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Turns of the Centuries Exhibit > African Americans 1880-1920 > African Americans
This theme in other eras: 1680-1720 | 1780-1820 | 1880-1920

Special Collections and Archives, W.E.B.Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst

African Americans : After Reconstruction


The early twentieth century brought profound changes to millions of Americans, and African Americans were no exception. Southern Reconstruction officially ended in 1877. This post-Civil War policy failed to improve race relations or provide southern blacks the civil rights guaranteed to them under the Constitution. Crop failures and economic downturns plagued the region. Hundreds of thousands of African Americans left the agrarian South for industrial cities in the North.

Discussions within the African American community centered in this period upon the problem of attaining political, economic and social parity with whites. As debates over how best to achieve these goals intensified, two voices in particular stood out.

The first was Booker T. Washington (1856-1915), whose policy of promoting economic and educational advancement won wide support among blacks and whites in the late nineteenth century. Washington was a former slave who, after emancipation, attended the Hampton Institute in Virginia. The Hampton Institute provided industrial and agricultural education and teacher training for African American and Native American men and women. The founders of Hampton believed that only economic prosperity could guarantee the social and political advancement that still eluded most African Americans. Washington firmly believed in the goals and methods of his alma mater, basing his own Tuskegee Institute upon the Hampton model.

W.E.B DuBois advocated a very different solution to the problems plaguing the African American community at the turn of the century. Born in 1895 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, DuBois stands out as one of the major intellectual figures of the early twentieth century. DuBois believed in the power of a highly educated black leadership to improve the African American situation. Dubois earned his Ph.D from Harvard University and supported higher education for what he called the "Talented Tenth." DuBois urged African Americans to demand their rights as American citizens. He criticized Booker T. Washington's belief that whites would eventually integrate blacks if the latter proved themselves worthy. In 1909, DuBois helped to found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The NAACP journal, The Crisis, communicated DuBois' views on race relations throughout the African American community and beyond. His scholarly achievements and work on race relations gained him worldwide fame and recognition.


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Portrait of W. E. B. Du Bois

accession #   #M.15

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See Also...

John Putnam (c.1817-1895)

Mary: Lamson family servant

"Harvard College- Class of 1890"

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