Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois

Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide: Day 21

Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois

“Oscar’s hero was a man named Booker T. Washington, and he quoted him whenever he had the chance.” ~ Oscar’s Gift

Booker T. Washington
Booker T. Washington, 1911

Oscar Micheaux dedicated his first book, The Conquest, to “the Honorable Booker T. Washington.” Born into slavery in 1856, Booker T. Washington was by the turn of the century “the most famous black man in America” (Jim Crow Stories: Booker T. Washington). Washington stressed industrial—and agricultural—education as the key to progress for African Americans. His views are often contrasted with the civil rights activism and call for more rapid social change of W.E.B. Du Bois.

W.E.B. Du Bois, 1918 (
W.E.B. Du Bois, 1918 (

Film historian J. Ronald Green argues in Straight Lick: The Cinema of Oscar Micheaux that Micheaux was able to embrace the often contradictory messages of both Washington and Du Bois, noting that “Micheaux came of age during the height of Washington’s influence” (p. 217) but that he also recognized “Du Bois’s importance” (p. 216).

Learn more about the two influential thinkers and writers from Frontline’s “The Two Nations of Black America: Booker T. and W.E.B.” (be sure to scroll to the bottom of the article for several readings and links) and C-SPAN’S American Writer’s episode, Writings of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois.

In the following video, Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, discusses the differences and similarities between Washington and Du Bois:

Click HERE for the full Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide.

Oscar’s Gift: Planting Words with Oscar Micheaux is available from Amazon as a paperback and ebook.

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