Examining the political positions of courageous and intelligent men like W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington gives one the opportunity to see two strong yet opposing mindsets in a time and place where problems were abundant, and no solution was assured. Both of these men speak of similar problems in their respective writings in dealing with subjects such as education and manhood, yet they vary in their explanations of what it is and how to solve it. These differences can be seen in the paintings of Aaron Douglas, who I predict worked for DuBois.
The political position of Booker T. Washington, in his 1895 address at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta, can be interpreted in various ways. For African Americans to “Cast down their bucket where they are” they would first need to be accepted by “the Southern white man, who is their neighbor.” With the high rate of race related lynching at that time, this seems like wishful thinking. However, it is when he addresses those of the white race, that he reiterates “cast down your bucket where you are” instead he suggests it to be “among the eight millions of Negroes who’s habits you own…and helped make possible this magnificent representation of the progress of the South.” He continues by explaining all the good things that can come of this union, asking for help and encouragement “and education of head, and hand, and heart.”
In doing so, white families “would be surrounded by the most patient, faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful people that the world has seen.” Washington continues to remind the audience of the plethora of jobs and duties African Americans fulfill while stressing the point that “there is no defense or security for any of us except in the highest intelligence and development for all.” Washington concludes his position by speaking of a struggle both the white and black race face, he pledges that when the southerners decide to “work out the great and intricate problem which God has laid at the doors of the South” that African Americans will be there every step of the way.
W.E.B. DuBois takes a heavily personal political position in his work “the souls of black folk.” This can be seen when DuBois refers to a personal anecdote of his youth, when he first comes across this racial divide in which a white classmate would not take candy from him because he was black. He refers to it as a “vast veil.” A veil which gave him no desire to tear down, but rather to “live above it in a region of blue sky.” This incident motivated him to become better than his white counterparts, in every sense of the word. Yet he never forgot that “the worlds he longed for, and all their dazzling opportunities, were theirs, not his.”
In response to this, DuBois speaks of the “bright ideals of the past, physical freedom, political power, and the training of brains and hands.” Emphasizing that alone, these ideals were “over-simple and incomplete” but brought together, these ideals hold true. Dubois also stated that “work, culture, and liberty are needed together, each growing and aiding each.” There is a broader ideal DuBois was highlighting, that of “human brotherhood… the ideal of fostering and developing the traits and talents of the negro.”
Both Washington and DuBois wanted similar things, progress for their people. The roots of their ideals share similarities. Washington claimed that progress “must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing.” While DuBois would respond by saying “only a firm adherence to African American higher ideals and aspirations will ever keep them within the realm of possibility.” DuBois would not be afraid of forcing anything, he claimed that “the way for a people to gain respect is not by continually belittling and ridiculing themselves, but rather by insisting continually…” However Washington wouldn’t agree with this because he claims that “agitation of questions of social equality is the greatest folly.”
Both Paintings by Aaron Douglas being evaluated look to have heavy influences of the teachings of W.E.B DuBois. The painting being evaluated is “Songs of the Towers.” This one stood out first among the others because of the streaks that go across the painting. At first glance they appeared to be smoke, which is what still seems to be coming out of the 7 smokestack looking figures that represent the smokestacks of industrial factories in the middle of the painting. This goes with DuBois because he would’ve agreed a life in the factory could potentially be lethal. There appear to be three human-like figures visible in the painting. The lowest one, on the bottom left corner, seems to be wrapped in noxious fumes with his arm covering his mouth in a cough. I say the fumes are noxious because of its sickly green color and the shape it forms above the figure of a skinny, skeletal-like hand. The second figure, found at the bottom right corner, looks to be fleeing from something based on the length of his current stride. It is also important to point out this figure is lunging on top of a large gear that symbolizes industrial machinery. There appears to be a dark hand, similar in shape to the hand the noxious fumes formed, surrounded by what look to be cotton plants. The hand is reaching out and picking the back pocket of the figure.
The hand represents the life of a slave, still in close proximity with the figure to represent the short amount of time African Americans have spent emancipated. The briefcase in the figure’s hand represents a life of business and the African American struggle to integrate into society. DuBois’s influence shows here again in the point being made that African American advancement wont be found in the fields, but rather in the tall buildings shown in the background of the painting where business is conducted in places like Wall Street in New York. This figure also has his head below the green fumes, showing he is still susceptible to the dangers of the factory and the fields. The third and final figure stands atop the gear with his head held above the fumes. This figure looks out through a gap in tall buildings money and all the amenities it brings which creates a gap between the very rich at the top of the painting and the very poor at the bottom. In between the buildings, a silhouette of the Statue of Liberty can be seen. The Statue of Liberty has been a symbol of freedom and independence throughout American history, but in this particular context it represents acceptance into American society.
The third figure holds a saxophone in his hand, which is representative of jazz music and in a broader sense, African American contributions to American culture. There are three white circles surrounding the saxophone, giving emphasis to the tools used for this contribution and encourages the further use of them, which DuBois would have encouraged himself.
Douglas’s second painting being evaluated “Aspects of Negro Life: Slavery Through Reconstruction” is an important painting to dissect because of the various statements it makes. Starting at the top left corner, pink, pointy hatted horsemen resembling the Ku Klux Klan are holding swords looking in mid swing form. Representing the danger that constantly looms over the African American. Directly under them, field workers can be seen picking cotton and carrying large baskets of it, this represents the past life of the African American. Some workers look up to a leader figure, this figure was determined as a leader based on his elevated stance from the rest of the figures by standing on top of a basket of cotton, representing the fact he has risen above the past life of slavery. This goes extremely well with the comment DuBois made in “The Souls of Black Folk” when he mentions that he’d rather live above the vast veil of segregation and prejudice in a region of blue sky.
The leader holds a pamphlet of some kind in his left hand, pointing to a building that looks like the capital building. Those two observations go together because the pamphlet represents higher education will lead to political power which is more important than industrial knowledge, which is represented by a factory on the right of the capital. Booker T. Washington was an advocate for Industrial education, so it leaves one to believe that Aaron Douglas worked for DuBois because DuBois valued the same ideals as depicted in the painting. However, its important to point out that there appear to be neat rows of armed guards beside both buildings, indicating that there are forces at work trying to stop African Americans from receiving both industrial and political power. In response to this, there is a figure with an emphasized clenched fist raised up representing the population of African Americans who want to achieve progress through violence. Next to it is a calmer figure in overalls and a hat. He looks to be offering the crowd a cup of some kind. Both this cup and the pamphlet mentioned in the leader’s hands are surrounded by three white circles that grow dimmer the farther away they are.
This provides more emphasis on these objects rather than the clenched fist because higher education and working together with the masses, which are depicted by the three figures with their arms raised high, will achieve progress faster than violence and ignorance. Lastly there are two figures on the far right, one playing the trumpet and the other performing ballet. These represent black culture and the importance of sustaining and growing it, which is something DuBois stressed heavily in his writings.