Booker T. Washington, during the 59 years of his life, rose up from being a slave until the age of nine, to forming a school for African Americans and the education of thousands of African Americans in the pursuit of self sufficiency. Washington has also been deemed as the most famous African American orator and civil rights leader of his time. Coupled with the possession of friendships of very rich and powerful people, sympathetic to the realists’ belief of a self sufficient African American, Booker T. Washington, in addition to his God given ability, is still known and studied to this very day.
His influence within the African American community, during his lifetime, as well as even now, cannot be overestimated. In one of the first ways in which Booker T. Washington began to make a name for him was in the construction of the Tuskegee Institute. In 1881, under the recommendation of a number of influential people at the time; Louis Adams and Samuel Armstrong, “Booker T. bought the land from what used to be a plantation and began the construction of what would become, perhaps the most famous historically African American college in the country.
” The curriculum of the college was representative of the beliefs of Washington. He believed that former slaves and African Americans, who were to follow, would best serve their own interest and the advancement of the race by learning a trade and showing themselves worthy of racial equality in the eyes of the white establishment. This ideology was very different than the more firm and, in the view of most whites, abrasive attitude of W. E. B. Dubois who preached a more aggressive role in civil rights and in the advancement of the Black race.
Washington believed that the African American would gain the most for their race, by focusing on learning a trade instead of becoming involved in politics and other, more prestigious careers. The construction of the Tuskegee Institute put into practice, this ideology of self improvement. In Washington’s most famous works: his autobiography, Up From Slavery, published in 1901, Washington recalled: “From the very beginning, at Tuskegee, I was determined to have the students do not only the agricultural and domestic work, but to have them erect their own buildings.
My plan was to have them, while performing this service, taught the latest and best methods of labor, so that the school would not only get the benefit of their efforts, but the students themselves would be taught to see not only utility in labor, but beauty and dignity; would be taught, in fact, how to lift labor up from mere drudgery and toil, and would learn to love work for its own sake. My plan was not to teach them to work in the old way, but to show them how to make the forces of nature – air, water, steam, electricity, horse-power – assist them in their labor.
” In this, Washington was labeled, by some contemporaries as well as future generations, as a defeatist who bowed to the influence of the white establishment. In response, Washington believed that a more realist view of the situation would bring the greatest social and eventual political change. This was at a time when Jim Crow laws in the South were choking any possible ways in which African Americans would be treated as equals. Nearly full segregation in numerous aspects of daily life in the South, reminded African Americans that the country viewed them as second class citizens and inferior to white Americans.
Washington, through the completion of the Tuskegee Institute, showed African Americans that self sufficiency could bring more advancement and gain for themselves and their race than anything else at this time. Such views were expressed in Booker T. Washington’s most famous speech. The Atlanta Compromise, given in 1895, spoke these ideals and the prosperity which Washington knew, was within reach for the African American who made himself self sufficient and as independent as possible.
“There is no defense or security for any of us except in the highest intelligence and development of all. If anywhere there are efforts tending to curtail the fullest growth of the Negro, let these efforts be turned into stimulating, encouraging, and making him the most useful and intelligent citizen. Effort or means so invested will pay a thousand per cent interest. These efforts will be twice blessed—blessing him that gives and him that takes.
There is no escape through law of man or God from the inevitable:” Washington, the delight of white Americans and the annoyance of a number of African American leaders during this time, as well as those who would follow in the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950’s and 1960’s, Washington was not a race “agitator” as many whites would label those who spoke forcefully for social change and equality among white Americans. Not only did Washington attempt to avoid such a label, he also went out of his way to remind African Americans as well as comfort white Americans, that this was not his main objective.
“The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremist folly, and that progress in the enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing. No race that has anything to contribute to the markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized. It is important and right that all privileges of the law be ours, but it is vastly more important that we be prepared for the exercise of these privileges.
The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera-house. ” As a result, Washington was more appreciated within his own community than in generations to come when a more forward policy of racial equality was adopted within the Civil Rights movement. Some of the reasons for his success and the ability to afford a speaking tour as well as funding for Tuskegee, were the powerful friendships which Washington was able to form.
Some of these notable names of the times were Andrew Carnegie, the $400 million tycoon of the steel industry as well as Henry Rogers and Presidents William Howard Taft and even Theodore Roosevelt who invited Washington to dine with him at the White House; making Washington the first African American to have bestowed upon him, such an honor. The invitation caused outrage within the South and an African American would not have such an honor bestowed upon them for a number of decades, the accomplishment was still achieved.
In this, Washington became one of the most successful civil rights leaders of his day. One of the chief reasons why this was the case, above all others, coupled with his God given skill and talent, was the message which Washington repeated over and over in both his speeches and his actions. He was not accommodating to white racism, but was rather a realist who knew that every injustice which stemmed from racial inequality, was not going to be done away with in his lifetime or in the lifetime of his children. Washington was not one to make waves, to complain or to blame whites for his troubles.
Many believed that Washington should be doing just that. However, Washington replied by saying: “There is another class of colored people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public…. There is a certain class of race-problem solvers who do not want the patient to get well, because as long as the disease holds out they have not only an easy means of making a living, but also an easy medium through which to make themselves prominent before the public.
” Washington always preached a new, self sufficient African American. Even until his death in 1915, Washington, the most influential leader of the civil rights movement since Frederick Douglass and still remains as one of the most important in this country’s history, always advocated that African Americans become and remain self sufficient and that they earn the respect from whites which they need in order to achieve the racial, political and social equality which is their uniform goal.
When Washington stated: “One man cannot hold another man down in the ditch without remaining down in the ditch with him. ” He meant it. WORKS CITED Perry, John Unshakable Faith Memphis: Multnomah Publishers 2001 Washington, Booker T. Up From Slavery: An Autiobiography New York: Scribners 1980 The Norton Anthology of African American Literature New York: Norton Press. 1999 Booker T. Washington New York: PBS/Thirteen Productions 2001
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