Booker T. Washington, the most recognized national leader, orator and educator, emerged from slavery in the deep south, to work for the betterment of African Americans in the post Reconstruction period.
"Up From Slavery" is an autobiography of Booker T. Washington's life and work, which has been the source of inspiration for all Americans. Washington reveals his inner most thoughts as he transitions from ex-slave to teacher and founder of one of the most important schools for African Americans in the south, The Tuskegee Industrial Institute.
Booker Taliaferro Washington was an American educator, orator, author and the dominant leader of the African-American community nationwide from the 1890s to his death. Born to slavery and freed by the Civil War in 1865, as a young man, became head of the new Tuskegee Institute, then a teachers' college for blacks. It became his base of operations. His "Atlanta Exposition" speech of 1895 appealed to middle class whites across the South, asking them to give blacks a chance to work and develop separately, while implicitly promising not to demand the vote. White leaders across the North, from politicians to industrialists, from philanthropists to churchmen, enthusiastically supported Washington, as did most middle class blacks. He was the organizer and central figure of a network linking like-minded black leaders throughout the nation and in effect spoke for Black America throughout his lifetime. Meanwhile a more militant northern group, led by W. E. B. Du Bois rejected Washington's self-help and demanded recourse to politics, referring to the speech dismissively as "The Atlanta Compromise". The critics were marginalized until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, at which point more radical black leaders rejected Washington's philosophy and demanded federal civil rights laws.
It's interesting that with all the emphasis on "multiculturalism" when I was going through school, we never actually read any first source books like "Up From Slavery." However, I can see why some modern educators might want to avoid assigning this book: it does violence to a certain brand of philosophy because of its profound anti-victimization message and its focus on individual responsibility, the power of merit to supplant racism, and the necessity of climbing gradually rather than expecting to be catapulted instantaneously into an equality of outcome. Booker T. Washington doesn't sound like a proponent of affirmative action when he says, "The wisest among my race understand that agitations of social equality is the extremist folly, and that progress in the enjoyment of all privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing."
Nor did Washington seem to have much tolerance for those who claimed they could not succeed because of their disadvantages. He sums up his attitude and his life success in one line: "I have begun everything with the idea that I could succeed, and I never had much patience with the multitudes of people who are always ready to explain why one cannot succeed." Washington was a great believer in the power of merit and repeatedly says that "merit, no matter under what skin it found is, in the long run, recognized and rewarded."
In "Up From Slavery," Washington insists that no amount of political agitation will elevate any race permanently if it does not first secure a foundation in "property, industry, skill, economy, intelligence, and character." As early as the Reconstruction, Washington was bemoaning that in D.C. "among a large class there seemed to be a dependence upon the Government for every conceivable thing…I…have often wished…I might remove…these people…and plant them upon the soil…where all nations and races that have ever succeeded have gotten their start, a start that at first may be slow and toilsome, but one that is nevertheless real." This attitude may explain why Washington saw fit to require labor of his Tuskegee students. Talking about prejudice does little to overcome prejudice, but, he says, the "actual sight of a fist-class house that a Negro has built is ten times more potent than pages of discussion about a house that he ought to build, or perhaps could build." Thus Tuskegee students, no matter what their financial position, were required to do things such as building their dormitories with their own hands and growing their own food.
Some have been critical of Washington's belief that liberal education must be combined with vocational education, but he did not want his students to grow too proud to use their hands, and he desired to teach them the beauty and dignity of labor. He also acknowledged that the mass of people cannot all make their livings as doctors and lawyers and intellectuals. "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem." So students learned not only liberal arts, but skills such as brick making and farming. "The individual who can do something that the world wants done," said Washington, "will, in the end, make his way regardless of his race."
Washington's account of his life, from his childhood in slavery (covered only briefly) through his education to his rise in prominence as an educator, shows an amazing lack of resentment (and even some degree of pity) for the white men who oppressed his race. Indeed, he considers the white man to, in a sense, have suffered from the institution of slavery also, for it destroyed his merit by taking "the spirit of self-reliance and self-help out of" him. Washington magnanimity is owed, perhaps, to his mentor, from whom he learned "that great men cultivate love, and that only little men cherish a spirit of hatred." This is not to say he never criticizes the white man, but he explains, "I early learned that it is a hard matter to convert an individual by abusing him, and that this is more often accomplished by giving credit for all the praiseworthy actions performed than by calling attention alone to all the evil done." He says that more can be learned from coming into contact with great men and women than from books, and he would likely be appalled by the modern educational tendency to focus on the flaws rather than the virtues of historical leaders.
Washington's philosophy and manner of presenting it has occasionally earned him disapprobation. Du Bois said that in this book, Washington soft-pedaled the horrors of slavery, promoted stereotypes of blacks, and was less than honest about the racism he encountered. Perhaps Washington did not dwell on these issues because he believed "success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed." At any rate, this is Washignton's story as he himself tells it, with "no attempt at embellishment," and whether or not you agree with his philosophy on life, it is hard not to find the tale inspirational and uplifting.
Washington has often been accused of "pandering" to a white audiences, and I think this may be because of the inability of ordinary people to comprehend the greatness of character that is able to let go so utterly of resentment and bitterness and to understand that we are all in the same boat, and that what I do to keep you down is likely to injure me as well.
The book was not always a gripping read; there is a lot of mundane detail; it isn't a literary masterpiece, and the autobiographer often repeats himself, but Washington is such an admirable figure to me and has so many great moral insights into life, that I often found myself wanting to underline the text. I agree with Washington that we learn most by studying great men and women, and I wish when I was in school we had studied more in-depth the lives of more people like Booker T. Washington. But greatness was not something we were much encouraged to meditate on in our "multicultural" education: prejudice, inequities, class consciousness, war, oppression, human weakness, and, alone on the positive side, occasional minority accomplishments, but not GREATNESS of CHARACTER. It's a shame, because the characters of great men and women do inspire.
While I admired Booker T. Washington’s ability to see the world so optimistically in his autobiography “Up from Slavery”, it would be a lie to say that I was so greatly impressed by Washington’s story that I would recommend its placement on school reading lists. Considering the plethora of fascinating slave narratives out there, being reprinted and regaining popularity thanks to award-winning films like “Django Unchained” and “12 Years a Slave”, Washington’s memoir about his financial and political struggles during the foundation of his famous Tuskegee Institute seems almost tepid in comparison.
My technical criticism with the book is that it is rather dry and slow-paced and lacking in in-depth introspection. Washington spends only the first few chapters talking about his childhood spent as a slave in Virginia, his adolescence during and after the Civil War, and the Reconstruction years in which he attended Hampton University, which was then called the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute. I found these chapters to be enlightening and up-lifting, although I would have liked to have seen more.
The remainder of the book, unfortunately, reads more like a business manual than an autobiography, with Washington writing about the finer points of fund-raising and political deal-making. He is also a chronic name-dropper, quick to point out and praise the many (white) donors and patrons who helped to fund his Tuskegee Institute. Certain parts of the book seem devoted solely to listing names of donors. Other parts of the book are, inexplicably, devoted to self-aggrandizing excerpts from various newspaper and magazine articles. It strikes me as being strangely narcissistic, a strong disconnect from Washington’s public persona of a soft-spoken, humble man.
He also seems to have more interest and pleasure in talking about money and the minutiae of starting a college than he does in anything personal. Indeed, his entire marriage to his first wife, Fannie Smith, is given only two paragraphs in the book. Granted, it was a short marriage---they were wedded in 1882, and she passed away in 1884---and their union produced a daughter, Portia. This is literally the extent of the information he relates about his first marriage. After having read “Up From Slavery”, I still don’t have a strong impression of the man’s emotional and spiritual side. His narrative has an acute dearth of personality.
Don’t get me wrong: Washington’s story is an inspirational one. It is hard not to be inspired by the story of a young black man born a slave in 1856 and becoming the most vocal and prominent member of the black community until his death in 1915.
And yet, controversy regarding some aspects of his philosophy on racial relations in the U.S. had a divisive effect within the black community, one that is still felt today.
There is no question that Washington was one of the most influential and important black men of his time. “Up From Slavery” was a nationwide bestseller, in both the North and the South. Blacks and whites alike found inspiration and hope for more positive race relations in the future in his words. It’s easy to see why.
Washington seems to subscribe to the philosophy of letting bygones be bygones, especially in regards to the treatment of black people by whites under slavery. He believed in a philosophy of appeasement when it came to whites, a philosophy not shared by a contingent of the black community.
In his most famous speech---and, arguably, one of the most important speeches in American history, according to some historians---during the Atlanta Exposition of 1895, Washington set the stage for the Atlanta Compromise, an agreement later negotiated between black and white community leaders in the South that would give blacks basic education and due process rights under the law as long as blacks agreed to work quietly, accept segregation, and not push for social equality.
Washington, in the speech, said, “The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly, and the 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 exercises 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. (p.223)”
While many black people at the time couldn’t fault the logic of Washington’s words, many critics felt that his speech was a win-win for white supremacists and led to the cruelty of Jim Crow laws.
In essence, critics argued, Washington was telling black people to work hard, start at the bottom, don’t get too uppity, and one day white people may treat you with some semblance of respect. This meritocratic mindset---work hard and you will achieve success---wasn’t realistic for black people, critics argued, especially when the system was rigged: White people had the advantages, and they weren’t going to give them up willingly.
Clearly, Washington’s views were antithetical to the subsequent militant views propounded by Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X. Washington probably would not have even agreed with affirmative action, as it went against his view that black people must help themselves and not rely on any special accommodations from white people.
Yet, I can’t help but think that Washington was wiser than many critics allow. Certainly, some of his views may have been flawed and/or did not factor in the possibility that many powerful whites wanted to see black people fail for no reason other than the fact that they were racist white supremacists. Regardless, Washington’s approach may have been the best approach for the time.
Tensions ran high so soon after the Civil War. Blacks and whites alike were confused and frightened. Washington’s focus on education and self-help for the black community was definitely a useful approach. Washington knew, too (possibly from personal experience), that taking an antagonistic approach to the white-dominated society at the time was akin to David facing a Goliath while blind-folded and possessing no weapons. Better to ingratiate one’s self with Goliath while secretly building up an arsenal.
Despite its flaws, “Up From Slavery” is still an important book. I still wouldn’t campaign for its placement on school reading lists, especially next to more lively and entertaining reads such as Frederick Douglas’s autobiography, but its definitely worthy supplementary reading for students of black history and literature.
Booker T. Washington’s auto-biography pretty much disgusted me. I use such a strong word here because I was disturbed so many times throughout the read. I just can’t bring myself to feel anything other than pure disgust as a result of reading what he referred to as his ‘auto-biography’. This was less of an auto-biography and more of a documentation that served two purposes:
1.) To describe how he created the Tuskegee Institute 2.) To thank all of the white folks who assisted in the above- referenced effort
I went back and forth on what to say in this review because I do not want it to be mistaken that I do not appreciate Mr. Washington or his efforts. I still admire the monumental things he did for his people in response to his passion for education. I clearly recognize the efforts of, and hold sincere appreciation for, Booker T. Washington as a pioneer in my history as well as American history as a whole.
But the book rubbed me in all the wrong ways. Here we have a man who was born into the institution of slavery. Here we have a man who was born nameless, was denied an education for most of his life and who was discriminated against tremendously because he was black.
And then he comes up with this auto-biography where he pretty much sweeps the impacts of slavery and the aftermaths of slavery under the rug as if it wasn’t that bad. He comes up with a whole book praising certain white individuals for teaching him basic things like how to be clean, how to sweep a floor and how to survive. GIVE ME A BREAK! You cannot convince me that you were born into slavery on a plantation with your birth mother, who was also a slave, and hundreds of other slaves, but you weren’t exposed to or didn’t learn to appreciate hard work, cleanliness and survival until you were free and ran into a white person who just so happened to let their guard down and let you in. That really disturbs me to my core. At no point in this book does he give credit to his mother for hard work and survival. He never highlights anything done or said by fellow slaves that encouraged him. He jumps straight into praise of white folks at the beginning all the way to the end of this book. Which leads to my suspicions that the intention of, and motivation for, this book had very little, if anything , to do with highlighting his life story. I am solid in my belief that the motivation for this book was to either secure more funding for the University or to gain additional recognition for his contributions to it. Almost like a literary pat on his own back. Either way, it’s disturbing.
Additionally, Mr. Washington continually made mockeries of his fellow black brothers and sisters and former slaves. Almost like he looked down on them and thought he was better than them. This was equally disturbing.
Those are my two cents.
But I do want to mention, again, that my comments are in reference to the book and do not mirror how I feel about Mr. Washington or his efforts and accolades. I do find it admirable that he did so much with this life after slavery. I do appreciate the role he played in bringing education to the South for former slaves. I admire his dedication to his cause. But I strongly disliked most of his book.
I enjoyed the first half quite a bit, the latter half much less. I am rating the book, not the man, and my rating only expresses how I personally reacted to the book! I am of the 21st century.
This is an autobiography and it is published long ago - in 1900! Booker T. Washington lived from 1856-1915. He was born a slave on a plantation in Franklin County, Virginia. The exact year of his birth is not known. Some say 1856; he guesses maybe 1858 or 1859. Neither can we identify his father; the guess is he was white. During the Reconstruction Booker was still a youth. He worked at a corn mill and later in a coal mine, got himself educated at Hampton Institute, became a teacher, an author, an orator particularly famed for his 1895 Atlanta Exposition speech and even met with President McKinley. He founded the Tuskegee Institute, a black college in Alabama. He received a Master of Arts Honorary Degree from Harvard in 1896. Clearly this is a man worth acclaim and a man of which it is interesting to learn a bit about.
It was the description of his life as a slave and the first years following the Declaration of Emancipation that captivated me. The small details, like not knowing where to sleep when given two sheets, like picking a surname, like never sitting down to a meal or how it feels to wear a flax shirt. Getting an education at Hampton Institute was quite an ordeal, but he was determined. I was rooting for him.
Much of this book is devoted to Booker’s philosophizing. I admire the man and his moral fortitude. I admire the importance he lays on self-reliance. I agree with his belief in the dignity of physical labor. I agree that education must be accomplished through use of one's hands, head and heart. I agree that those who are happiest do the most for others. I agree that more can be achieved through praise than through criticism. I do think he had a knack for saying things elegantly.
However, as Booker works toward establishing the Tuskegee Institute he has to convince others to donate, to contribute funds. He did in fact get money from Andrew Carnegie. He had the strong belief that given the facts, benefactors would contribute to the cause. The book begins to sound like a promotional sales pitch, and he repeats the same moral dicta over and over and over again. I do agree with much of what he says, but it became a preachy, repetitive rant and so exaggeratedly optimistic. (He states the KKK had disappeared!) Maybe in 1900 people could still be optimistic? I don’t know. Anyhow, at book’s end I was totally fed up! Was the latter half of the book written for the purpose of impressing others of his accomplishments and so more donations?!
The audiobook is narrated by Noah Waterman. The recording sound sometimes echoes and changes volume, but I could understand the spoken words. Neither bad, nor spectacular.
This second ghost-written autobiography of Booker T. Washington presents the carefully crafted public persona that he wanted. Beneath the mask of a humble, saintly,acetic and patient Negro is a power-hungry, self-aggrandizing man. Washington played his cards close to the vest and was sure that he never offended white people from the North or the South. He curried favor with captains of industry such as Andrew Carnegie and Roger Baldwin who eventually set him up for life. Nevertheless, Washington created an enduring black institution that still exists--Tuskegee University; he also created an ideology of self-help that was adopted by both Marcus Garvey and Elijah Muhammad. When Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote the poem, "We Wear the Mask", he must have had Washington in mind because to this day no one knows who the real Booker T. Washington was: clever manipulator, servile Uncle Tom, or "Wizard of Tuskegee." Even Ralph Ellsion alludes to Washington and Tuskegee in his magnum opus, "Invisible Man." Love him or loathe him, Booker T. Washington was one of the most important African Americans of the 20th Century. And his autobiography is must reading. One should read DuBois's "The Souls of Black Folk" for contrast.
On the one hand, this is a really interesting look at the culture of the South during and just after the period of Reconstruction; on the other hand, however, Washington's view of that culture is certainly affected by his wholehearted endorsement of the American Dream, the Horatio Alger myth, and capitalism. While it's important to acknowledge the value of hard work and perseverance and while Washington himself did a great deal of good for African Americans, working for years to develop the Tuskegee Institute and working behind the scenes to help individual African Americans, his attitude that anyone who works hard can succeed and his refusal to truly acknowledge the really very serious racial problems the U.S. still faced (lynching, Jim Crow laws, etc.) makes his argument about hard work and cleanliness (yes, cleanliness--he goes on and on about the importance of brushing one's teeth, bathing regularly, learning table manners, and becoming accustomed to sleeping between the sheets) difficult to accept.
I think Up From Slavery is one of the most amazing autobiographies ever written. Booker T. Washington's autobiography was essential to creating the New Negro, the Black American who emerged today. I think Up From Slavery is a humorous and motivational work of strength, determination and perseverance.
Judged merely as a book—in eloquence and excitement—this autobiography is fairly mediocre. It begins strong, recounting Washington’s childhood days in slavery, his struggles to educate himself, and the plucky determination which saw him through the founding of the Tuskegee Institute. But by the end, the book devolves into a kind of extended advertisement for Washington’s school and his work, which hardly makes for compelling reading.
But this autobiography is far more than a bit of light reading. It is an important document in American history, encapsulating the perspective of a persistently controversial black intellectual. Washington comes across as dauntless, upright, and most of all optimistic. And his approach to black advancement is an extension of this rosy attitude. He believes that, fundamentally, poor blacks, rural whites, and rich northerners all share common interests, and thus all stand to benefit by working together. Thus, his approach entirely shies away from conflict and confrontation, and instead focuses on carving out a space for southern blacks to work and live in peace within the wider society.
The most common criticism of Washington is that he was an accommodationist—making a kind of devil’s bargain with white supremacy—but this seems too harsh a judgment to me. Washington was working in the Black Belt of Alabama, a place where lynchings were common and open defiance dangerous. In such circumstances, to build such a durable institute of higher learning for the black community, as Tuskegee has proven to be, is an accomplishment of no small merit. Nevertheless, even though Washington’s vision of black self-advancement is appealing, it does sidestep the question: Is it right to ask a disenfranchised people to work their way out of a poverty they were forced into?
Looking back from the present day, it is difficult to see Washington’s belief that bigotry will naturally disappear as anything but naïve. Yet if excessive optimism and excessive pessimism are both vices, I think that the former is undoubtedly to be preferred.
No matter how modestly this man tries to tell his story, the facts of his life shine with the luster of greatness. Booker T. Washington spent his early childhood as a slave on a plantation in the south. After the Emancipation Proclamation was read from the porch steps of the “Big House,” Booker’s ambitions to gain an education and make something of himself propelled him through every obstacle to his goal. Booker T. Washington was a tireless promoter of education for his race and of Tuskegee, the school for blacks which he founded in Alabama. He spent his entire adult life in these two causes and made great strides in elevating the sights and prospects of his people.
I had never really considered what it must have taken to raise the mindset of an enslaved people once they had freedom. While the human soul craves liberty, it does not automatically know how to use that liberty to the highest ends. Booker T. Washington’s approach to education of ex-slaves was comprehensive. He wanted to teach them everything about how to live civilized, useful lives of service and industry. Along with book learning, he taught them use a toothbrush, to sleep between the sheets of a bed, to bathe daily, to keep their clothing clean and mended, to love labor and avoid indolence, to learn marketable life-skills such as carpentry and brick-making, to acquire property, to vote sensibly, to worship and pray to God, and to live moral lives.
I found my admiration for Booker T. Washington growing with the turn of every page. He was practical, thrifty, energetic, articulate, earnest, hard-working, selfless, diplomatic, always hopeful and optimistic. He was also a sought-after public speaker with an ability to sway many to his cause and bring an audience into complete accord with him. I wish I could have heard him speak in person, but I’m grateful that I had a chance to hear his voice through this well-told story of his own inspiring life.
Booker T Washington was a very admirable figure, but his book is pretty dull. Besides, his silences about major issues, such as racial segregation, forced disenfranchisment, violence against black people (lynchings), and violent racial uprisings in the south at this time, are, I think, loud silences which beg the question of who his audience is intended to be. Rather than as an honest autobiography, I read this book as an overt plea to the upper class whites, for funding for his school. It was more of a "this is what I've been through, this is what I've achieved, this is why you should donate money to this cause." Hardly any personal information (i.e., thoughts, feelings, fears, friendships, etc.), almost no anger... The narrative was altogether very stiff and forced.
My son and I listened to this and The Souls of Black Folks by W.E.B. DuBois on drives to and from his lessons. It was fascinating to hear the different ideas and opinions of the two men from two very different perspectives and discuss the options.
I’ve heard it said that Booker T. Washington was “the white man’s black man.” I read nothing here that would make me assume otherwise. He certainly heaped praises on white philanthropists ad nauseam. This, his autobiography, reads like the well edited, painstakingly inoffensive inculcation that it was intended to be.
Insanely naive or overly optimistic?
“The "Ku Klux" period was, I think, the darkest part of the Reconstruction days. I have referred to this unpleasant part of the history of the South simply for the purpose of calling attention to the great change that has taken place since the days of the "Ku Klux." To-day there are no such organizations in the South, and the fact that such ever existed is almost forgotten by both races. There are few places in the South now where public sentiment would permit such organizations to exist.” ~Booker T. Washington, 1901
Really Booker? ‘Few places in the South where public sentiment would leave room for racist intent? Tell that to Emmett Till (d. Mississippi, 1955), Medgar Evers (d. Mississippi, 1963), and Ahmaud Arbery (d. Georgia, 2020).
“…no white American ever thinks that any other race is wholly civilized until he wears the white man's clothes, eats the white man's food, speaks the white man's language, and professes the white man's religion.” ~Booker T. Washington
If Frederick Douglass or W.E.B. Du Bois or Malcolm X had made that statement, it would have been an indictment of white supremacy. Booker presented it as a floor plan. Capitulate and assimilate.
The Atlanta Kowtow.
In 1895 Washington proposed that black Americans forgo political aspirations, civil rights litigations, and higher university educations. In exchange, southern whites would guarantee basic education and due process under the law. What came to be known as the “Atlanta Compromise” drew heavy praise from a LOT of white people (of course) and some pretty harsh criticisms from a LOT of black people (of course). The highest profile public lambasting of Washington’s racial gradualism came from W.E.B. DuBois (see: The Souls of Black Folk, 1903). In spite of the backlash, Booker persisted.
“I believe it is the duty of the Negro—as the greater part of the race is already doing—to deport himself modestly in regard to political claims, depending upon the slow but sure influences that proceed from the possession of property, intelligence, and high character for the full recognition of his political rights.”
I think the most telling quote in all of Up From Slavery is the one (THE ONLY ONE) where Washington uses the word “equality.”
“The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest 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.”
Let me quote that again, just in case you missed it: “The agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly…”
Translation: Don’t rock the boat everybody.
I can almost hear Dr. King and Malcolm spinning in their graves.
It amazes me how many people *still* blow off Booker T. Washington as an "Uncle Tom." There is no doubt in my mind that when Washington said, "I pity from the bottom of my heart any individual who is so unfortunate as to get into the habit of holding race prejudice," he knew full well that the primary goal of a racist is to feel superior to someone, and that therefore his pity would offend them more than anything else he could offer or say.
Or how about this one -- "In my contact with people I find that, as a rule, it is only the little narrow people who live for themselves, who never read good books, who do not travel, who never open up their souls in a way to permit them to come into contact with other souls -- with that great outside world. No man whose vision is bounded by color can come into contact with what is highest and best in the world." Time and again, in this book historians generally consider aimed at a white audience, Washington makes the point that people who judge others on the basis of race are sad, pathetic losers that he feels sorry for. This worked because many of his most powerful supporters agreed with him -- but it also worked because Washington was so clearly none of those things. Washington was well read, widely traveled, and had devoted his life to a form of service. He had a great vision for his people, and by the time this book hit print he had been making enormous strides toward the success of this vision for twenty years.
So when Washington said he "pitied" racists, it was clearly not an empty statement or a childish insult. Washington knew his Bible very, very well. I believe he was also speaking the truth when he said, "I would permit no man, no matter what his colour might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him." He knew God cared enough about a "man from Ethiopia" that he sent Philip to explain the Bible to him. He knew that, in Christ, there is "neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free." He didn't doubt that racism was wrong, and he didn't doubt his personal value. While he didn't necessarily expect to see it in his lifetime, he believed that African Americans would one day be recognized as equal, not only before the law, but socially.
But he also knew he was a "sheep in the midst of wolves," and that he needed to be "wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove." While I didn't know it the first time I read this book as a child, having read the book I was not at all surprised to hear that Washington had a "secret life" of supporting and encouraging legal equality for black people; that this is what he believed in was clear to me from the first, and also that he was enough of a politician not to publicly fight a battle that might cost him his war.
Back in the day, Washington was often called Moses or Joshua, but he recognized that God did not call His People to conquer by force anymore, and hadn't since long before the time of Christ. Rather, Washington recommended -- and followed -- the bottom-up policies of the early Christians. While he didn't turn down opportunities for legal protection, his primary goal was to convince everyday, ordinary people that blacks were the equal of whites, and he intended doing so by educating blacks to prove their worth.
While he is often identified with the Social Gospel movement, Washington believed individual transformation -- raising up educated Christians who believe in, and are capable of, hard work in the service of God -- was a better route than social transformation. William Dean Howells asked, “What if [the amiability of Washington’s words] should veil a sense of our absurdities, and there should be in our polite inferiors the potential for something like contempt for us?” Howells concludes that Washington does not have contempt for whites, and I agree with him, however I suspect Washington really had no time for the idea that he was Howells' inferior, or that blacks were inferior to whites. Washington knew, if Howells didn't, that some "help" is just another way for racists to feel superior to those they're supposedly helping.
Unlike many who identified with the Social Gospel movement, Washington honestly believed that black people, given similar opportunities, could be the equal of whites. He admired and respected "the common man," and with Martin Luther respected any man who worked hard at whatever work he had been given. He believed in empowering the powerless by actually enabling them to take charge of their own lives. He recognized that help from the powerful was necessary, but also that charity could destroy and independence must be the goal.
Washington knew that men are selfish and sinful, but also that capitalism works to minimize the damage that does: "... there is something in human nature which always makes an individual recognize and reward merit, no matter under what colour of skin merit is found... it is the visible, the tangible, that goes a long way in softening prejudices. The actual sight of a first-class house that a Negro has built is ten times more potent than pages of discussion about a house that he ought to build, or perhaps could build.... The individual who can do something that the world wants done will, in the end, make his way regardless of his race."
This, I think, is why he is so often dismissed as an Uncle Tom. He not only believed in people's ability to rise above race and to accomplish things within a racist society -- he demonstrated that ability, accomplishing enormous things within a society generally hostile to his goals. While he recognizes his own and his people's lack of resources, he also expects them to make the best use of the resources they have. That combination invariably gets the Uncle Tom label from those who don't believe black people are the equal of white.
As a kid, I thought people called some blacks "Uncle Toms" because they'd never read Stowe's original novel. Now, I think many people who use that insult recognize that Uncle Tom was the book's hero -- but they either reject Christianity or hate the idea that blacks should aspire to such a high standard.
Booker T. Washington wrote some shocking things 😳 When it comes to historical topics and slavery, I don't need to be told how I should feel about it. I need clear, precise facts and writing from those who actually experienced slavery. So here we have 'Up from Slavery', an autobiography worth reading by everyone today. Booker T. Washington strongly presents how slavery affected the black people before and after slavery was abolished. He even went as far as to write that slavery was just as victimising to the white people as the black people. He pointed out the problems of any group of people lifting themselves up to be supreme. He was a strong man, bound by facts (as he said himself), Christian morality, and a desire to educate and help his people. He said two of his biggest influences in the making of Tuskegee Institute was from a former slave and a former slaveholder. Do you realize how much this goes against the narrative today? He presents the struggles but he doesn't discount the wonderment of forgiveness and the moving forward after hardship and wrong. He said on the plantation where he was raised there was no hostility shown by his people to their oppressors. This amazes me. What a strong group of people!
I am awed by this man who persevered, standing for goodness, and paving the way for rights to be made for the black community. Just like when he was alive, his life will inspire people of all backgrounds.
I am left with these thoughts: By trying to create animosity to one another in the present for things of the past, we downgrade the hard efforts of those like Booker T. Washington who stood strong in the efforts to bring all people together. More than a hundred years ago, he dealt with the difficulties of life but he was willing to reach out to help others. This is what we need more of today: a desire to help others, not condemning and tearing down one another for being born. Creating race wars continues the evils of the past.
Booker T. Washington is officially added to my list of favorite people. His positive and nonjudgmental attitude is exemplary in so many ways. His way of stepping back, seeing a situation for what it really is, unprejudiced by pride or excessive passion, is truly amazing. His insights are so valuable that I think this book should be required reading for everyone.
Washington was born a slave, and was about 8 years old when Emancipation came. Life was little better afterwards, though, for a while. He still had to work hard all day, and his living conditions were similar to what they had before. With freedom comes responsibility as well as opportunity. His tireless efforts to get an education are just amazing, along with the people who helped him along they way. He never expected to receive something for nothing, but he worked hard to make sure he merited the very best of opportunities. One of my favorite stories is his college entrance exam. He had traveled to the Hampton Institute (some 500 miles away from his home) on foot mostly, sleeping in the street and eating next to nothing. He showed up looking like a "loafer or tramp", and was not immediately admitted. Washington was determined to "impress [Miss Mary F. Mackie, the head teacher] in all the ways [he] could with [his] worthiness." Finally, Miss Mackie asked him to sweep a recitation room, and Washington knew instantly that here was his chance to prove his merit, his work ethic, and his eagerness to be admitted to the school.
"I swept the recitation-room three times. Than I got a dusting-cloth and I dusted it four times. All the woodwork around the walls, every bench, table, and desk, I went over four times with my dusting cloth. Besides, every piece of furniture had been moved and every closet and corner in the room had been thoroughly cleaned. I had the feeling that in a large measure my future depended upon the impression I made upon the teacher in the cleaning of that room."
His cleaning job so impressed Miss Mackie that he was admitted to the college, and offered a job as the school janitor which he was very happy to accept so that he might earn a little money to help with expenses. Washington says that Miss Mackie "proved to be one of my strongest and most helpful friends".
After college, he taught school in his hometown, he taught at the Hampton Institute, and finally he was asked to start a college in Alabama, which he calls his "life's work". He also became the most famous orator for race relations in the United States at the time. What he accomplished was simply amazing, and his work ethic is inspiring. One certainly feels that a man (or woman) can accomplish great things if they are willing to work hard and put up with the dirt and hardships that come with the job. I'll end with a quote:
"I believe that any man's life will be filled with constant, unexpected encouragements...if he makes up his mind to do his level best each day of his life-- that is, tries to make each day reach as nearly as possible the high-water mark of pure, unselfish, useful living. I pity the man, black or white, who has never experienced the joy and satisfaction that come to one by reason of an effort to assist in making some one else more useful and more happy."
Booker T. Washington: once a slave, beat down and told he could do nothing, accomplish nothing; now an example to all men, white and colored, raised above others. Why? Hard work and a desire to do good in this world. He accomplished more than a lot, from getting into a school by sweeping and cleaning a room, to teaching at a night school, to starting Tuskegee, to speaking at huge events at which no black man had ever spoken. He met great men, did great things, built a great community, and loved greatly. He wrote this autobiography about his truly great life. He wrote it simply, giving facts in a very interesting way (one thing that he felt was important while giving speeches). I had a hard time staying interested because I was very busy while reading it and felt like I had to rush to get it done. However, I liked it enough to know that I’ll read it again in a less-busy time and really immerse myself in it. There’s so much to learn, so much to discover in a life like Washington’s. While reading it I couldn’t help but be thankful for everything in my life. I was born with many luxuries given to me. Booker T. Washington started out with the clothes on his back and a dirt floor to sleep on. Education was a piece of paradise to him; food was a luxury beyond all comparison. I have always had both of those, in abundance. One word to describe this book would be thankful. Not the word I would normally use to describe a book, but really, it is. Booker T. Washington’s thanks resonates throughout the whole story. Even when he was hungry and on the streets – I could almost taste his thanks whenever he’d receive a meal or a warm place to stay. Wonderful. Recommended to all who love a good autobiography, and even to those who don’t.
This book kept my interest at all times. It is written in straight forward prose and explains the author's philosophy and life story. He truly was an American Hero. His approach is easily criticized from various points of view. He backed up his stance with real action and measurable success. I wonder what he would say of the current status of racial relations. A great book everyone should read at least as a catalyst for thought and discussion about what remains as substantial and systemic problems in our culture/country.
This was a very well written book of a very intelagent man who faught his way through slavery to the fear of freedom and beyond. His first and only goal was education which was his kee to his own personal freedom. Enjoy and Be Blessed Steven
توی واحد گرامی باکتری تئوری..یه تعریف هست بنامMIC(minimal inhibitory concentration),به معنای حداقل غلظت انتی بیوتیک لازم برای مهار رشد باکتریها... توی این کتاب نسبت غلظت بدبختی به حجم کتاب چنان بالاس که در 54صفحه اول اونقدر بدبختی وجود داره که هرگز مثلش دیده نشده,زندگی تکان دهنده یک برده..اونهم در کمتر از 150سال پیش در امریکا..توی این کتاب MMC(minimal misery concentration به ازای هر صفحه,تکان دهنده است..و داستان واقعی فردیه که از این شرایط خودش روبالا کشیده,یک نفر از میان هزاران فرد که تسلیم جریان زندگی نشده..زندگی ای که قطعا خیلی از ما رو در حالیکه به راحتی اسکرول داون میکنیم تا توی گوودریدز ریویو بخونیم رو از پا درمیاره..
I really liked this very well written, densely informative, and inspiring autobiography of how Booker T. Washington rose above his position as a slave child during the Civil War and went on to get an education and establish a school, The Tuskegee Institute, in Alabama. He ultimately traveled the country giving speeches at the highest levels of business and academia and took an extended trip to Europe about which he shares his comparative impressions of people. The goal of Washington's life was to encourage minorities to not view their race as an obstacle to success but instead gain knowledge and marketable skills in order to become self-reliant. His intellgence, intuition, personability, positive attitude, patience, and high standards as well as his industrious approach to building success block by block (while including others in the process so they feel equally invested) is truly admirable. He focused on the benefits of all races achieving universal understanding and recognized those who helped to advance his efforts regardless of their race. He relays his step-by-step processes in creating the school and includes many anecdotes which make the book particularly endearing and insightful. His spirit of approaching every new situation with openness and optimism is contagious. The memoir successfully reinforces the concept that it is possible to build something great from virtually nothing. His story reveals that he was both ideaological and pragmatic, yet always principled, in his ways. In some sense, he was a man living far ahead of his time in that, if more of his views and approaches were in place today, there would be an even greater cohesiveness among all people. At the end of the book, he mentions receiving a letter stating he was selected to be presented with a honorary degree from Harvard for his work, and further reveals his lifelong mindset when he writes:
"As I sat upon my veranda, with this letter in my hand, tears came into my eyes. My whole former life - my life as a slave on the plantation, my work in the coal-mine, the times when I was without food and clothing, when I made my bed under a sidewalk, my struggles for an education, the trying days I had had at Tuskegee, days when I did not know where to turn for a dollar to continue the work there, the ostracism and sometimes oppression of my race, - all this passed before me and nearly overcame me. I had never sought or cared for what the world calls fame. I have always looked upon fame as something to be used in accomplishing good. I have often said to my friends that if I can use whatever prominence may have come to me as an instrument with which to do good, I am content to have it."
(Listened to Audible.com audio book narrated by Noah Waterman.)
This book made me feel like a bit of an asshole.I'm a frequent whiner, my favourite topics usually being how other people are annoying and not getting enough reading time. Booker T. Washington, despite having much more justified complaints than mine, was most definitely not a whiner.
Born into slavery - exactly when he doesn't know - following its abolition, and despite a lack of any money and sometimes even a roof over his head, Washington would not only pursue the education he fiercely wanted but would go on to become an educator himself, as well as something of a celebrity.
Starting with a handful of ramshackle buildings and a small pool of students, Washington built what would become the Tuskegee Institute with his bare hands (literally, alongside those of his students as part of his philosophy that each student should learn a practical trade alongside their other studies) and, in part due to these Herculean efforts, he would also go on to become a much sought after public speaker. On the strength of the addresses reproduced here, it's easy to see why.
An incredibly driven man who apparently didn't take a vacation in 18 years of running the Institute, both this book and his addresses also displayed an astonishing lack of bitterness or resentment towards the people and society that had kept his race in bondage for so long. Where I'd have been ranting non-stop about how hateful everybody was, Washington spoke of hope, and reconciliation instead of repercussions.
A fantastic example of grace and strength, Booker T Washington has ensured that, at least for the next week, I won't whine just because the lady in the canteen made me wait five minutes before giving me my sandwich. I may even be inspired to make my own sandwiches.
One of the most inspiring books I have read in a long time. Refusing to accept his struggles and poverty and humble beginning as a slave to prevent him form leading a worthy life, this incredible man excels in all he does. If I were feeling sorry for myself and in a pity party, this book would snap me out of it with a resounding smack. Love the message that hard work, perseverance, Godliness, righteousness, and kindness can really change the world.
Just counted all the books centered on race relations that I’ve read since I made a goodreads like 9 months ago. The number is 20. And this is my favorite so far, w/o a doubt. 5.0/5.0
It wasn’t perfect. I feel like I should add the qualification so that nobody reads this book and thinks “oh this is everything Brice agrees with”. Definitely not the case. Nonetheless, I thought it was the top of the genre, and at this point I’d say I’ve sampled the genre pretty extensively.
This was a fascinating opportunity to get to know Booker T. Washington better - he was mostly just a name to me before reading this autobiography. Up from Slavery is his 1901 story of rising from his childhood as a slave to becoming a well-respected thinker, orator, and the founder of the Tuskegee Institute. Washington doesn't know his birth year for sure, let alone his birthday: he surmises it to have been 1858, or perhaps 1859 (after he died, evidence suggested he was born April 5, 1856). He doesn't know who his father was, having only rumors to suggest that it was a white man from a neighboring plantation who almost certainly impregnated his mother by force (he doesn't attempt even that level of euphemism for the act, and his mixed parentage surprisingly doesn't come up again - Washington is for all intents and purposes Black). He was only ever called "Booker", and when he was prompted at school (post-emancipation) to give a last name, he reflexively adopted "Washington". He later learned that his mother had given him the surname "Taliaferro", which he kept as a middle name.
Washington gives us plenty of details about his rise to the top: his struggle for education, his willingness to work hard, the indignity of sleeping under a bridge, the embarrassment of not being able to buy a change of clothes, learning the importance of taking baths, the frustration at finding a dropped 10-dollar bill (only to have to turn it over to the owner of the establishment). He credits his persistence, hard work, and honesty, and exhorts every one else "of our Race" to do the same. This pulling-up-from-the-bootstraps attitude, plus his refusal to assign blame or recrimination on white people, is where Washington has been a controversial figure. While his contribution to Black education is undeniable, many find it troublesome that he lays so much pressure on "the Negro" (a phrase used constantly in this 1901 book) to perform above expectations, given the numerous disadvantages and setbacks. Washington was a dynamo of a man, massively intelligent and highly motivated: not everyone can live their life with such rigor. Granted, Washington also did publicly speak out against lynching and voter suppression (and did even more privately), but his basic demand was that Black Americans be given a fair shot to accomplish everything their white counterparts were doing, and he knew they could. He recounts many stories from the development and operation of Tuskeegee, and the schedule alone is intimidating. The wake-up bell was just after 5 AM, and the day was tightly regimented with study time, physical labor, classes, more reading, and zero time for dilly-dallying. One of his idols, apart from Lincoln, was General Armstrong, a white former soldier who taught self-control and sober living at Hampton Institute. The two became long-time friends.
Constantly in demand for speaking engagements, Washington has much to say about his public addresses and how they were received. There's a fair amount of humble bragging, which is kind of fun to detect through the florid prose so representative of the era. He interacted with influential figures of the day, including multiple presidents (McKinley accepted an invitation to visit Tuskegee), Mark Twain, Susan B. Anthony, and Queen Victoria. He was perhaps so requested a speaker because he lived by a commitment to never say anything in the North that he would not say in the South, and worked hard to keep relations between the races constructive. He felt that applying blame or rehashing the sins of the past could accomplish nothing good. He advocated for natural, slow growth, and was perhaps a bit naive about the prospects. For example, he predicted that robbing the Black vote was a problem that would solve itself, as the same restrictions placed on the Black population could just as easily target poor whites. Alas, history has not borne that particular prediction out.
There are lots of funny and interesting asides. Washington talks about how many young black men would dramatically get filled with the Spirit in church, falling to the ground and proclaiming that they'd received their calling to the ministry. He was grateful he never had such a calling. To earn his way at Hampton, he applied to be a janitor. On his trial evaluation, he dusted and cleaned a room four times over, and it passed the withering inspection by the instructor. He got the job, and the education. He was "the first of his race" to receive an honorary degree from Harvard, let alone any elite school on the east coast. After his speeches, many white men would shake his hand and proclaim it was the first time they'd addressed someone like him as "Mister". He had hilarious observations about cranks and time-wasters, which he could spot a mile away. The former was greasy, lean and narrow, with a long beard and black coat, and easy solutions to difficult problems. The latter had no sense of propriety, such as the white man who summoned Washington to the hotel lobby because he'd really enjoyed his speech the other day, and was hoping Washington could say more just for him. He had much to say about his personal work schedule and ethic, down to how to achieve the letter-writing equivalent of "inbox zero". He was an impressive individual, whatever you think about the universality of his ideas, and his name has rightly lived on to the present.
Wow. I loved this. First published in 1900, this is the best autobiography of a former slave that I have read. Booker T. Washington is one of my heroes! I love his focus on individual responsibility and how he doesn’t fall into the mindset of a victim; he acknowledges the disadvantages faced by the former slaves but he encourages them to work hard and to keep improving their lives. I like how he points out that people will need to climb gradually rather than expecting to be catapulted instantaneously into an equality of outcome.
What a better world we would have if disadvantaged school children in the USA studied his words instead of being taught to wallow in victimhood and excuses!
"I have begun everything with the idea that I could succeed, and I never had much patience with the multitudes of people who are always ready to explain why one cannot succeed."
"Every persecuted individual and race should get much consolation out of the great human law, which is universal and eternal, that merit, no matter under what skin found, is, in the long run, recognized and rewarded.”
He would not be a fan of today’s affirmative action: "The wisest among my race understand that agitations of social equality is the extremist folly, and that progress in the enjoyment of all privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing."
"In fact, my whole life has largely been one of surprises. I believe that any man's life will be filled with constant, unexpected encouragements of this kind if he makes up his mind to do his level best each day of his life -- that is, tries to make each day reach as nearly as possible the high-water mark of pure, unselfish, useful living. I pity the man, black or white, who has never experienced the joy and satisfaction that come to one by reason of an effort to assist in making someone else more useful and more happy."
He had such interesting (and unpopular) views: “Having once got its tentacles fastened on to the economic and social life of the Republic, it was no easy matter for the country to relieve itself of the institution (of slavery).. Then, when we rid ourselves of prejudice, or racial feeling, and look facts in the face, we must acknowledge that, notwithstanding the cruelty and moral wrong of slavery, the ten million Negroes inhabiting this country, who themselves or whose ancestors went through the school of American slavery, are in a stronger and more hopeful condition, materially, intellectually, morally, and religiously, than is true of an equal number of black people in any other portion of the globe. This is so to such an extent that Negroes in this country, who themselves or whose forefathers went through the school of slavery, are constantly returning to Africa as missionaries to enlighten those who remained in the fatherland. This I say, not to justify slavery - on the other hand, I condemn it as an institution, as we all know that in America it was established for selfish and financial reasons, and not from a missionary motive - but to call attention to a fact, and to show how Providence so often uses men and institutions to accomplish a purpose. When persons ask me in these days how, in the midst of what sometimes seem hopelessly discouraging conditions, I can have such faith in the future of my race in this country, I remind them of the wilderness through which and out of which, a good Providence has already led us. Ever since I have been old enough to think for myself, I have entertained the idea that, notwithstanding the cruel wrongs inflicted upon us, the black man got nearly as much out of slavery as the white man did. The hurtful influences of the institution were not by any means confined to the Negro. This was fully illustrated by the life upon our own plantation. The whole machinery of slavery was so constructed as to cause labour, as a rule, to be looked upon as a badge of degradation, of inferiority. Hence labour was something that both races on the slave plantation sought to escape. The slave system on our place, in a large measure, took the spirit of self-reliance and self-help out of the white people."
Incredible person...definitely in my top 5 people I'd most like to have dinner with (or more correctly, with whom I'd like to have dinner). He was living proof that a person's worth matters little where you start out in life and much more to do with how you choose to live that life.
For a man born into slavery in the South to have such a lifelong approach to equality for ALL people is amazing. Some of the bigotry and hate Booker T. Washington must have endured while growing up and getting educated would have been terrible, indeed. Add that to his work later in running and raising funds for a school to educate blacks in the South must have been even more trying. And yet his firmly held belief was not in men being bigots, but in the systemic nature of slavery that brought about the hatred for blacks. His philosophy of educating not only his race, but that of all indigent Southern people forced the discussion to one of economic inequality, and not one of race.
I, like most people, had heard of Booker T. Washington, and on some level I recalled that he ran a college for blacks. What I never knew were the conditions and time-sensitive nature of his work. To do what he did less than 20 years after the emancipation proclamation is a testament to the man's greatness in American history. His life and works should be required reading for all Americans.
See through the eyes of a black kid suffering from slavery, the life around his master's cabin during Civil War between North and South America and the joy the victory of North America brought to the slaved men and women.Get to experience their emancipation,their life after being free, the difficuilties they faced and how clueless they felt of being in charge of their own lives.
In the middle of this confusion and turmoil, the author Booker T Washington didn't succumb to the hurdles in the way of his road to success.He didn't want to work in coal mines.He wanted to receive education because even in a very tender age, he realised the power of education in changing the lives of people.It wasn't easy for the author to get education. He faced the problem of lack of money and resources. He had to work hard to graduate from a college opened especially to educate black men and women to make them worthy to control their lives after liberation from slavery. Booker confessed that he many a times got sorrowful that he didn't have any proudful ancestry to boast off like the white boys but was glad that his dilligency lead him onto the path of optimism making him think that what if he didn't have a glorified ancestry, he would work so hard that the coming generations of his clan would take his name with pride and honour.
He was a great orator, writer, educator and administrator who was chiefly responsible for building a great and reputed college from scratch for the deprived blacks to make them stand on their own feet.
Honesty: If I was not currently in rural Australia with only an e-reader and Project Gutenberg, I wouldn't have picked this up.
That said, I'm not sure why this narrative is not wildly popular with modern audiences. Maybe it just needs to be put on a new shelf, since it reads like one of the better-selling self-help titles: Self Sufficiency 101, Starting Your Dream NonProf/Business/Institute of Higher Education, The Key to Financial Success, The Social Benefits of Dental Hygiene, The Power of Optimism, The Art of Forgiveness. This guy did it all. He covers every dearly-held American value more thoroughly and succinctly than I've ever seen.
In truth, Mr. Washington is just too good for us. Mr. Washington has faith in humanity. Mr. Washington is not a racist. He believes in the roughly equal ability of every person to accomplish good. He believes people recognize and reward good when they see it. He would probably not believe how incredibly easy exploitation can be, considering the difficulty he had overcoming it. Like most ambitious people, he admires wealth and prestige. But his optimism is unbounded, and as the first free generation in America, I suppose he couldn't help himself. I don't think he realized, when he counseled slow and steady progress, how slow and unsteady equality can be.