Since its publishing in 1901, Booker T. Washington’s “Up From Slavery” still draws criticism from those claiming to have the interest of black folks in mind.
Reading the book, however, leaves no room to question Washington’s true allegiance to the progression of his people.
“At the bottom of education, at the bottom of politics, even at the bottom of religion, there must be for our race economic independence,” said Washington.
This quote summates the basis of Washington’s life work. He stressed the importance of a black race that was economically viable, in which social and political influence would follow thereafter. At no time in the history of black people in America does this sentiment hold true.
Even after 145 years free of physical bondage, 45 and 46 years after the respective signings of the Civil Rights, and Voting Right Acts, blacks in general are still unemployed in large numbers. To date, there is still a disparity in the amount of wealth black Americans possess.
Unlike W.E.B. DuBois, who castigated his views a century ago, Washington left his people with more than just pedantic rhetoric.
Washington founded and built the Tuskegee Institute in 1881, which still educates young blacks trying to improve their plights. Tuskegee and other black colleges still hold true to providing the skills blacks need to assimilate into mainstream culture.
Among Washington’s controversial views, his thoughts on race relations came under the most scrutiny.
“I shall allow no man to belittle my soul by making me hate him,” Washington said of white southerners, some of whom were vitriolic toward his mission.
Washington did not waste time trying to change his opponent’s minds through aimless protest and denunciations about white people.
Instead, he used his undeniable talents and credentials to sway their attitudes. These talents proved successful in the “Atlanta Compromise” speech he delivered 115 years ago at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta.
Washington died at 59, after being urged to rest his weary body after years of hard work and philanthropy.
Even in death, he declined to accept verbal gratitude from the thousands of people he helped uplift from the dark inexorable pit of slavery.
“Up From Slavery” will provide motivation for even the most downtrodden black American today.
His journey from a mere piece of property to joining the ranks of the elite is an impetus for success in anyone. For a man who was not to be counted as a full man in this country, his story truly harnesses the American spirit.
Washington used his talents and ambition to change his environment, a concept still lacking in blacks a half-century after his death.
“Dignify and glorify common labor. It is at the bottom of life that we must begin, not at the top,” Washington said.