NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – City Councilman Jimmie Cook hosted a historical reenacted debate between scholar W.E.B. Du Bois and educator Booker T. Washington to mark Black History month.
Local resident Glen Fleming played the Harvard-educated DuBois, while Carlton Blue played Washington, who served as president of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, at the event hosted by the Friends of the New Brunswick Free Library on Feb. 27.
“Hopefully this presentation will give you some insight into the progress we have made as a community,” Cook said. “We take time today to think about the slaves that came here from Africa and their plight and reflect where we stand.
“My role didn’t start because I wanted to be a politician automatically. I did it to make the community better. There were a lot of issues like streets that couldn’t be walked down. Rather than complaining, I did something about the situation,” he said.
It was those goals with differing approaches taken by DuBois, who was born in 1868 and died in 1963 at the age of 95, and Washington, who died in 1915 at 59 years old.
Both were noted authors and activists. The philosophies displayed by the two historical leaders were portrayed in passionate exchanges in the enactment.
Washington stressed a focus on economic power and the building of a solid black community at the expense of civil rights, while Du Bois emphasized gaining political power and the right to vote.
When asked about what was the best way to achieve civil rights, Blue, acting as Washington, said, “Through economic advancement and association with good people, character makes me the man I am.”
In response to the same question, Fleming, as Du Bois, replied, “Under your philosophy, we must make ourselves exceptional. On the issue of civil rights, I helped to found the N.A.A.CP. We can’t wait for gradualism or gradual rights. We must demand the right to vote.”
Asked why Cook was selected to lead the event, Charles Renda, secretary to the Friends of the Library, said, “He has a different perspective than most people, and we wanted to hear what he had to say.” He also noted Cook’s prominent position in the city’s African-American community.
Cook was first elected in 1996 and subsequently re-elected in 2000, 2004 and 2008. He works as a department supervisor for the city board of education.
“Overall, I love this city,” Cook said. “As a lifelong resident, I couldn’t be prouder. It has gone through many positive changes since I was a kid.”