W.E.B. DuBois and Marcus Garvey : Two roads to Pan-Africa

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1974

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Abstract

Black Americans viewed the dawning of the twentieth century with expectant eyes and high hopes that the future would bring a new and more equalitarian outlook by whites toward race relations in the United States. These optimistic expectations were shattered in the first two decades of the new century, however, as blacks in the United States continued to occupy the status of second-class citizens in a country dominated by Jim Crow's separate and unequal political, economic, and social systems. The death of Booker T. Washington in 1915 created an added burden to this situation. Washington, the founder of Tuskegee Institute, an industrial education school for blacks in Alabama, and the chief black spokesman for policies of accommodation with respect to race relations in the United States, was acknowledged by a majority of blacks and whites alike as the leader of black America. With Washington's death, the path opened for a new, more aggressive type of leadership than Washington had provided. In the years following World War I, two men vied for the position left vacant by the "Sage of Tuskegee's" death. W.E.B. DuBois, a black New England scholar educated at Harvard and the University of Berlin, attempted to provide a new type of leadership for black Americans by expanding race protest to an international plateau in order to advertise the poor status of dark-skinned peoples around the globe. In his role as editor of the Crisis, the official organ of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, DuBois began to take interest in the problems of blacks on the African continent as a result of their subordinate status in the countries controlled by the European colonial powers. In an effort to criticize this inferior position and to connect the problems of African natives to the injustices faced by black Americans, DuBois organized the Pan-African Congress Movement in 1919 to discuss and protest on an intellectual level the problems of the Negro race throughout the world. Opposition to DuBois's Pan-Africanism occurred between 1920 and 1927 as a result of the rise to popularity of a small black Jamaican named Marcus Garvey. Garvey, the president of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, arrived in the United States in 1916 and immediately set out to gain the support of the black masses for his program of physical separation of the races by means of a large-scale migration of blacks to Africa. At its height, the Garvey movement represented the largest mass movement of blacks in the history of the United States. Although both DuBois and Garvey sought to internationalize the race protest by means of programs that concentrated upon the African continent, a bitter controversy arose between the two men because of differences in their backgrounds and programs and conflicts in their personalities. This controversy prevented either DuBois or Garvey from single-handedly assuming that position of leadership among black Americans formerly enjoyed by Booker T. Washington. In addition, the inability of DuBois and Garvey to cooperate on basic issues pertaining to the conditions of blacks in the United States prevented either man from achieving significant success with respect to winning political, economic, and social equality for all black Americans during the 192O's.

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Keywords

History, United States, Twentieth century, African Americans, Pan-Africanism, Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963, Garvey, Marcus, 1887-1940

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