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Booker T. Washington

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There has been much debate over Booker T. Washington and the effectiveness of his work at Tuskegee Institute. Some believe that he was a pioneer for black education in a time when few had the opportunity. Others believe that his conformity to the white ideal of what a black man should be hindered his ability to create real social change for his race. In his autobiography, Up From Slavery, Washington maps out his life from its humble beginnings as a slave up through the success of his school, Tuskegee Institute. He is quick to drop names of the important white businessmen and prominent citizens to ensure their support for his school. However, he is also quick to push his students to be productive members of their society. Through closer examination, can Washington's true views shine through? Did he win victories for his race through playing by the rules of white society or did he give in to their demands in pursuit of his own glory and "savior" status? Perhaps no one will ever know what was truly in his heart, but his public actions did not incite severe, complete, lasting social revelations for his African American brothers.

In his Tuskegee school, he promoted the value of labor and hard work. The students built every building on the campus and took pride in their labor. They learned to read and write and many other industrial skills while working around the campus. Washington stated in his autobiography,

My plan was to have them, while performing this service, taught the latest and best methods of labor, so that the school would not only get the benefit of their efforts, but the students themselves would be taught to see not only utility of labor, but beauty and dignity (Washington 103).

Washington restricted their education and kept them focused on the one skill he hoped would give them the opportunity to succeed.

This philosophy came from his belief that if the Negro could be viewed as economically essential first, then they would able to gain the respect needed to be socially and politically equal. Washington believed in "slow and natural growth" (Washington, 163) and that baby steps, beginning with industrial skill, would eventually bring America to egalitarianism. He sought to lay a "foundation of the race through a generous education of the hand, head, and heart" (Washington, 59). In order for the black race to first make an impact economically, they had to provide a service so essential to life that this action would demand respect. This respect for their economic value would then bleed into other aspects of life, socially and politically. Washington sought to provide the basis of this esteem that would lead to social equality.

This philosophy looked perfect on paper, but it had a number of problems. The students did not learn the importance of analysis and of thinking as an individual. They were not taught to examine a subject with a degree of scrutiny and make their own opinion on the subject. They did not learn about politics or the processes of voting. They did not learn of the history of the country in which they lived, worked and raised their children. These skills teach a student to think for themselves, form their own opinions, and force change, whether it being socially (for example, a race issue), economically (a new invention that would increase efficiency and wealth), or politically (a new way to interpret a law that pertains to their generation). Life is all about questioning those who came before you in order to improve your generation's ability to change the world for the better. Washington's plan of action did not allow the Negro to improve upon past generations. He taught them that being in service of someone else, other than you is honorable. Du Bios, Washington's public enemy said, "[The students] could become a strong labor force and properly guided they would restrain the unbridled demands of white labor" (Du Bois, 51). He taught them they were not worthy of getting an education to be a doctor or scientist or philosopher or historian. He only put value on the occupation that was most useful to the white dominant race and made it clear that they could not compete on the same level of intellect as their white counterparts, again making them inferior citizens, making them slaves to others' will.

Washington always kept the white man's opinions and expectations in mind when he gave his speeches, trying hard not to anger or offend those that gave the most money to his Institute. The basic statement, 'The negro will rise to the same level as the rest of white America' would have angered many, especially in the South. These people only a few years ago owned these people, whipped them, and worked them to the bone. These people just fought a war, giving up their sons, brothers, and fathers to keep the Negro in their subservient position. They lost. And now they are supposed to be on the same level as them? How did Washington draw their support and even get them excited about his cause? Like any other politician seeking power, he kept his audience in mind and appealed to their wishes and desires. He wrote in his autobiography, "I am made to feel just as happy now when I am rendering service to Southern white men as when the service is rendered to a member of my own race" (Washington, 115). One cannot serve two masters. He endlessly praised prominent white men of the South and was overjoyed at the invitations to speak at white institutions. When he visited Northern cities



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