Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois did not immediately part ways after the publication of The Souls of Black Folk, in which DuBois was critical of Bookerism. In fact, DuBois taught at Tuskegee that summer. But part ways they did in the year after the book came out. The particular details are complicated, but Gary Dorrien interprets the division broadly as one between DuBois' embrace of "the prophetic ethical religion of Jesus" and Washington's participation in the commercialism of the age. Dorrien writes,
The age proclaimed that the greatness of the nation was its money; thus, religion, politics, and education became devoted to moneymaking.
Yet DuBois "believed in 'Liberty for all men' to live, vote, and associate 'as they will in a kingdom of beauty and love.'" While Washington "became preeminent by promising a cheap and docile labor force to New South capitalists."
And so DuBois organized the Niagara movement.
The Niagara Movement demanded full manhood suffrage, "and we want it now, henceforth and forever." It demanded the abolition of discrimination in public accomodation, the right to social freedom, and the rule of law applied equally to rich and poor, capitalists and laborers, and whites and blacks.
They declared that black people "have the right to know, to think, to aspire."
Their meeting at Harper's Ferry drew on the legacy of John Brown. They declared, "We do not believe in violence, neither in the despised violence of the raid nor the lauded violence of the soldier, nor the barbarous violence of the mob, but we do believe in John Brown, in that incarnate spirit of justice, that hatred of a lie, that willingness to sacrifice money, reputation, and life itself on the altar of right."
That year saw rioting and lynching in Texas and Georgia. DuBois composed "A Litany of Atlanta" in response in which he questioned of God, "Is this Thy justice, O Father?" Here are the searingly powerful lines:
Surely Thou too are not white, O Lord, a pale, bloodless, heartless thing? . . . Forgive the thought! Forgive these wild, blasphemous words. Thou art still the God of our black fathers, and in Thy soul's soul sit some soft darkenings of the evening, some shadowings of the velvet night.
This has been my favorite chapter yet in the book The New Abolition: W. E. B. DuBois and the Black Social Gospel. Any student of church history knows that the theology of the early ecumenical councils or of the Protestant Reformation was worked out in a complex mix of discourse and action weighted by politics. This chapter, which details the difficult and complicated organizational work that led to the NAACP, reads similarly, as the process by which a theology is developed in the midst of real world activity.
"Liberty and Equality" was the previous post in this series.