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Booker T. Washington: The Wizard of Tuskegee 1901-1915

By Louis R. Harlan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Damming Niagara

I am, Your obedient humble servant, Chisum, to use as your Eminence desires, absolutely.

THE summit conference of black leaders at Carnegie Hall in January 1904 was not only a logical response to the fragmentation of Afro-American leadership symbolized by the Boston Riot, but its failure to achieve any unity or even truce among the factions pointed inevitably toward the Niagara Movement a year later. The times themselves contributed to this polarization, as white aggression took the extreme forms of lynching and race riot, and the slower but continuous forms of segregation, disfranchisement, and exclusion from one avenue after another of black advancement. Black dissatisfaction took the form not only of protest against white oppression but disillusionment with the compromising, temporizing leadership of Booker T. Washington.

The Niagara Movement reflected the personality of W. E. B. Du Bois rather than Monroe Trotter, for Trotter's talents lay in stirring controversy, whereas Du Bois was an intellectual system-builder. He fashioned a black self-advancement movement that in every feature was a contrast to the Tuskegee Machine. Where Washington proposed to improve the racial climate through conciliation, the Niagara Movement proposed to clear the air by frank protest of injustice. Where the Tuskegee Machine stood for the up-and-coming black

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