Dube was educated at Inanda and Amanzimtoti (later Adams College). In 1887 he accompanied the missionary W.C. Wilcox to America. There he studied at Oberlin College while supporting himself in a variety of jobs and lecturing on the need for industrial education in Natal. He went back to Natal but soon resumed to the U.S. for further training and to collect money for a Zulu industrial school - as he called it - along the lines of the Tuskegee Institute. In 1901 he was able to achieve his ambition on 200 acres of land in the Inanda district where he established the Zulu Christian Industrial School at Ohlange. Ohlange is within a stone's throw of Phoenix settlement where Gandhi started the newspaper, Indian Opinion, and not far from the dense religious settlement of AmaNazarethi, the Nazareth people, founded the prophet Shembe. One of Dube's achievements at this time was the establishment of a Zulu/English newspaper Ilanga lase Natal (Sun of Natal). He began to establish his political reputation.
The establishment of Ohlange signified a general ferment in the Amakholwa community at the turn of the century. This ferment expressed itself in the independent churches and political organisations which were being formed. There were other sources of influence. Dube was drawing on the prevalent thinking among Blacks in South Africa at the time, and this in turn was influenced by some trends in black thought in the USA. In Natal this black American influence was particularly strong at the time as a result of the American Zulu Mission. Dube's experiences in the States, especially the influence of Booker T. Washington and the Tuskegee Institute had shaped his ideas on Ohlange; the finances for his school came largely from the States and from the same sources who supported Tuskegee. But this was not more than inspiration for the founding of Ohlange.
His formative influences came from the American Zulu Mission in Natal. In the 1880s Dube was still a student at Amanzimtoti. The new head of the school, the missionary W.G. Goodenough, realised that the only way to obtain more aid was to satisfy the new government requirements to provide "industrial education' . In 1884-85 Jubilee Hall was built by the pupils of the school themselves. An industrial department was established which came to lay an increasingly important role in the life of the school By the time Dube left for the States for the first time, printing, shoe-making, blacksmithing, bee-keeping, bricklaying, bookkeeping, book-binding and cartography were being taught at Amanzimtoti. This "industrial education" was the brain-child of the colonial government and what the missionaries did, was to support it as the American Zulu Mission general letter for 1889 confirms: "If the Zulus are ever to occupy any worthy status in this colony they must be educated in every kind of labour. Missionaries are looking forward with more and more favour upon the industrial training of the native as a valuable feature of: missionary work" This was Dube's introduction to "practical education" and self-help. He lectured and wrote on this subject. At the age of seventeen he preached to American congregations.
The colonial government soon changed its tactics: they no longer supported it, on the contrary they aimed at its suppression. The white workers and the government in Natal feared "competition" from African - and Indian - artisans in the 1890s. In 1893 government regulations discriminated against secondary schools and substituted an emphasis on "training the mass of the Africans to the lowest level of skill necessary for the labour market" with the result that Amanzimtoti was on the verge of collapse. In 1895 government grants were withdrawn from schools if the products of their industrial work were "allowed to be sold or disposed of in such a manner as to compete with general trade, or if the school was in any way responsible for or associated with the panting and publishing of any newspaper. This regulation was directed against the Anglican St. Alban's College which produced the African newspaper, Inkanyiso, but the proviso was later used against Dube. We relate this story to dove home the point that Dube's choosing to start an African industrial school and three years later to pant and publish a newspaper on its premises was almost a path of confrontation - a direct challenge to the colonial authorities and the white workers.