From this Armageddon rose a Moses, Booker Taliaferro Washington, who was born in 1856 in Virginia to a slave mother and a white father he never knew. After Emancipation, Washington began to dream of getting an education and resolved to go to the Hampton Normal Agricultural Institute in Virginia. When he arrived, he was allowed to work as the school's janitor in return for his board and part of his tuition. After graduating from Hampton, Washington was selected to head a new school for blacks at Tuskegee, Alabama, where he taught the virtues of "patience, thrift, good manners, and high morals" as the keys to empowerment.
An unabashed self-promoter (Tuskegee was dependent upon the largesse of its white benefactors) and advocate of accommodation, Washington's "pick yourself up by your bootstraps" and "be patient and prove yourself first" philosophy was simultaneously acclaimed by the masses and condemned by the black intelligentsia, who demanded a greater and immediate inclusion in the social, political, and economic fabric of this emerging nation.
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The value I took from this book was hearing first hand descriptions of the post Civil War era from someone referring to them in present tense rather than as an historic event. That aside, I found this book so optimistic that I have to question whether he deliberately omitted the atrocities committed during the Jim Crow era or if he was simply THAT ignorant. (except a quick reference to some unfortunate 'incidents' over which he does not elaborate.)
To put these things in context one must read W.E.B. Du Bois, Carter G. Woodson, and especially "Slavery by Another Name" by Douglas A. Blackmon. These authors tell the real story about the black experience in the South.
Washington was too politically timid to write a hard-hitting book. In fact, he constantly refers to "my race" in an instructive phrasing that clearly indicates that his intended audience was white. He tap dances around every substantive issue and says several times that his purpose for writing the book is to show that every man can succeed with the right attitude and that one's color can't get in the way of talent and hard work. This was exactly what southern whites wanted to hear at this time but it was far from the truth. Talented, hard-working blacks were being abused or killed so often that Washington HAD to have been aware of it but he chose to say nothing.that would endanger his position.
My main reason for reading this was to see if the criticisms of Washington being a conciliationist were consistent with his own words. Every side has 2 stories after all. Again, Washington's book is EXCEPTIONALLY positive so you can draw your own conclusions from the following: How can an exceptionally positive book give an accurate accounting of an absolutely abysmal time period for the overwhelming majority of black people in American history? It can't. But if it's positive that you are looking for...
I thoroughly enjoyed this reading. Booker T Washington's message of hard work, perserverance and dignity is as vital today as it was 100 years ago. The fact that you can rise from sleeping in a gutter to changing people's thoughts and lives should be an inspiration to all nationalities and races. The reader had a gradnfatherly tone, and I felt drawn in to each story as if I was there watching it all happen. I would recommend this story to readers of all ages
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