At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century the powerlessness of black and colored Americans remained unwritten law of society, despite the existence of XV Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It is impossible to ignore the unfortunate fact that the progressive movement was the movement of whites. The elimination of discrimination was not included in the list of reforms put forward by progressives in the states or the U.S. Congress. Moreover, the progressive southern states, where the percentage of black population was the highest, remained racists. It is worth mentioning that it was during the Progressive Era in many areas the local authorities implemented segregation laws, requiring blacks and white to settle in different neighborhoods. Baltimore (Maryland) adopted such a law in 1910, Richmond (Virginia) in 1911, and these examples were followed by other cities. (Majewski 2001)
The reaction of the leaders of the Negro people, representatives of the emerging Negro intellectuals on the policies and practices of segregation and terror was different. Of course, many were dissatisfied, and some intellectuals began to show discontent and desire for change in the direction of justice and equality, which were nominally “guaranteed”ť by the U.S. Constitution. (Majewski 2001)
One of the best known and most active black leaders, speaking for the adaptation of the Negro people to the difficult conditions prevailing at the end of 19th century, was a Booker T. Washington. A former slave, who with great difficulty got education in Washington, he founded in Tuskegee (Ala.) the first vocational school, then Teachers and Industry Institute of Tuskegee. Washington argued that Negros should abandon political activity, cultivate the humility, the desire to acquire property and, along with the patience and helpfulness for whites. At the initial stage the activity of Washington had a positive value, since it facilitated the spread of education and professional knowledge among Negros. He said that: “If you can’t read, it’s going to be hard to realize dreams.”ť (Lears 2009)
Booker Washington has written several books, the most famous is called “Awake from slavery.”ť Booker Washington was a great orator, one of the foremost educators and fighter for education of Negroes. In September 1895 in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, he delivered a speech outlining his socio-political concepts and ideas on the world without racial and class discrimination, close cooperation of white and colored people of the United States. In his speech, Booker Washington asked for equality only in two areas: access to employment and entrepreneurship. His speech was 10 minutes long, but it shaped racial politics in the south and made the Booker T. Washington the leader of the Negro people. (Lears 2009)
B. Washington won huge popularity, and not just among blacks, as his program was endorsed by business owners, as well as the U.S. government. President Theodore Roosevelt had consulted with him about appointments to public positions of black and even white Southerners, visited the Institute in Tuskegee, and once even once invited him for dinner in the White House.
Another prominent personality and fighter with discrimination was William E. B. Du Bois. A talented scientist, writer and organizer, Y. Dubois (1868-1963) devoted his all life to the struggle for liberation and happiness of the Negro people. At the cost of enormous effort – as he was a Negro – Du Bois was educated at the best universities in the U.S. and Europe. For 10 years he was a university professor for blacks in Atlanta (Georgia). Dubois, unlike B. Washington, paid great attention to university education of blacks, believing that the fate of the liberation movement depends on a broad educational activities, aimed at developing a high culture of the youth, that “talented ten percent of the bourgeois Negro intellectuals”ť would lead his people towards a better future. (Lears 2009)
Du Bois dreamed of full equality of Negroes. He joined a group of journalists who in July 1905 presented a declaration of a new organization called the “Niagara”ť. Declaration of the “Niagara”ť was an expression of open protest against discrimination of the Negro people. Participants in the new organization required to ensure blacks participation in elections, in jury trials, equal treatment in the army and navy, the abolition of racial discrimination in employment and in unions, in other words, to enforce regulations adopted by the U.S. Congress and violated by racists. The movement “Niagara”ť was numerically small (only 400 people), but it showed that the Negro people moved from resignation to fight and resist. It worked for four years, and then came into the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
The last personality it is interesting to mention is Ida Bell Wells-Barnett (1862 – 1931), who was an African-American journalist, newspaper editor and, together with her husband Ferdinand L. Barnett, was a leader in the civil rights movement. Her best-known achievement was the study and publicity of lynching in the United States. Ida Wells conducted a study of lynching and published the results in local newspapers, and the results were as follows: of 728 blacks were executed crowd, nearly 70 percent were killed for minor offenses. In 1889 she wrote a letter to President William McKinley to intervene federal authorities in addressing the problem of lynching in the south. As a result, in 1909, was formed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the organization made a campaign against lynching.
Ida Wells became one of the activists among black women, and was also active in the women’s rights movement and the women’s suffrage movement.
In conclusion it is necessary to say that Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. DuBois, and Ida B. Wells were active fighters with racial discrimination during the Progressive Era. Their efforts were aimed at to raise the spirits of blacks, to destroy injustice and oppression by the whites, and to enable the rights and freedoms of all blacks as equal citizens of America.
Lears J. Rebirth of a Nation. HarperCollins; 1 edition, 2009
Majewski J. History of the American Peoples 1840-1920. Kendall Hunt Pub Co, 2001