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American history is a famous topic in literary works. Such prominent Afro-American leaders as Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, Mary Church Terrell, and Ida B. Wells made great contribution to the struggle of Afro-Americans for their civil rights in the United States of America. At the same time, they were the authors of many significant works dedicated to their struggle. They described their vision of historical events, their approach to the problems of human rights of Afro-Americans in the society, and ways to solve them. Of course, they had different views on the struggle, as well as the ways of solving Afro-American problems, but they all were united by the idea of gaining equal rights for all Americans irrespective of their ethnicity, skin colour, or religious beliefs. The goal of the paper is to analyse some literary works dedicated to the lives and the struggle for human rights of Afro-Americans for concluding how personal opinions of the authors influenced the contemporary understanding of American history.
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In the work Up from Slavery, one of the most prominent fighters for the human rights of African Americans, Booker T. Washington described his approach to solving the problems of Afro-Americans after the Reconstruction. The American government passed several laws to restrict civil rights of Afro-Americans preventing them from voting on the ground of not passing special grammatical tests, or not knowing the American legislation. As a matter of fact, it was the planned denaturalization of a part of the American people. Booker T. Washington understood it and suggested to educate Afro-Americans. In his book, the author compared the education for Afro-Americans to a bucket with fresh water for thirsty people (Washington 219). He believed literary Afro-Americans would become successful. They would exercise their right to vote to elect such candidates who could protect their interests in the Congress. At the same time, illiterate whites could not have such a goal; as a result of such an artificial selection, more successful Afro-Americans would replace the whites. At the same time, Booker T. Washington did not distinguish between races and advocated equality of all races.
In his book The Soul of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois criticizes Booker T. Washington for his shallow views on the Afro-American policy. The author states that Booker T. Washington asked Afro-Americans “to give up three things… political power, …insistence on civil rights, …higher education” (Du Bois 43). In the result, three bad phenomena emerged in the Afro-American society: the disfranchisement, the legal inferiority, and the elimination of aid for Afro-Americans at the higher educational establishments. Du Bois states that Booker T. Washington’s policy could not turn Afro-American workers into businessmen within the capitalist competition without suffrage rights. Any self-improvement of Afro-Americans could not be possible within their legal civic inferiority, and any common and industrial schools could not exist without Afro-American teachers who studied at higher educational establishments. Thus, W. E. B. Du Bois stands for the elimination of any inferiority of Afro-Americans, and their access to higher educational establishments particularly, as the major condition for the further development of the Afro-American society (43).
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In her book When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America, Paula Giddings describes the most important role of Afro-American women in the struggle for human rights in the American society. Their struggle was not only for common rights of the whole African race in America, but it was a struggle for the women’s rights as well. Such activists as Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells started their movement in 1892, when three African American businessmen, Moss, McDowell, and Stewart, were lynched by white racists. As a result, all African Americans left Memphis, turning the whites into the poor. As Ida B. Wells concluded, it was a common revenge of the whites in envy of Afro-American businessmen because of their success. Thus, Wells states, “Lynching was merely an excuse to get rid of Negroes who were acquiring wealth and property and thus keep the race terrorized and ‘keep the nigger down’” (Giddings 28). At the same time, the author describes problems faced by Afro-American women in the United States in their struggle for human rights. They were the most oppressed people in the country, but could unite themselves and make a great impact on the further struggle.
A famous historian Glenn M. Linden described the Afro-American movement for human rights in his book Voices from Reconstruction: Years 1865-1877. He gives documents of prominent Afro-American leaders, in which they revealed their characters, thoughts, and actions. Moreover, the readers can get to know some interesting details of their struggle from conversations with the President, members of the Congress, and other historical personalities. Thus, the readers can imagine the real obstacles which Frederick Douglass faced while standing for human rights of the former African slaves in the Congress. Thus, the President dismissed his demands by having no rights to force the states fulfil the Constitution (Linden 81).
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All authors of the books described their opinions concerning the Afro-American movement for their human rights, but each of them uses his own technique. Thus, Glenn M. Linden gives historical documents, which help understand not only a certain historical event, but the character, thoughts, and actions of such Afro-American leaders as Frederick Douglass. Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois developed the famous idea of the Afro-American education as the major condition for their emancipation and the further development of their society. As a matter of fact, both approaches to the problem were two integrated parts of one important program. Thus, Washington’s doctrine could unite the Southern and the Northern parts of the country, and gain opportunities for Afro-Americans to study in common and industrial schools, turning them into qualified workers. At the same time, the doctrine of Du Bois helped Afro-Americans get a higher education, turning their society into one of the most educated in the country. Shortcomings of both doctrines are depicted in the book of Giddings, when poor educated whites began killing successful Afro-American businessmen, and all branches of American power took the side of the whites. Only Afro-American press (over 200 newspapers) could mobilize the Afro-American society for its further struggle for human rights. At the same time, the common Afro-American women formed a women’s movement, which became interracial.
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