks the chance to make this contribution and be justly rewarded for their efforts.

Du Bois's larger argument is that Blacks can't become economically successful if they don't first have full civil and political equality with Whites. He argues that if Blacks can't protect their farms, their small businesses, their schools, and their skilled jobs from White violence, then Blacks can't be guaranteed that their hard work and efforts will pay off with economic and financial success. Du Bois is, in fact, right. Whites in the 1890s and 1900s, and up until the 1960s, would target successful Black farms and businesses for destruction and harassment. They didn't want their second-class Black laborers to get the idea that they too could rise out of their poverty and desperation and achieve financial success and independence. In the end, Washington's compromise couldn't possibly work because Whites were simply unwilling to give Black the opportunities to contribute to Southern economic growth and success.

By the early 1900s, many Blacks, now facing the constant threat of violence and intimidation from Whites and the complete loss of their rights in the South, decided to leave the South and move to the North and the West where they would still face segregation but they would have their full political and civil rights. From 1900 to the 1950s, millions of Blacks migrated to the North from the South, escaping violence, oppression, and injustice. In fact, as we will see, it is the rapid growth of the Northern Black vote in the 1900s that will finally force both Democratic and Republican politicians in the 1950s and 1960s to use the power of the federal government to protect the basic rights and freedoms of Blacks and force the South to dismantle "Jim Crow" and segregation.

Recognizing that Washington's compromise with the racist and violence White South, Du Bois and others in the early 1900s formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the NAACP, whose larger goal was to force the Federal government to enforce the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments which granted Blacks full rights and American citizenship under the law. Unlike Washington, Du Bois believed that America had a moral, legal, and political responsibility to recognize and protect the rights of Blacks. Du Bois warned that the denial of Black rights would only further divide America and create racial division and tension throughout the country.


© 2002 by Chris H.  Lewis, Ph.D.
Sewall Academic Program; University of Colorado at Boulder
Created 7 August 2002:  Last Modified: 23 Sept. 2002
E-mail: cclewis@spot.colorado.edu
URL:    http://www.colorado.edu/AmStudies/lewis/2010/segre.htm
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