William Edward Burghardt DuBois, Black America's most learned man, was to confront the nation's then most influential Black educator over the issue of the proper strategy for racial survival and upward mobility. This academic/social activist, made his national debut by attacking Booker T. Washington's ideas and the negative consequences they were bearing for African Americans. From his childhood forward, he yearned for an arena of action appropriate for his conception of himself as an intellectual giant using sheer brain power to level the racial mountain.
Between receiving his Harvard University doctorate in sociology in 1895 and 1900, DuBois had already published his The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870 (1895) and The Philadelphia Negro (1900), the latter a landmark study of the urban descendants of slaves in the "City of Brotherly Love." Academically, these two works were of major significance. Like so many scholarly writings, however, they were invisible to the social and political worlds. When DuBois was asked to gather some of his short articles for a more popularly accessible book, in 1903 he produced a collection of nine previously published essays entitled Souls of Black Folk, containing a succinct but devastatingly accurate account of the effects of Booker T. Washington's ideas on the status of African Americans. Because Booker T. Washington was the target of the crucial article "Of Booker T. Washington and Others," Souls of Black Folk thrust DuBois into the national spotlight where he remained for much of his extraordinarily long life. David Levering Lewis, in his own Pulitzer Prize winning W.E.B. DuBois: Biography of a Race (1994) states that this book "redefined the terms of a three-hundred-year interaction between Black people and white people and influenced cultural and political psychology of peoples of African descent throughout the western hemisphere, as well as on the continent of Africa."
In its most famous essay, "Of Booker Washington and Others," was a distillation of the suppressed rage felt by a profoundly learned and gifted author in intellectually sharp and poetically beautiful prose, an ethically driven rage at the cost of Washington's ascendancy in America's public life.