After the 1896 U.S. Supreme Court's "Separate but equal" Plessy vs. Ferguson decision, legal segregation became an American institution in the form of "separate but unequal." Inequality, the Siamese twin of injustice, had Tennessee as the leader of Jim Crow laws. All over the South "White" and "colored" signs went up.
There were separate facilities regarding public transportation (e.g. trains, busses), in barber shops, schools, cafes, restaurants, bars, and so forth. Obviously, none were as good for Negroes as for Whites. Yet, in practically every colored person's home and on the fans supplied at church there was a picture of Booker T. Washington lifting the veil of ignorance from his people.
They seemed to appreciate that operating within the limits of a racist system, the practice of Washington's specialized education paved the way for an increasing proportion of Negro children to attend school in the South. By the early 1900's a million and a half of the 8 million Blacks were enrolled in schools. In the South there were 34 Blacks colleges.
Yet, all was not well among Black leaders, W.E.B. DuBois' 1903 publication "The Souls of Black Folk" served as the harbinger of Negro protest and a clear indication that Negroes would not long accept either the oppression of Whites or Washington's accommodations approach.
Accommodation meant emphasizing Negro responsibility on the fulfillment of tasks rather than the enjoyment of privileges shared by other USA citizens. Neither was it acceptable for Blacks to be thought of as simply useful to Whites. Instead Du Bois urged Negroes to keep an eye on all the rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
He did admit that Washington was partly right in that men had to make their living, and the better the living, other things being equal, the better the man. To remind Blacks that their rights were being denied and that Washington's 1895 plan was not working, he took up the fight to stop Negroes from being driven still deeper down. In 1909 he was instrumental in organizing the NAACP. His main point was that wherever Whites have all the power and administer it for their own gratification, it is impossible to have justice and equality for colored people.
Black opponents of Washington started directing critical comments away from what Washington was all about. In essence, it was Washington's position that, considering the circumstances Negroes were in, they had to toil and therefore should get the education to toil skillfully. He did not openly attack higher education for Negroes but believed in an education providing them some usefulness.
A youth, for example, should not be educated away from his environment but get the training suitable to his/her peculiar situation -- training that lays a foundation for the future in the present situation. once this is obtained, the person can then emerge into something above and beyond his/her beginnings. Furthermore, Washington was one of the worst enemies of segregation.
Believing in the helpful contact of the races, he associated with the better class of Whites. He considered segregation as unjust because it invited unjust measures, widened the gap between the races, embittered the Negro, and harmed the moral fiber of the White man. That the Negro does not express this constant sense of wrong is no proof that he does not feel it, he said. Behind the scenes and on behalf of Blacks, he exerted considerable pressure on presidents T. Roosevelt and W.H. Taft. He secretly financed some test cases in Alabama voting rights.
Because of Dr. Washington, Negroes today have a stronger economic life. Because of Dr. Du Bois, they have developed a political and legal sense and a remarkable power to plead their cause in court. Undoubtedly, Washington's ultimate goal was first-class citizenship for Blacks. After dying in 1915, he was elected in 1945 to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans. His birthplace is now a national monument.