Booker T. Washington Summary

I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome while trying to succeed. -Booker T. Washington The historical text, Booker T. Washington and the Negro’s Place in American Life is a document that meticulously details the life, achievements, viewpoints, opposition and controversy of the famed civil rights figure, Booker T. Washington. Booker T. Washington was the most controversial figure in the fight for civil rights with his rise to fame in the late 1800’s.

Many who knew him believed that he was a clear-cut man, and he was admired as an authentic hero to black Americans, and in his later years he earned several nicknames. The soon-to-be-famous civil rights leader was born in 1858, grew up in a cabin with a dirt floor and was a slave in Franklin County (near present day Roanoke), Virginia. He grew up hearing rumors that his natural father was a white man, but they were only that, rumors. He, his brother and his sister slept on a pile of rags that their mother had laid out on the dirt floor of their cabin.

After the Emancipation Proclamation was announced, his family was so stricken with poverty that he worked in salt furnaces and coal mines beginning at age nine. Booker was not allowed in school due to the color of his skin, and the closest he ever came to a school, at that time, was walking with his Masters’ daughters to their school, while helping them carry their books. “I had the feeling that to get into a schoolhouse and study would be about the same as getting into paradise. ” (Washington, 44)

When Washington was finally allowed attendance to an all black school, he thirsted for knowledge. When he was about eighteen years old, he learned of an all black college called the Hampton Institute, near Virginia’s Tidewater Region, and was desperate to attend. He worked quite a few jobs just for traveling money, and when he arrived in Virginia, did custodial work at the school to pay for his room and tuition. Booker graduated in June on 1875 with high honors. Upon his return to his hometown, he was elected to teach a colored school and soon began night school and Sunday school classes.

Around this time, the Ku Klux Klan was near the height of its activity. Washington realized it was their mission to crush Negro aspirations of participating in politics, though they were more cruel than most. Several churches and schools were burned, and innocent blacks were beaten, tortured, and killed. Washington nearly entered politics, but thought he could make a difference in education. In May of 1881, he took an opportunity to teach at a school for blacks in Tuskegee, Alabama. July 4, 1881 was the first day of school at Tuskegee Institute.

It was a humble beginning, but under Washington’s care both Washington and the school grew to be world famous. His school made lasting and profound contributions to the South and to the United States. One of his main problems was always finding enough money. The support he received from the state was neither charitable nor constant enough to build the type of school he was developing. He then took it upon himself to raise the money himself by going on speaking tours and soliciting donations.

He received a lot of money from white northerners who were impressed with the work he was doing and his non-threatening racial views. Industrialists like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller would contribute money on a habitual basis “… New England missionaries, who had come Southward after the war, they had made one mistake of assuming that what was applicable in one situation was necessarily applicable in another… they had tried to give the untrained black man the same education given in New England to white children…

” (Spencer, 51) He had visions of making Tuskegee a black utopia, of giving the race the tools to assimilate into society. It soon became an institute for technology and industry, and Washington left the teaching to other highly qualified educators to become the superintendent. As head of the Institute, he traveled the country unceasingly to raise funds from both Afro-Americans and Caucasians; soon he became a well-known speaker. Booker began to speak publicly, and gave several and history-making speeches, even though he did not have a liking of public speaking. Some of these

included: The Atlanta Exposition Address, where he was limited to five minutes in front of the international meeting of Christian Workers, his speech to the National Education Association, and the commencement speech for the Hampton Institute. Many were surprised by the amount of credit Washington gave to white people for helping to start the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. He soon had several invitations to speak in the North and South, and was well received. The Atlanta Compromise Address, delivered before the Cotton States Exposition in 1895, enlarged Washington’s influence into the arena of race relations and black leadership.

Washington offered black compliance in disfranchisement and social segregation if whites would encourage black progress in financial and educational opportunity. Hailed as a sage by whites of both sections, Washington further consolidated his influence by his widely read autobiography Up From Slavery in 1900, the founding of the National Negro Business League in 1900, his celebrated dinner at the White House in 1901, and control of patronage politics as principal Afro consultant to Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.

Washington kept his white following by conservative policies and moderate statements, but he faced growing black and white liberal opposition in the Niagara Movement and the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), groups demanding civil rights and encouraging protest in response to white aggressions such as lynching, disfranchisement, and segregation laws. Washington effectively fought off these critics, often by underhanded means.

At the same time, however, he tried to translate his own personal success into black advancement through secret sponsorship of civil rights suits, serving on the boards of Fisk and Howard universities, and directing humanitarian aid to these and additional black colleges. His speaking tours and private persuasion tried to equalize public educational opportunities and to reduce racial violence. These efforts were generally unsuccessful, and the year of Washington’s demise marked the beginning of the Great Migration from the rural South to the urban North.

Washington’s racial philosophy, pragmatically adjusted to the restrictive circumstances of his own period, did not survive the change. Booker T. Washington aided in the advancement of the African-American race enormously. Through education, public speaking, and a little bit of politics, Washington made his mark on all races. Though controversial even today, he is generally well-respected and accepted by the masses.

In his own words, “the whole future of the Negro rests largely upon the question as to whether or not he should make himself, through his skill, intelligence, and character, of such undeniable value to the community in which he lived… ” (Washington, 92). “Two distinguished leaders of the black community in the late 19th and 20th century were W. E. B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington. However, they sharply disagreed on policies for black social and fiscal progress. Their conflicting philosophies can be found in much of today’s debate over how to end class and racial injustice. ” (The Two Nations Of Black America)

Through Booker T. Washington’s upbringing the ideal of hard work had been instilled in him. His hard work to climb to a prominent position in the world of education shaped his ideals in the civil rights movement.. Washington believed that African-Americans should best achieve equal opportunity to whites through instituting a concrete work force. Fighting for specific rights like voting was not part of his immediate agenda. He believed that the best interests of African-Americans could be achieved “through education in the crafts and industrial skills and the cultivation of the virtues of patience, enterprise, and thrift.

” Washington thought a slow acquisition of wealth and culture was the best way to gain equality. Moderation was the key to Washington’s ideals. But, as W. E. B. Dubois stated, Washington’s views were “born out of present reality. ” Rutherford B. Hayes was elected president in 1876 and in exchange he abolished the drastic Reconstruction, which had been put in place in the South after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Washington also believed in compromising with the white population of America. His suggestion was declared in the “Atlanta Compromise Address. ” He

said, “In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress… ” (Harlan 583-587). Washington was proposing that the African Americans were willing to be segregated as long as they could still have jobs to advance the American economy. The strength of this idea was it was not a radical or aggressive view. The weakness was white Americans could take advantage of the compromising African Americans. Washington also believed in the industrial education of African Americans. He felt they should be trained in the skills that would benefit them in the future.

“For the two hundred and fifty years, I believe the way for the redemption of the Negro was being prepared through industrial development… ” (Harlan 583-587). Washington took a less radical approach to resolving the conflict of unequal rights, unlike his counterpart W. E. B. Dubois. W. E. B. DuBois was the organizer of the contrasting aspect of the early civil rights movement. He felt African Americans needed to protest and fight for their constitutional rights. He believed that because they were now Americans, they should be entitled to political rights.

DuBois was born free and had many opportunities for education that Washington did not. DuBois felt that Washington’s plan to gain equality was only going to further exacerbate the oppression of African-American’s in the United States and more specifically the South. Instead of a plan of accommodation, DuBois favored a plan of political action. He believed that African-American’s had to speak outright on the shortcomings that they were held to in the United States. DuBois was one of the first male civil rights leaders to distinguish the tribulations of gender favoritism.

He was among the first men to understand the unique problems of black women, and to value their contributions. He supported the women’s suffrage movement and strove to integrate this mostly white struggle. He encouraged many black female writers, artists, poets, and novelists, and sometimes provided personal financial assistance to them. DuBois spent his life working not just for the equality of all men, but for the equality of all people. He had specific ideals on what African American’s needed to accomplish in order to gain equality.

In order to perpetuate these ideals he assisted in creating the NAACP. He was “for more than fifty years a passionate fighter for full civil rights and equality of citizenship for the Negro. ” Through DuBois’ actions he helped to teach America that black people were not inferior to whites simply because of their race. After years of leadership in the civil rights movement, DuBois basically became discouraged with the development of it. In 1952 he decided to dedicate all of his concentration to a variety of world engagements, most exclusively the endorsement of socialism and eventually communism.

Looking back on both men’s programs, I believe that W. E. B. DuBois’ programs were more effective than those of Booker T. Washington. DuBois instilled the civil rights thinking in to the minds of the Afro- American population that lasted well into the 1960s. (Even though he did eventually get frustrated with the whole ordeal and take a stab at socialism) One of his creations, the NAACP, is still thriving today, trying to achieve their ultimate goal of a “society in which all individuals have equal rights and there is no racial hatred or racial discrimination.

“(NAACP) The organizations efforts have certainly come a long way since it first was incepted. I believe that the reason why the program’s of Booker T. Washington did not work as well as those of DuBois, is because Washington grew up a slave and accepted racial partiality as the norm. He was more likely to compromise, because he had grown up with these ideas that whites were kind of on higher level than that of the blacks. DuBois, who grew up in Massachusetts and was the first Afro- American to receive a Ph.

D. from Harvard, had the notion that blacks deserve the same rights as everyone else infused in him from his younger years. DuBois saw that the black population could not just sit back and try to compromise with the white population of America. He believed in the “actions speak louder than words” cliche, and he stuck to it. The teachings of DuBois helped stir up protest for equal rights, and his protests eventually led to equal rights for all races.