Booker T. Washington: Passive Activiism

The ratification of the 14th amendment in the United States Constitution, immediately following the Civil War, was created in order to preserve the rights of all “persons born or naturalized in the United States,” which included former slaves recently freed. In addition, it forbids states from denying any person “life, liberty or property, without due process of law” or to “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. ” Countless soldiers lost their lives battling in the Civil War in order to preserve that right for all citizens of the United States, regardless of race or social status.

The South, however, sought to uphold the hierarchal racial order that had been established preceding the abolition of slavery that came as a result of losing the war. Segregation by race was important to those in power of the South in order to maintain economic growth and establish structure of superiority and inferiority in society. Not only did the racial hierarchy curtail the African Americans from seeking independence, it also kept poor-whites from aiming their discontent at the higher-class by instead focusing on the belittlement of those below them in social status.

The Civil Rights, which were to be accredited equally among the states, were irrelevant in the segregated South, and African American’s were in dire need of a leader. The emergence of Booker T. Washington gave the black community a ray of hope; hope that one day they could enjoy social and economic equality despite the color of their skin. Born a slave on a small farm in the outskirts of Virginia, Booker Taliaferro Washington grew to become the face of the Civil Rights movement for the black community (Harlen, 2004). Following the emancipation of slaves, Washington and his mother Jane moved to West Virginia (Lawson, 2011).

Due to his family’s poor economic status, Washington worked in the salt furnaces at the age of nine. Toting 100-pound sacks of salt grain was no easy task for the young child. His uncanny determination to succeed was apparent at a young age. Always an intelligent and curious child, he yearned for an education and was frustrated when he could not receive good schooling locally. When he was 16 his parents allowed him to quit work to go to school. They had no money to assist him, so he walked 200 miles to attend the Hampton Institute in Virginia and paid his tuition and board there by working as the janitor (Lawson, 2011).

Upon graduation, Washington taught at Hampton for a short period of time before he was appointed to become head chairman of Tuskegee University: a “colored” school founded in 1881. His position as leader of Tuskegee University gave Washington the vehicle and platform to spread his educational philosophy and theory concerning the advancement of African Americans. The philosophical views of Booker T. Washington gained National recognition following his speech given in the 1895 “Atlanta Exposition Address. ”

The Atlanta Exposition Address was delivered to a predominantly white crowd of high social status in the Cotton states. The fact that a black man was invited to speak to the predominately white Southern audience was history in itself. The major thesis of Washington’s address was for African American’s to attain their Constitutional rights through their own economic and moral advancement, rather than fighting for equality through legal and political modifications. Washington began the address by noting, “One-third of the population of the South is of the Negro race” (Oden, 159).

In order to achieve the highest level of industrial progression, that one-third of the Southern population occupied by the black community should be uplifted rather than degraded. In his address, Washington states, “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” (Oden, 160). Washington urged the white community to abandon the efforts of contracting the growth of African American race, and instead focus on creating the most useful and intelligent citizen possible.

Washington concluded his address by reiterating the idea that maximum prosperity in the South will only be achieved from progression of the Black community. Washington’s conservative approach to securing Constitutional rights proved to be extremely controversial. The message delivered by Booker T. Washington was widely accepted by members of the white community. Washington received numerous offers from lecture bureaus, and editors of magazines and newspapers, to write articles and take the lecture platform.

President Grover Cleveland acknowledged Washington’s message and agreed that his words would give the black community a new-found sense of hope (Oden, 162). Abandoning the constant fight for Civil Rights and submitting to the rules laid out by those in power was Washington’s ideology. Constant demand for racial equality would be counter-productive for the black community. If they were to embrace the conflict, then the African Americans would no longer be viewed as “foreigners” or “aliens” to the white community, and change in the right direction would begin (Oden, 164).

The message was accepted by the majority of the black community at first, but views and opinions changed as time went forward. Booker T. Washington faced a mass amount of criticism by members of the black community following his Atlanta Exposition Address. Washington was criticized for accommodating white supremacy and utilizing his power as the “de facto spokesman” for black America to suppress his rivals (American Radioworks, 2013). While some African Americans looked upon Washington as a hero, others, like W. E. B Du Bois, viewed him as a traitor.

The question at hand was should black people concentrate on a gradual accumulation of skills and economic security, or demand the full and immediate rights simply due them as American citizens? Du Bois ideas were predominately, give African-Americans full equality now; while Washington, on the other hand, was, allow us to get jobs and attend trade school so African-Americans could gain stable lives. The passion and fire Du Bois exuberated through his writing and speeches earned him a large following amongst the black community. The radical approach of W. E. B. Du Bois clashed with the ideas preached by Booker T.

Washington. Though the approaches of both men can be criticized, both Du Bois and Washington were key figures in the advancement of African Americans. The content delivered in the Atlanta Exposition paved the way for the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Washington’s position of leadership accompanied by his political influences is what sparked the black community to make strides for social equality. Some chose to formally make those strides through obedience and self-augmentation, while others made those strides by constantly demanding the benefit of the same rights given to the superior class.

Radical activists such as W. E. B. Dubois may not have emerged if it weren’t for the initial message of the conservative Booker T. Washington. The criticism and recognition the Exposition Address received kept the topic of racial discrimination to be subject of conversation, which gave the issue the attention needed in order for a solution to be put in place. “The Atlanta Exposition Address” and “Of Booker T. Washington” were well written pieces. The articles gave the reader an idea as to what the reaction and public opinion was following the exposition address.

Also, it illustrated the types of hardships and constant criticism Booker T. Washington faced simply for voicing his opinion. However, the exert selected from “Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others” would have been more effective if it described the actions taken by W. E. B. Dubois and his large cult of followers took in order to combat the social injustices faced at the time. The article goes into great detail of the criticism aimed towards Washington’s approach, yet fails to mention the steps taken on the radical side of the spectrum in order to promote social equality.

In conclusion, the Atlanta Exposition Address was a big step towards achieving equality. The progressive philosophy articulated by Booker T. Washington forever stamps his legacy in the history of the United States. He contributed to the vital tradition of higher learning in this country and the belief that a college education should be available to all, despite their race or class. Although his ideas and beliefs were widely criticized, Washington goes down as a key figure and the face of a movement which led our country to the current state of social and economic equality enjoyed by all, regardless of race.