Comparison of Ideas: Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois

by Wendy Thowdis

Essential Question

Which of the two views presented below, W.E.B. Du Bois’ or Booker T. Washington’s, offered a better strategy to put our nation on a quicker path to equality for African Americans at the turn of the twentieth century?



Select appropriate excerpts for your level of students and have them answer the questions below. Note that the questions bring the students from the literal to the applied level of thinking. Teaching students about this taxonomy of thinking helps them to engage in historical thinking at a higher level. This is what metacognition is all about!


  • Describe the message Booker T. Washington had for African Americans who did not see the importance of friendly relations with white southerners.
  • Name the three things Du Bois said that Washington wanted black people to give up.


  • What are the three “supplemental truths” that Du Bois said “must never be lost sight of”? Infer why Du Bois outlined these three truths.


  • Classify the various groups in society to answer the question: Who would support each of these black leaders’ ideas? Briefly state your reasons why. Groups: white industrial workers, black sharecroppers, white tenant farmers, big businessmen, northern blacks


  • In your opinion, did Booker T. Washington or W.E.B. Du Bois have a better strategy for improving the social and economic conditions of African Americans? Why?


  • Washington implied that political and social power cannot exist without economic power. Explain why you agree or disagree.


  • In recent years there has been a debate over the validity of affirmative action programs, which attempt to aid minority groups and women in the areas of education and employment. What positions do you think Washington and Du Bois would take on this issue? Why?
  • Read the passage from Marcus Garvey. Create a Venn diagram where you “plot” areas of agreement and disagreement among the three African American leaders.

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