Up From Slavery
In Booker T. Washington’s autobiographical memoir, Up From Slavery, he explores several aspects of living during the latter years of the slavery era, as well as the effects education, politics, and race on his life. Throughout the book Washington attempts to convey , what the reader might see as, his philosophy towards the aspects of post slavery . While reading the reader gets a sense of what Washington’s system of beliefs which is that he believes in not simply blaming the white man for the black man’s hardships, but by rather seeking ways of coexisting, and working together to bring unity in this country. He maintained a mantra of hard work being the key to success, and believed in self dependency as also being integral to ones success in this world.
Washington believed in using education as a means of developing marketable skills. In other words skills that would serve more of a practical purpose rather than intellectual one. “(Washington)was against the notion of education as a tool used merely to enable one to speak and write the English language correctly; he wanted school to be a place where one might learn to make life more endurable, and if possible, attractive – he wanted an education that would relieve him of the hard times at home, immediately.” (Internet)While first widely lauded for his philosophy of pursuing vocational, and industrial type educations, it was later the source for much of his criticism. W.E.B Dubois, a one time supporter of Washington’s, later became his biggest critic, stating that the only way for the black community to advance itself was with intellectual education, an extension of his “Talented Tenth” theory. (Internet) Nonetheless, Washington maintained his philosophy , summarized by his well known quote, “Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work.”(Internet)
Another aspect of Washington’s philosophy towards the further advancement of the black community in post-slavery era, was his views on politics. One of his most well known speeches was one he delivered in 1895, known as the Atlanta Compromise address. This alone was undoubtedly the source of the majority of his criticism. Here is where he displayed his views as a pragmatist, calling on blacks from the south to join the work force and that the south was were a black could succeed especially in the world of commerce and industry. He went on to address a white audience in which he lauded the black community, calling them “ loyal”, and that they maintained a level of “ fidelity”, and “ Love in service” to the white man. He also went on to add that further oppression of the black man could cause them to become “ a great burden to society” (Washington). In his life, Washington maintained a republican view of politics, consulting with party leaders about the appointment of blacks to positions across the country.(Internet)
Washington maintained that the surest way for blacks to gain equal rights, was to demonstrate patience, industry, thrift, and usefulness and said that these were the key to improved conditions for African Americans in the United States and that they could not expect too much, having only just been granted emancipation. (Kaplan) . When it came to issues of race, Washington was very often criticized, as he often was for many of his views. He sought the advancement of the black man through means of accommodation as well as compromise. He was a supporter of segregation, and never outwardly condemned lynching or Jim Crowe laws. With this he stance, Washington knew that only with the support of the white man, could the black population have any chance of ending pervasive racism over a period of time. He was assured that confrontation with the white man would only lead to disaster, giving blacks no chance of ever advancing the race.(internet)
Despite gaining heavy backlash by some of histories most notable African-American scholars, including W.E.B Dubois, Washington was nonetheless a spokesman for the entire black culture during his lifetime. His philosophy was a progressive one, one that he believed would give blacks ,in the post-civil war era, a real chance at success as well as fair treatment and equality. He was called the “Great Accommodator” because of his views on issues such as segregation, in which he believed that blacks and whites “could live as separate as fingers on a hand”( internet) Having been relatively recently freed from slavery, Washington knew that in order to grow as a culture, it needed time, and needed hard work. As opposed to other view which sought intellectual growth as the key to equality, Washington sought a more hands on approach to success, by learning skills that would be useful to blacks in getting jobs.
The disparity between the black and white race, especially in the south, was something that Washington saw as a problem, yet a problem that should be solved through, compromise, education, and determination. His autobiography itself is geared towards giving whites an idea about the effects of slavery, yet not through vivid detail and disturbing descriptions, but by showing the hardships in a general sense and not putting blame on any one group of people. He offers what he believes is a solution to the disparities, one that is centered on a practical education. On several occasions Washington was believed to have contributed large sums of money to legal defense funds to cases of lynching cases as well as ones involving discrimination. Through his beliefs, as well as with the notoriety his book gained after being published, he became the first black man ever invited to the White House, by President Teddy Roosevelt.
He also became an unofficial spokesperson for the republican party, targeting black people who began to question the parties stance as well as candidates running as republicans. Washington maintained a large group of supporters throughout his life, some of which included several politicians, and philanthropists such as John D. Rockefeller, and Julies Rosenwald. With prominent groups of people as his supporters, Washington was able to spread his message to blacks across the country. He was also able to focus more on teaching and heading the Tuskegee institute, thanks to the generous donations given by such philanthropists. Until the very end of his life Washington worked on advancing black people everywhere, and helped create one of the most prominent black institutions of higher education in the country.
Washington will always be remembered for his service to the public. By spreading his message, he was able to inspire millions through his story. His growth from a slave child to a prominent scholar and author Washington served as the perfect success story of his philosophy of hard work and perseverance. Race, education, and politics were things that he took very seriously. Yet he knew that in order to gain ground in society, and in things such as politics, blacks needed first to focus on education. Only with education could anyone ever be taken seriously and as a true, thriving member of society.
Works Cited Page
1.”Up From Slavery.” Doc South. 12 Aug.-Sept. 1987. 24 Oct. 2007
2. Harlen, Miles, Booker T. Washington, 5 Feb 1976 Tuskegee University
3.Washington, Booker T. Up From Slavery. New York: Random House, 1998.