The Greatest Debate: Scholarship Vs. Self-Reliance (Kwanzaa Day 2)

Any student of African American history is certain to confront the greatest debate between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. Both men, born in the same era, were passionate about advancing the black man in America and cementing his place in society. The preeminent thought-leaders of their time, Washington and DuBois had very strong, yet differing, philosophies on African Americans’ path to success.


Washington, born into slavery, reached prominence through his promotion of self-sufficiency by learning a trade and working hard; ultimately ingratiating oneself to whites. A scholarly man himself, Washington founded Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, a school dedicated to industrial education, or in today’s vernacular, vocational education.



DuBois, born into freedom and equally as brilliant, expressed his scholarship through writing and activism. The Harvard doctoral graduate, the first black man to achieve such a distinction, authored several books and co-founded the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

The Divide

Extremely successful in their chosen fields, both men understood the importance of education to nimbly navigate the murky waters of post-slavery, Jim Crow America. However, Washington’s philosophy diverges from continuing in academia to building a life through a singular focus on hard work with an eye toward racial harmony. While DuBois believed in continuing one’s education and political activism.

There are many works dissecting the merits of the greatest debate and even taking sides. Both Washington and DuBois wanted the best for African Americans and both expertly laid foundations from which we operate to this very day.

However, the purpose of this post is to simply provide background for day two of Kwanzaa – Kujichagulia or self-determination. Booker T. Washington is possibly the first champion of self-determination within and for the black community. The debate continues…

Check in tomorrow for Kwanzaa Day three!





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