The Dinner between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois

“[To William Edward Burghardt Du Bois] Mr. Booker T. Washington will be pleased to have you take dinner with him at his home, “The Oaks,” at 6:30 o’clock this evening.” – Booker T. Washington, Tuskegee, July 6, 1903

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson

There are a handful of historic dinner-time conversations that the writer of this commentary would ever wish to be transported back in time to listen in upon. And this one between the eminent and distinguished founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University, Booker T. Washington, and the eminent and distinguished, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois ranks near the very top. For in 1903, these two men were, arguably, at the very zenith of their spiritual (heart), intellectual (head) and physical (hands) strength. W.E.B. DuBois would have published his signal work, The Souls of Black Folk in this same year, 1903, and Booker T. Washington would only be two years removed from publishing Up From Slavery in 1901. In a little-known, yet most noteworthy moment in the history of both American and African American literary history, they jointly published the book, The Negro In the South (1907) containing 2 essays from himself and 2 other essays from none other than this W.E.B. Du Bois who apparently was teaching a summer course in Tuskegee in 1903. (And this was not their first co-publication. This would be the second book containing these two stalwarts in American and African American educational and intellectual history.)

All the same, one can only imagine the earnestness, frankness and thoughtfulness of their discourse on that evening. (“Depth” and “breadth” is the greatest 5 and 7-letter word combination, and this conversation would have certainly fit this description-completely opposite of a conversation that is flat, flippant and frivolous.) One would be deeply mistaken to assume their ideological differences were so deep-seated that these two men could not come together for dinner and discussion. One would hardly ever invite someone to dinner who he or she disdains and distrusts. One would not invite them into the confines of one’s home, particularly into one as auspicious as “The Oaks,” and amongst one’s family. These men likely expressed their differences with one another, but they assuredly did so honorably and respectfully in the presence of each other. In the end, one might never learn what the conversation was about; Yet, the singular invitation to invite one who has commonly been regarded as his chief adversary-possessing equal ability, stature and renown-speaks to the magnanimity of Tuskegee’s Booker T. Washington, who demonstrated one of his oft-quoted maxims: “I let no man drag me down so low as to make me hate him.”

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