Washington's success required a delicate balancing act. To maintain his position among whites as a non threatening spokesman for his race, he had to maintain a conservative stance on race relations. However, Washington increasingly protested acts of racial injustice.

At the end of the century, he wrote to legislatures in Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana protesting disfranchisement. Washington also publicly criticized the film "Birth of a Nation" when it was released in 1915, arguing that it inflamed racial prejudice.

Perhaps more revealing of his changing attitudes toward civil rights for blacks were his secret financial contributions to legal cases that challenged racial discrimination. Throughout the early years of the twentieth century, Washington secretly gave his own money, and quietly raised donations from white supporters. Those funds were used to challenge unfair labor contracts, voting restrictions, and segregated public facilities.


Last updated: February 26, 2015

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