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Hostility Dr. Washington Faced

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By Dr. Joseph Bailey
 
The Negro protest around the turn of the 20th century moved in two directions -- toward separation and toward integration.  Many critics of Booker T. Washington, associating him with advocating separatism, said Blacks cannot achieve political or economic power in isolation. 

While emphasizing the need for African Americans to pool their economic resources and withdraw consumer support from racist firms, these integrationist advocated a coalition of Negroes and liberal Whites working together to help the poor rise above poverty.  For Blacks to enter alliances was seen as "a mark of our growing strength, not of our weakness."  Despite my agreeing with the critics, it does not seem fair to take what Dr. Washington did out of context and say that he was an "accommodative separatist."

The context pertained to the circumstances Dr. Washington faced within the setting of Whites having essentially all of the power and resources while Negroes were struggling to survive and to trying keep from being killed by Whites.  For example, in the years 1882 to 1927, well over 3513 Blacks were lynched.  These and other (unreported) murders, economic conditions, and disfranchisements drove tens of thousand of Negroes to the North where they met nearly as much hostility. 

All sorts of methods were used by Whites in order to gain, maintain, or increase their power and control over scarce goods and services -- prejudice, discrimination, "literacy laws," "poll taxes," "grandfather clauses," outrageously White supremacy oriented legal systems and police forces, and the ever present threats, subtle coercions, veiled intimidations and violence.  Violence worked hand-in-hand with government policy and of course those policies were determined by White males, with approval from the White Social structure.  "Patriotic" organizations, the local Ku Klux Klan units, and later the trolley car conductors were some of the instruments of violence financially supported by the "Ole Boy" network, as the top White leaders were (and are) called.  The aim was to keep the Negro community "in its place" (i.e. keep it from encroaching o­n White areas) and prevent Negroes from becoming "uppity" (i.e. trying to act like Whites).

In short, the local circumstance Dr. Washington faced was essentially that of a barbaric, hostile, and "trigger-finger happy" bunch of "redneck" White southerners and their White "gentlemen" counterparts (who orchestrated equally, if not more, evilness).  These hate-filled people covered Blacks with a "fishnet entrapment."  It was the greediness of Whites, the nature of slavery, and the close contact between slave and master that enabled Whites to declare slaves as inhuman and, through brain-washing, many Negroes embraced this system of hate. 

Blacks, under a realistic threat of "life or limb," were required to act as if they were, in fact, not fully human.  For some, this became a habitual way of life, vestiges of which are seen in today's "enslaved mind" Negroes.  Blacks were o­nly slowly emerging from two centuries of having no choice while being wholly dependent upon Whites.  Whites continued to deny them experience, knowledge, literacy, money, and power -- thereby keeping Negroes "barefoot and ignorant."

Dr. Washington knew that failure to make a leadership decision ensured that Blacks would either stand still or thoughtlessly proceed into "nowhere."  Thus, his philosophy was to make the best of a bad situation -- to walk lightly and not break any "leaves" that would set off a "fire" until a better time when the fire trucks were present. 

Although not conducive to high group identification, Dr. Washington's approach seemed, at that time, to be the o­nly practical o­ne for Blacks.  Under the best of circumstances human nature dictates that any directional power decision automatically attracts competing and usually conflicting views.  Hence, in considering White Southerners ever-present hostility, striving for Black equality was certain to have made matters worse.

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