Bay Area Mosaic
Index of Mosaic FilmsBlack Press: Soldiers Without Swords


Booker T. Washington
Ida B. Wells
Frederick Douglass
W.E.B. DuBois

Educator, social activist and writer.

Booker T. Washington was born on a plantation near Hale's Ford, Virginia. His mother was a slave and his father's identity is unknown. Many of the older slaves sought to try their freedom on the outside, only to come back in time and make deals with their masters.

Washington, from as early as he can remember, had an intense interest in learning to read. He spent part of his adolescence in Malden, West Virginia, where he worked in the salt furnaces and the coal mines. From 1872 to 1875 he attended Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, now known as Hampton University.

After graduation, he began teaching in Malden, and he later served as an instructor at Hampton Institute. In 1881 he founded Tuskegee Normal and Indus- trial Institute, now known as Tuskegee University. The college, which is located in Tuskegee, Alabama, was founded to train black men and women in technical and professional fields. Washington served as the school's principal and as a college professor until 1915, and developed it into a leading industrial and agricultural training institute. He eventually became the most powerful African American of his day. He used his influence to espouse the virtues of black self reliance, hard work, thrift, and political acquiescence.

His public speeches were crafted with Skill and generosity. During his speech to the National Education Association in Wisconsin, Washington remembers "A white lady who was teacher in a college in Tuskegee wrote back to the local paper that she was gratified, as well as surprised, to note the credit which I gave the white people of Tuskegee for their help in getting the school started."

To much of everyone's surprise, he spoke fondly of the South and how the South has promoted Black education. This proved to be a point controversy through much of his life.

Washington was heavily involved with several African newspapers including The New York Age, The Indianapolis Freeman, Chicago Appeal, and The Boston Colored Citizen. He used the money he received fromseveral wealthy white philanthropists to clandestinely subsidize black news-papers, control their editorial viewpoint and promote his political positions and Tuskegee Institute. Some black papers such as The Boston Guardian were strongly opposed to Washington, attacked his accomodationist political ideologies, and consequently did not benefit from his patronage.

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Journalist, anti-lynching crusader and cofounder of the NAACP.

Ida B. Wells, an investigative journalist and human rights activist made great strides for human equality. Although Wells was born to slave parents in Holly Springs, Mississippi, her life chances were enhanced by her opportunity to attend Rust University, a high school and industrial school for former slaves established in Holly Springs in 1866, and to continue study at Fisk University. Her earliest employment, at 25 years old, was in the teaching field in Memphis.

During this time, she also landed a part time editorship in a small black newspaper in the same city. Ida B. Wells moved on to become the first black female journalist. In 1892 she became part-owner of The Memphis Free Speech. On March 9, 1892 of that year she printed an article that denounced the lynching of three of her friends, prominent black businessmen, who were accused of raping three white women. This incident stemmed from the men opening a grocery store across the street from a white owned grocery store. Her article angered many Memphis whites and she was forced out of town. The offices of The Memphis Free Speech were destroyed by an angry mob. This event launched her lifelong career in the U.S. and Europe as an anti-lynching crusader and pioneering journalist. In 1910 she helped co- found the NAACP She served at some of the leading papers of her era including The New York Age, The Chicago Defender, and Chicago's The Conservator, a paper jointly owned by her husband, Ferdinand Barnett. A crusader for women's rights, she organized the first suffrage club among black women and the Ida B. Wells Women's Club, which established Chicago's first kindergarten in a black neighborhood.

She died of uremia on March 25, 1931.

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Abolitionist, journalist and orator; father of the modern civil rights movement.

Douglass was born a slave in Tuckahoe, Maryland. Much of his time was spent with his grandmother and aunt. The only information he had of his father, was that he was a white man. At the age of 8, he was sent to be a houseboy in Baltimore for a ship carpenter. This is where he learned to read and heard his first abolitionist speakers. "Going to live at Baltimore," Douglass would later say, "laid the foundation, and opened the gateway, to all my subsequent prosperity." He escaped to New Bedford, Massachussetts in 1836. In 1841 he began a career as an abolitionist after giving a rousing, impromptu speech at an antislavery convention in Nantucket, Massachussetts. He used his oratorical skills in the ensuing years to lecture in the northern states against slavery. He also helped slaves escape to the North while working with the Underground Railroad. Despite apprehensions that the information might endanger his freedom, Douglass published his auto- biography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written By Himself. The year was 1845.

Three years later, after a speaking tour of England, Ireland, and Scotland, Douglass published the first issue of the abolitionist paper The North Star, a four-page weekly, out of Rochester, New York. Douglass developed this weekly into the most influential black antislavery paper published during the antebellum era. It was used to not only denounce slavery, but to fight for the emancipation of women and other oppressed groups. Its motto was "Right is of no Sex - Truth is of no Color-God is the Father of us all, and we are all brethren." It was widely circulated to more than 4,000 readers in the United States, Europe, and the West Indies. In June 1851 the paper merged with the Liberty Party Paper of Syracuse, NY and was renamed Frederick Douglass' Paper. Douglass devoted the next three years to publishing an abolitionist magazine called Douglass' Monthly. In 1870 he assumed control of the New Era, a weekly established in Washington, D.C. to serve former slaves. He renamed it The New National Era, and published it until it shut down in 1874.

Douglass, conferred with Abraham Lincoln several times during the Civil War (1861-65) about the freedom of slaves. He also served as U.S. marshal for the District of Columbia (1877-81), and U.S. minister of Haiti (1889-91). He wrote two expanded versions of his autobiography--My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881).

Douglass died in Washington, D.C. on February 20, 1895.

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Writer, sociologist and cofounder of the NAACP.

W.E.B. DuBois was born in 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachussetts, the same year Congress guaranteed black male suffrage. He attended Fisk and Harvard Universities, and studied two years at the University of Berlin. In 1895 he became the first African American to be awarded a Ph.D. from Harvard. Between 1897 and 1910 he taught economics and history at Atlanta University. DuBois founded the Niagara Movement -- a group of African-American leaders committed to an active struggle for racial equality.

DuBois was a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and edited its journal, Crisis, for many years.

A brilliant writer and speaker, DuBois was the outstanding African-American intellectual of his time. His The Philadelphia Negro (1899) was the first sociological study of African-Americans. In The Souls of Black Folk (1903), DuBois took a forceful stand against Booker T. Washington's policy of accommodation, calling instead for "ceaseless agitation and insistent demand for equality," and the "use of force of every sort: moral suasion, propaganda, and where possible - even physical resistance."

In 1934, he resigned from his position at the NAACP, resumed his teaching career at Atlanta University, and became the editor of the university's quarterly, Phylon from 1940- 1944. He returned to the staff of the NAACP in 1944, this time, as the director of the department of social research. Throughout his career, he contributed writings to many leading black newspapers including The Pittsburgh Courier, Chicago Defender, and The Afro-American. DuBois's brilliant prediction at the beginning of this century that "The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line" is an example of the timeless quality of his work.

In his later years, he became interested in the issues of nuclear disarmament and world peace. He joined the Communist party in 1961, emigrated to and became a citizen of Ghana, where he died on August 27, 1963.

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