Washington were two great leaders of the African American community in the late 19th and early 20th century. However, these two scholars disagreed on strategies for African American social and economical progress. Their opposing philosophies can be found in much of today's discussion over how to end class and racial injustice, what is the role of African American Leadership, and what did Dubois and Washington displayed in the African American community.
During the time between 1895 and 1920, black Americans experienced many social, economic and political difficulties. Many African Americans supported the program of Booker T. Washington, the most prominent black leader of the late 19th and early 20th century, who counseled them to focus on modest economic goals and to accept temporary social discrimination. Others, led by the African-American intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois, wanted to challenge segregation through political action. .
Washington and Du Bois both have valid strategies; Washington believing that blacks could advance themselves faster through hard work than by demands for equal rights, Du Bois declaring that African Americans must speak out constantly against discrimination. During the 1870's, the principle of segregation by race extended into every area of Southern life, from railroads to restaurants, hotels, hospitals and schools. Any area of life that was not segregated by law was segregated by custom and practice. In 1873 the Supreme Court found that the Fourteenth Amendment granted no new privileges or immunities to protect African Americans from state power. In 1883, furthermore, it ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment did not prevent individuals, as opposed to states, from practicing discrimination. An example would be Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), where the Court found that "separate but equal" public accommodations for African Americans, such as trains and restaurants, did not violate their rights.