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The Representation of W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington in Pauline E. Hopkins's 'Contending Forces - A Romance Illustrative of Negro Life North and South'

Seminararbeit 2011 24 Seiten



When Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins was born in 1859 to a free, colored mother, a debate about the issue of slavery was already in progress, followed by the American Civil War two years later, in 1861. Along with the end of the Civil War in 1865, the end of slavery was sealed. With the end of slavery, in turn, a heated debate broke out about the future of the African American society. The two leading debaters were William Edward Burghardt Du Bois and Booker Taliaferro Washington, who did not agree on the way to reach their common goal, the uplifting of their people.

As this debate was common talk at that time, it was often portrayed, worked up and analyzed in literature. One of these examples is Pauline E. Hopkins’s novel Contending Forces: A Romance Illustrative of Negro Life North and South. Because of Hopkins’s own commitment to the improvement of conditions for African Americans, her sympathy for W. E. B. Du Bois’s philosophy and her personal connection to Booker T. Washington, she was directly involved in the debate and had a very good insight and background knowledge of the debate and of the two debaters, Du Bois and Washington. Pauline E. Hopkins let this knowledge slip in when writing her novel Contending Forces. Interestingly, it has to be mentioned that neither W. E. B. Du Bois’s work The Souls of Black Folk (1903), nor Booker T. Washington’s autobiography Up From Slavery (1901), had been published at the time, when Hopkins wrote her first novel, Contending Forces. Thus, this paper will analyze the personal connection between Hopkins, Du Bois and Washington and, furthermore, will study the portrayal of W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington in the figures of Will Smith and Dr. Arthur Lewis, as well as in the figures of Sappho Clark and Dora Smith.

Personal connection between Hopkins, Du Bois and Washington

As Pauline E. Hopkins, W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington lived at the same time and as all three of them were engaged in political debates and discussions about questions of racism and the uplifting of the African Americans after the end of slavery in 1865, they, of course, knew each other and, as commonly known, also had opposing views on how to uplift their people. The debate between W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington had provided the basis for a debate that became bigger and bigger, as more and more people engaged in it. Soon, two factions were formed, those people following W. E. B. Du Bois, the Du Boisians and those following Booker T. Washington, the Bookerites.

Booker T. Washington had experienced slavery firsthand and, therefore, knew what he was talking about. Thus, he had experienced racism, but he also had some sort of personal relationship to the white slaveholders. It is often argued that some slaves were very loyal to their slaveholders and did not bear hatred towards them, as they were in many cases treated well. This fact is to some extent also illustrated in Contending Forces, as the slaves in Bermuda and North Carolina were portrayed as being content (see “Worldview and the Near-White Heroine” 621). Thus, his experiences in slavery could be the reason why Washington asked the African Americans to accept discrimination, with which they were confronted nearly everywhere. Instead of rebelling against the situation, they should concentrate on hard, manual work and, thus, uplift themselves, which was Washington’s prior goal. As he held the African Americans somehow responsible for their own condition, he also experienced a lack of understanding by his own people. Furthermore, in his novel Up From Slavery, Washington, although he mentioned the wrongness of slavery, even argued that the African Americans benefitted from slavery, as he stated that

when we rid ourselves of prejudice, or racial feeling, and look facts in the face, we must acknowledge that, notwithstanding the cruelty and moral wrong of slavery, the ten millions Negroes inhabiting this country, who themselves or whose ancestors went through the school of American slavery, are in a stronger and more hopeful condition, materially, intellectually, morally, and religiously, than is true of an equal number of black people in any other portion of the globe. (Up From Slavery 13)

Again, Washington was then confronted with criticism and indignation by the African American population. Washington’s famous speech, the “Atlanta Exposition Address”, in 1895, made his points clear, as to how, according to him, the conditions for African Americans should become better. He did not aim at the establishment of equality of African Americans and white people, he rather wanted them to live in inferior to the white people, as they had always done in times of slavery.

You can be sure in the future, as in the past, that you and your families will be surrounded by the most patient, faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful people that the world has seen. As we have proved our loyalty to you in the past, in nursing your children, watching by the sick-bed of your mothers and fathers, and often following them with tear-dimmed eyes to their graves, so in the future, in our humble way, we shall stand by you with a devotion that no foreigner can approach, ready to lay down our lives, if need be, in defense of yours, interlacing our industrial, commercial, civil, and religious life with yours in a way that shall make the interests of both races one. (Up From Slavery 100)

On the one hand, he pursued an approach of both races, as he stated in the story about two ships, where he asked the African American population, as well as the white population, to “cast down their bucket where they are”.

To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits for the prosperity of the South, were I permitted I would repeat what I say to my own race, “Cast down your bucket where you are.” (Up From Slavery 100)

On the other hand, he also stressed the distance between the two races, by stating “In all things that are purely social, we can be as separate as the fingers […]” (Up From Slavery 100). After giving the speech, Du Bois referred to it as the “Atlanta Compromise Speech”, accusing Washington of making too many compromises and concessions to the white people.

Du Bois, in contrast to Washington, had not experienced slavery himself, as he was born to free parents. Du Bois demanded the same rights and the same possibilities for education for African and European Americans. He was popular as the organizer of the Niagara Movement and of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His approach to reach his aims was more radical than Washington’s and he did not want to make any compromises. Above all, he accused Washington of asking the African Americans to give up their political power, their insistence on civil rights and the education of the youth.

Mr. Washington’s propaganda is, first, that the South is justified in its present attitude toward the Negro because of the Negro’s degradation; secondly, that the prime cause of the Negro’s failure to rise more quickly is his wrong education in the past; and, thirdly, that his future rise depends primarily on his own efforts. (The Souls of Black Folk 707)

Furthermore, Du Bois blamed Washington for “shift[ing] the burden of the Negro problem to the Negro’s shoulders […], when in fact the burden belongs to the nation” (The Souls of Black Folk 707).

W. E. B. Du Bois also created and coined the phrase “double-consciousness”.

One ever feels his two-ness, – an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. (The Souls of Black Folk 695)

This quotation showed Du Bois’s wish for the same possibilities, the same rights and the same education in life for both the white and the African American population.

Pauline E. Hopkins was characterized by a good education in her days (see “Worldview and the Near-White Heroine” 621). As Hopkins was highly involved in political debates about the rights and the future of African Americans, her literary work was, therefore, strongly influenced by politics (see Cordell 52) and her intention might even have been to influence her readers according politics (see Klimasmith 10). She was very proud of being an African American woman, although she was sometimes criticized for writing too assimilative because of her characters, who are mainly people of mixed race heritage or the characteristics of her figures, which are seemingly white features and characteristics (see Nerad 357, “Worldview and the Near-White Heroine” 617). Even though this argument might convey the impression that Hopkins was in favor of Washington’s position in this famous debate, Hopkins’s attitude was clearly that in favor of Du Bois’s. She mainly expressed her opinion on the then-ongoing debate in the Colored American Magazine, where she contributed several articles from 1900 to 1904. In 1903, she even became editor of the magazine. During these four years, she contributed several articles, stories and novels to the magazine (see Wallinger 57). Her popularity among African Americans and even some European Americans was increasing and with the help of her works, she had the possibility to state her position in the debate and could argue in favor of Du Bois’s position.

In 1904, however, due to money problems, the magazine was purchased by William H. Dupree and moved from Boston to New York. It became soon known that Dupree was only the official buyer of the magazine and, although “Washington strongly denied any ties with the magazine” (Bergman 184), it came out that the “real” owner of the magazine was then Booker T. Washington (see Knight 42). As he took over the magazine, he avoided the bankruptcy of the magazine and from that on, the magazine was dependent on him. Thus, Hopkins could not express her criticism on Washington and his attitude directly.

She never attacked Washington by name, but she did criticize key aspects of his policy. She used articles like “Famous Men of the Negro Race” to conduct her own debate with Washington and his supporters, often inserting critical commentary at the end of a sketch that was directed at the Bookerites. (Knight 48)

In spite of being very careful with hiding her criticism, Hopkins was finally freed from her duties as an editor and stopped contributing stories and articles to the magazine (see Wallinger 71). After Hopkins had left the magazine, it was officially announced that the reason for her leaving was Hopkins’s poor health (see Knight 42). Scholars are still wondering about the truth, why she actually left. The fact that there was a link between Hopkins’s termination and Washington’s position as head of the magazine, was never officially announced, but there are several indications that support this conclusion. Even W. E. B. Du Bois already indicated that he had doubts about the officially announced reason for Hopkins’s cessation (see Bergman 183), as he stated in his magazine The Crisis that “her attitude was not conciliatory enough” and as a result the magazine was bought by friends favorable to the conciliatory attitude, and transferred to New York, where it became so conciliatory, innocuous and uninteresting that it died a peaceful death almost unnoticed by the public. (“The Colored American Magazine in America” 33)

Thus, Du Bois clearly blamed Washington again to be too conceding towards the white people. Poor health as Hopkins’s reason for ending her work at the Colored American Magazine is not approved by many scholars, as Hopkins published some works in the rival magazine Voice of the Negro a few weeks later (see Knight 42). In her article “Furnace Blasts for the Tuskegee Wizard: Revisiting Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins, Booker T. Washington and the Colored American Magazine”, Alisha R. Knight (42) raises several questions that express the doubtfulness of officially announced reason.

Why would Hopkins leave the publication that helped establish her as, in her own words, “a well-known” race writer? Was Hopkins actually dismissed from the editorial board, or did she decide to leave on her own? Were the magazine’s management and supporters at odds with her race or gender politics? Was she one of Washington’s casualties, or was she a force to be reckoned with?

According to Knight (42-43), the link between Hopkins’s termination and Washington’s position as head of the magazine can be proved.

An examination of correspondence between Hopkins and John C. Freund, editor of a New York music trade magazine and a Washington supporter, reveals that Hopkins was in fact removed from her editorial position because of her radical anti-accommodationist views about the value of literature and higher education in the racial uplift movement. In addition, Hopkins’s articles, including but not limited to her “Famous Men of the Negro Race” series, subverted Washington’s sociopolitical agenda. In short, Hopkins’s editorial policy not only opposed Washington but it also put him on the defensive and precipitated her departure from the magazine.

Knight also states some arguments, which reveal that Hopkins was strongly in favor of Du Bois’s attitude. In contrast to Washington, Hopkins accused the white population of suppressing the African American population and of enslaving them and so they should be blamed for doing so. Thus, she did not hold the African Americans at fault for their past. Furthermore, she stressed the urgency to obtain the voting and civil rights and higher education for all African Americans (see Knight 45). Nevertheless, Pauline E. Hopkins also called attention to Washington’s attainments and efforts, but criticized the way he intended to reach these goals.



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representation bois booker washington pauline hopkins contending forces romance illustrative negro life north south

Titel: The Representation of W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington in Pauline E. Hopkins's  'Contending Forces - A Romance Illustrative of Negro Life North and South'