As we read in the introduction to the Norton Anthology, "Of all the problems of the day, perhaps the most persistent and resistant to solution was the problem of racial inequality, more specifically what came to be known as the 'Negro problem.'" The passage goes on to note the debate between Washington and the far more radical black leader and writer W.E.B. DuBois. Differences between the two focused on "which strategies will most effectively hasten complete equality educationally, socially, politically, and economically" (Norton 8). The speech by Washington must be viewed in the context of that debate. In other words, Washington's arguments were part of a spectrum of responses to post-slavery America's racial problems.
Willie Lee Rose, in Slavery nd Freedom, provides additional context for understanding the place of Washington's approach. Rose writes that
. . . any sympathetic account of the frustrations of blacks during Reconstruction must eventually sadly conclude that never was so much lost for so many, maybe a little because of the mistakes of so few. The Afro-American suffered throughout the period from the disadvantage of his heritage of slavery, his illiteracy, his landlessness, his North-South divisions, and, yes, if we will be quite honest, also from habits and attitudes of deference toward white people born of s