Booker T. Washington
Booker T. Washington was born as a slave in Franklin County of Virginia on 5th April the year 1856. In the period 1890-1915, Washington was to become one of America’s most renowned educationalist, writer, and spokesperson as well as a political leader; being a leader from the last generation of slaves, his main objective was to speak out for the oppressed African Americans living in the South. Washington’s mother was a black woman from Africa brought as a slave to America and his father, of whom he knew nothing about, was rumored to be one of the white men who owned large plantations; as is to be expected of those times, the man never acknowledged nor took any interest in Washington or his mother after their casual fling. During the post civil war period, and as a consequence of the 13th Amendment to the legal decrees of America, Washington and his family -mother, brother (John) and sister (Amanda) - were given their freedom from forced servitude. Washington and his family then had to travel to Kanawha Valley in West Virginia to be with his mother’s husband. All the while, Washington had a great desire to receive education or at learn how to read and write (Washington, 1901).
After being declared free, there were no teachers to teach the blacks and they had to depend on those who had a little education to share it with the rest. While the old folks desired to receive some learning so that they could read the Bible before their death, the younger black generation like Washington had much greater ambitions and dreams for their lives. As a Negro youth Washington narrates of the obstacles, disappointments as well as a myriad of temptations which he had to defeat. The white boys on the other hand, had few if any, frontiers that could act as impediments to their being whatever it is that they wanted to be. This extensive paucity necessitated that, at the tender age of nine, the young Washington had to toil as a worker in the salt and coal mines of Malden.
According to Washington (1901) the desire for Booker T. Washington to get an education was so strong that in 1872 he persuaded his step father to let him sign up at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute of Virginia where he graduate three years later. In 1878-79 he went to Washington DC where he furthered his learning at the Wayland Seminary When Washington turned twenty five years old, and had received some learning, he went to Alabama where he founded and headed the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, presently called the Tuskegee University. Washington was married thrice and had three children (Washington, 1901).
According to Puryear (1996), despite being a very well-known and eminent leader, Booker T. Washington was an African American leader who was always surrounded by a dense cloud of controversy, especially in regard to his political and civil inclinations. His objective as an educationist was to make certain that, unlike in the former slavery era, the current African Americans could receive both occupational and scholarly know how which would allow them to lead productive and self reliant lives in the nation of America. Washington was convinced of the fact that more than the political equity and power that they so craved, the African Americans- many of whom were still stuck in illiteracy and severe poverty- needed an education that would enable them develop prudence, patience and enterprise. This meant that the African Americans had to act in submission and acceptance of the severe discrimination and prejudice that was directed to them by the whites as they toiled to achieve education and wealth so as to earn the esteem of the white race. Not many African American enthusiasts were pleased with this line of thought.
Scott and Stowe (2008) assert that it is surprising to note that most of the cynicism and skepticism directed towards Booker T. Washington did not originate from the whites as would be expected, but from his fellow African Americans. According to them, Washington’s stand about politics and civil rights was one filled with connotations and innuendos of submission and deference to the whites. Washington was convinced that the black man was not yet ready to demand civil equality, leave alone engage in political crusades to be elected as political leaders. On the contrary, he felt that the African American’s priority at the moment was to act in obsequiousness to the white man so as to attain whatever necessary knowledge that they needed to achieve economic independence and sustainability. One of Washington’s most vocal critics was W. E. B Du Bois who even went ahead to form the Atlanta Compromise refers to the sentiments voiced by Booker T. Washington in his September 18th speech in 1895 where he urged the African Americans to forsake their political and civil pursuits and instead aim for amassment of financial wealth and education. Noteworthy is the fact that, despite his critics, many African Americans were supportive of Washington’s approach. In fact the whites were also accommodating of his mindset and with time they had allowed him such a great level of influence among them that he was often time consulted on issues such as the African American individuals or institutes most deserving on the government’s support (Puryear, 1996).
Washington (1901) asserts that one of Washington’s most loyal supporters was one Henry Rogers. This was an extremely rich man who lived from 1840-1909. Apart from giving Washington the moral and psychological support that he need in the establishing of policies that governed his compromising approaches, Henry Rogers was also very philanthropic to Washington and funded a majority of his projects (Washington, 1909).
According to Washington et al (2007) one of the most important accomplishment of Booker T. Washington is the fact that he enabled the African American people of his race to understand the tenets of civilization as well as the fundamental importance of education. He opened the eyes of his people to the realization that a race’s journey upwards is not an easy, straightforward and instant one but one which requires a lot of patience, endurance and most of all sacrifice. With emphasis on the dignity of work and importance of education, Scott and Stowe (2008) assert that Washington was able to make the African American race realize that in order to achieve civil and political equity or power, it is fundamental for any race to first of all establish itself economically.
In addition to this, Puryear (1996) asserts that despite living in an era that was concentrated with intense racial discrimination, forced servitude and infringement of the African American’s human and civil rights, Washington was able to campaign for education to be made accessible to his people. Being one of the most ethical and principled leaders of his era Booker T. Washington was also able to achieve the honor of being a recipient of honorary degrees from two prestigious educational institutes of higher learning: Harvard University and Dartmouth College. As already mentioned, Washington was also the first appointed director and president of the Tuskegee institute. This allowed him to achieve greater accomplishments by allowing him the opportunity to establish many other public learning institutions in the rural areas where the graduates of Tuskegee Institute worked as teachers. He was able to achieve this through tireless of funds from willing benefactors. In fact by the time Booker T. Washington passed away in 1915, there was an approximate one and a half million US dollars in the Tuskegee Foundation (Washington et al, 2007).
According to Scott and Stowe (2008), Booker T. Washington, apart from writing several books which are read and referred to by many scholars and academicians to date, was also bale to achieve the great honor of being the very first African American individual to be invited by the then US president Theodore Roosevelt into the White House in 1901. To the millions of African Americans who were subjected to intense discrimination and prejudice by the white Americans, this invitation was an indication that there was still hope that one day, they would not be judged by the color of their skins, but by their content of their character. Booker T. Washington, one of the most re4nowed African American leaders of all time passed away in the year 1915 after collapsing due to exhaustion and was buried at the Tuskegee institute of Alabama which he had headed for many years.
In conclusion, it is indeed non-fallacious to assert that Dr. Booker T. Washington was one of the greatest American men to have lived during his time. His actions and services affected, not only the black people from his own race but also the whites. Despite living in an era that was concentrated with intense racial discrimination, forced servitude and infringement of the African American’s human and civil rights, Washington was able to campaign for education to be made accessible to his people. The industrial education which he fought so hard to make accessible to the blacks was very instrumental in the enhancement of agriculture and commerce in America. Unlike many educated blacks of his time, Dr. Washington was never swayed by greed and the pursuit of implausible dreams; he walked in humility and meekness before his creator always sticking to his principles even when the circumstances around him were harsh and unfavorable.
According to Washington et al (2007) one of the most important accomplishment of Booker T. Washington is the fact that he enabled the African American people of his race to understand the tenets of civilization as well as the fundamental importance of education. He opened the eyes of his people to the realization that a race’s journey upwards is not an easy, straightforward and instant one but one which requires a lot of patience, endurance and most of all sacrifice.
Puryear, M. (1996): ‘Ladder for Booker T. Washington, 1941’
Scott, E. J. and Stowe, L. B. (2008): ‘Booker T. Washington Builder of a Civilization’ Project Gutenberg
Washington, B. T. (1901): ‘Up From Slavery’ New York: Doubleday
Washington , B. T., Du Bois, W. E. B., Chesnutt, C. W., Smith, W. H. Kealing, H. T., Dunbar, P. L. and Fortune, T. T. (2007): ‘The Negro Problem’ The Pennsylvania State University