African Americans in the Progressive Era

 

African Americans in the Progressive Era


An advocate of strong vocational education for black Americans, Booker T. Washington founded the Tuskegee Institute, now called Tuskegee University, in Alabama in 1881. In the face of racial violence during the late 19th century, Washington advised blacks to prove their economic value by working hard. His willingness to accept segregation and inequality in exchange for economic advancement drew criticism from other black leaders, notably W. E. B. Du Bois of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
As African Americans tried to combat racism and avoid racial conflict, they clashed over strategies of accommodation and resistance. Booker T. Washington, head of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, urged blacks to be industrious and frugal, to learn manual skills, to become farmers and artisans, to work their way up economically, and to win the respect of whites. When blacks proved their economic value, Washington argued, racism would decline. An agile politician, with appeal to both whites and blacks, Washington urged African Americans to adjust to the status quo. In 1895, in a speech that critics labeled the Atlanta Compromise, Washington contended that blacks and whites could coexist in harmony with separate social lives but united in efforts toward economic progress.

 

 


Northern intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois challenged Washington’s policy. In The Souls of Black Folk (1903), Du Bois deplored Washington’s call for patience and for cultivation of manual skills. Instead he urged equal educational opportunities and the end of discrimination. In 1909 Du Bois joined a group of progressives, black and white, to form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The NAACP strove to end the disfranchisement of black people, to abolish segregation, and to promote black civil and political rights.
An advocate of strong vocational education for black Americans, Booker T. Washington founded the Tuskegee Institute, now called Tuskegee University, in Alabama in 1881. In the face of racial violence during the late 19th century, Washington advised blacks to prove their economic value by working hard. His willingness to accept segregation and inequality in exchange for economic advancement drew criticism from other black leaders, notably W. E. B. Du Bois of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). D
Despite their zeal for reform, few progressives made race relations a priority, and in the South, leading progressives often endorsed racist policies. In 1900 more than two-thirds of 10 million African Americans lived in the South; most were sharecroppers and tenant farmers. Rural or urban, Southern blacks faced poverty, discrimination, and limited employment opportunities. At the end of the 19th century, Southern legislatures passed Jim Crow laws that separated blacks and whites in public places (see Segregation in the United States). Because blacks were deprived of the right to vote by the grandfather clause, poll taxes, or other means, their political participation was limited. Lynching increased, and a steady stream of black migrants moved north. From 1890 to 1910, some 200,000 African Americans left the South, and even more moved out during World War I. For more information, see United States (People): Major Migrations of the U.S. Population: Black Migration
Middle-class women and progressive reformers shared common goals. In the progressive era, women made great advances in higher education, the professions, and women’s organizations. By 1910, for instance, when about 5 percent of college-age Americans attended college, about 40 percent were women. Activist women joined organizations such as the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, a women’s volunteer service organization founded in 1890. The National Consumers’ League (1899) and the Women’s Trade Union League (1903) spearheaded efforts to limit women’s work hours and to organize women in unions. College students read Women and Economics (1898) by feminist intellectual Charlotte Perkins Gilman; college graduates worked in settlement houses; and homemakers joined women’s clubs to promote civic improvement. Reformer Florence Kelley led the charge for child labor laws and other measures to protect workers. On the left, anarchist Emma Goldman, birth control advocate Margaret Sanger, and feminist Crystal Eastman promoted aspects of women’s rights.
Settlement leaders, women’s clubs, and temperance groups supported progressive measures. The woman suffrage movement, in turn, won progressive support. Women had been fighting for the right to vote since the passage of the 15th Amendment gave voting rights to black men. In 1869 two rival organizations formed to support voting rights for women on state and federal levels. In 1890 the competing suffrage groups united to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association, which pursued the battle in the states. As late as 1909, women could vote in only four states (Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, and Colorado), but momentum picked up. Suffragists used more aggressive tactics, such as parades, rallies, and marches, and gained ground. They won a key victory by gaining the right to vote in New York State in 1917, which helped empower them for their final push during World War I.