Booker T. Washington: Biography and Facts

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Booker T. Washington was born a slave on a plantation in Franklin County, Virginia but rose to become one of the most influential African- American intellectuals of the late 19 centuries. Because of his slave status, he was ignorant about his exact date of birth, birth place, his family ancestry, and the identity of his father. Washington was not knowledgeable whatsoever when he was growing up. Growing up, he worked in the coal-mine so his education was forever in dept. He later then heard about a school, Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia, for not only his race but for poor educated, and for more opportunities.

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Washington went to Hampton in the fall of 1872 (Washington up from slavery). He was the most prominent black educator, race leader, and international celebrity of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Smock 3).

Being that Washington spent his whole young life as a slave in a one-room log cabin, he matured quickly. His ability to read and write gave him an advantage. His education would be his road to salvation and true emancipation (Smock 35). Washington believes that more than book learning and industrial training are necessary to fully equip former slaves to navigate modern society. “Education is not limited to what one can learn in books or through labor, but also about promoting self-respect in oneself to engage education in a way that will be beneficial beyond oneself” (Washington Up from Slavery). When describing his time in Washington D.C., Washington criticizes middle-class blacks who have an education but still lack the necessary moral training to better themselves and others. For Washington, education requires the full engagement of the individual. He teaches students at Tuskegee how to eat properly, how to live in a civilized community, and how to exercise moral discipline alongside more traditional forms of training in academics and industry. It seems his goal is to take an entire race and train them to make both self-reliant and able to contribute to a broader community. Washington was such a successful young boy, he wanted to make a change and spread it throughout his race as was just said how he did so.

Despite having been enslaved as a boy, Washington maintains an attitude of respect. He views all as potential helpers and is clear about his admiration of prominent white southerners. They ask for his participation in political negotiations, such as requesting that the federal government support the Atlanta Exposition. Washington does not challenge the dominant white class, but rather seeks the assuage their guilts at enslaving his people by assuring them that blacks have no bitter feelings about their former masters. He highlights the similarities between the races and seeks to “civilize” his students to be more like their white neighbors. “Now, whenever I hear any one advocating measure that are meant to curtail the development of another, I pity the individual who would do this. I know that the one who makes this mistake does so because of his own lack of opportunity for the highest of growth” (Washington Up from Slavery). He communicates his more mature idea that those who express racist ideas, or ideas that otherwise serve to limit the exercise of freedom by another, do more harm to themselves than they do to those others. Where before Washington would have responded to racists and detractors with bitterness, he now responds with “pity”, recognizing that the person who would intentionally limit another does so at the expense of the “the highest kind of growth.” Washington responds to those critics here by explaining his understanding of the dynamics in play. Rather that respond to racists and detractors with bitterness, he chooses to recognize their actions for what they are: signs of immaturity and stunted personal growth.

Washington registers his distaste with the peculiar institution differently. He denounces slavery for its denigration of labor. In both whites and black, the institution of slavery produces an attitude toward labor that robs the individual of dignity and self-reliance. Whites did not learn the dignity of labor because they were robbed of the opportunity to practice and perfect basic tasks. Washington describes the inability of his masters to properly mend a fence and the inability of his mistresses to properly mend a dress or a fashion bonnet or cook a meal. Blacks did not learn the dignity of labor because enslavement robbed them of the ability to personal invest in their work. They conducted their work on behalf of others. Which means that the enslaved often did not complete work with an eye toward either improvement or perfection. Washington emphasizes the power of labor to transform and perfect the individual. With hard work, the individual could make a huge change in their race and their community. In fact, The ability to labor and to learn to labor well forms to cornerstone of Washington’s theories of black advancement.

Washington shares his optimism for friendly race relations between blacks and whites in the south. Washington believes that this will not be achieved by forces, but the slow dissolution of prejudice. He also believes that if black population continues to show itself indispensable to the communities it touches, then whites will have no choice but to fully recognize their political rights. The achievement of equality will show itself in the logic that if a white man is willing to cheat a black man “out of his ballot”, then he will also be willing to cheat “out of his”. “ I believe that in time, through the operation of the intelligence and friendly race relations, all cheating at the ballot-box in the south will cease. It will become apparent that the white man who begins by cheating a Negro out of his ballot soon learns to cheat a white man out of his, and that the man who does this ends his career of dishonest by the theft of property or some equally serious crime” (Washington Up from Slavery).

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Booker T. Washington: Biography and Facts. (2019, Aug 29). Retrieved from