Thursday, February 10, 2005

Booker T. Washington

During the last year or so I had bought one of his books, Up From Slavery. I would hope to get something out of it. So many have claimed him to be the equivalent of a conservative today if he were with us. After Frederick Douglass, he was one of the most prominent black leaders of his day. He dined with Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States. This was a scandalous event and while Washington was frequently asked for advice by the President, he was never invited back to the White House. Thanks to his connection to Presidents Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, Washington had access to patronage.

Mr. Washington was born in 1856 in Virginia. He was educated at Hampton Institute which provided him with the greatest influence that he sought to use what he learned at Hampton at the school he founded Tuskegee Institute in 1881. Both of those schools mainly emphasized industrial education. When Washington attended Hampton his trade was a janitor.

In my article on HBCUs, I mentioned that many HBCU presidents struggle with obtaining endowments. Mr. Washington had only a meager state appropriation but he had to raise some extra money mainly from white philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller.

Booker T. Washington did speak out against the injustices of living in the south at the turn of the century however he never pushed for civil and political equality with whites. He believed it was best to concentrate on developing the economic skills and character. Thus the burden of improvement were left on the shoulders of the black community. This idea was popular amongst many whites and for this idea Washington was known as the great accommodator. He gave this famous speech in 1895 called the Atlanta Compromise (I've yet to read the full text forgive me).

His main rival for the most part was WEB DuBois who sought a more aggressive push for equality. And by the time of his death in 1915 his leadership was on the decline in favor of WEB DuBois and his creation the NAACP.

I would just like to say that while Washington's racial philosophy did not survive the changes that were emerging before his death (mainly black migration to the north), there are some who pretty much use Booker T. Washington as their standard. Mainly a man born in Alabama who is currently based out of Los Angeles, California named Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson.

BTW, I will read his book. I'll let you know what I think and maybe there are some lessons to be learned there.


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