“Booker T. Washington, a recognized leader, orator and educator, emerged from slavery in the deep south, to work for the betterment of African Americans in the post Reconstruction period. Washington reveals his inner most thoughts as he transitions from ex-slave to teacher and founder of one of...”see full review » see other reviews »
“The Preface, by William Andrews, a scholar of African-American literature, called the 1901 autobiography Up From Slavery "one of the few African-American texts that can be legitimately termed a classic" and its subject, Booker T. Washington, "one of the most controversial figures in African-American history." Some months ago I read the landmark 1952 novel of African-American literature by Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man. One of the characters, Bledsoe, is famously based upon Booker T. Washington, and the portrayal is scathing enough to strip paint. Washington has a reputation among some as an "Uncle Tom" and his vision famously conflicted with that of W.E.B. Du Bois. The Preface notes that Du Bois' critique "Of Booker T. Washington and Others" in the 1903 The Souls of Black Folk. signaled the beginning of the split on Washington within the African-American community and says that in Up From Slavery Washington wore a "minstrel mask."
I can understand why some respond negatively to the man. At one point, Washington claimed that "the black man got nearly as much out of slavery as the white man." In context though, it's clear he means rather Southern whites were also damaged by the institution--that slavery eroded the work ethic in the South, so that manual labor became something slaves did and was looked upon with derision. Washington also claimed at one point that the very experience of slavery had left American blacks stronger "materially, intellectually, morally and religiously" than their African brethren. He seemed to be protesting too much in constantly insisting on the good relations between black and white Southerners. (At one point claiming the Ku Klux Klan was extinct. Admittedly, I once watched a documentary that noted the organization was in fact greatly diminished after Reconstruction--they'd have a resurgence a decade or so later after the book's publication.) And the praise of his Northern white benefactors seemed a bit...fulsome--and shameless name-dropping. (Of course, probably hits me that way partly because it was the style of the times--this is the Victorian Era after all.) But over the course of the book, that did wear at me.
Of course, I do understand Washington was trying to influence a white audience in a time of eroding civil rights (thus the supposed "minstrel mask"). And never, ever did I get the impression either that Washington thought blacks weren't the equal of whites morally, socially or intellectually or that they should not be legally. It's clear Washington thought both slavery and segregation deeply immoral--even if at times I can understand why Du Bois said Washington pursued "an accommodationist strategy." In his famous Atlanta Exposition Address--which Du Bois called the "Atlanta Compromise," Washington, to the applause of white Southerners, said "in all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress." It's hard to disagree with Du Bois who saw Washington as ceding too much in rejecting political power and not insisting on equal civil rights--and irked at his sometimes anti-intellectualism in his insistence of an "industrial" (think vocational) education over a liberal arts higher education.
That's not to say that I don't think there isn't some value in what Washington has to say and what he accomplished. Du Bois wanted to depend on the training up the "talented tenth" into an intellectual elite and saw political power as key to gaining equal civil rights. Washington argued for economic power through self-reliance, a strong work ethic, and practical vocational education. This isn't just a black issue. I can see echoes of this argument today in contemporary debates on poverty and education. And I can understand why after witnessing the transient and seemingly futile period of black office-holding after Reconstruction, Washington might feel the political route was premature and unreliable as a way of progress. And with the Tuskegee Institute situated right in Alabama, Washington was right in the belly of the beast--in the heart of the once slave-holding Confederacy. He may have felt in conceding on civil rights (if concede he did) he wasn't giving up anything within his reach.
Beyond the political issues, this is at times a fascinating piece of history, particularly in the first 50 pages or so of the 146-page book dealing with the young Washington and his memories of slavery and the Reconstruction Era and his efforts to gain an education. The first paragraph reminded me of the opening of Frederick Douglas' slave narrative. Like Douglas, Washington didn't know his own date of birth. Douglas explained that was something slave owners deliberately tried to deny slaves. Also like Douglas, Washington heard rumors his father was white but didn't know him personally. Washington's lifetime took him from slavery to the Civil War through Reconstruction to Jim Crow. It's more later on, when he started to relate the building of the Tuskegee Institute that something about Washington's style started to grate on me, and much of the account began to be tedious. (Goodness, you wouldn't believe Washington's ode to the toothbrush!) Which is a shame, because as William Andrews noted, this is the story of "a former slave who became the most powerful African-American of this era." He started Tuskegee Institute from a "shanty" and a "hen house" and from it built a great American educational institution. But something felt lacking, absent. Maybe Washington himself. There seemed little introspection or humor or even anything really personal at all in his voice. I get why Andrews feels Washington wore a mask, and it takes close reading and outside information to get it to slip a bit to see the complex man underneath. That's where I did find this Norton Critical Edition, which included essays on Washington, including the famous critique by Du Bois, invaluable. It makes rating this book difficult. I do feel this is worth reading as a piece of history--but as a biography it left me feeling decidedly ambivalent.”
“Up From Slavery, An Autobiography by Booker T. Washington
Up from Slavery
An autobiography by Booker T. Washington
This book is refreshing, encouraging, and very unlike the typical southern cultural stories I have heard or read in the last few years. Booker T. Washington, who, himself was a slave at a very young age details the struggles, and perseverance he and his family went through to overcome . I found the book online while researching some historical documents for Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Professor Washington was not only a scholar, but an extremely articulate and disciplined student himself. He was a life long learner and tells his story of growing up in extreme poverty, living in a house with a dirt floor, and clapboards so thin that he said that a cat could go in and out of the house without being helped. Washington had a deep work ethic, such a great love for learning that he would get up at 4:00 a.m. and go to work in the salt furnace (mines) in the small town in Virginia to please his dad and help with family expenses. At 9:00 a.m. He would go to school in a one room school and then straight back to the mines after school. This became his daily routine until he he graduated.
He had no money for coats,clothes, or shoes, and was accepted at The Hampton Institute with only a few dollars in his pocket. During his years at Hampton Institute, he learned that his dependence was not in money but in God and that he could trust in His sovereignty.
The professor had no bias against poverty, the white race, or the rich, or the educated. He recognized that he was a fast learner and that if he could learn, he had a responsibility to help other poor white and blacks regain their dignity and make a change in their lives. With the help of several north eastern colleges, scholars, and philanthropists who believed in him, he was appointed to open a sister school much like The Hampton Institute, but it would be in Tuskegee, Alabama, an area outside of Birmingham.
This was an amazing and inspirational story of the pursuit of excellence and hope for himself and his race. Professor Washington was a godly man and believed he had a call on his life to transition America from the slave states it had become to a more disciplined and educated America where work and respect for others and God was the rule and not the exception. It was an amazing and inspirational book and one that I know I will read again and again.
Interest Level: Middle School to adult
Grade Level Equivalent: Not Available
DRA: Not available
Lexile Value 1320L
Washington, B. T. (1901). Up from slavery. New York, NY: Doubleday. Retrieved September 14,
2013, from http://www.bartleby.com/1004/”
“Booker T. Washington, a recognized leader, orator and educator, emerged from slavery in the deep south, to work for the betterment of African Americans in the post Reconstruction period. Washington reveals his inner most thoughts as he transitions from ex-slave to teacher and founder of one of the most important schools for African Americans in the south, The Tuskegee Industrial Institute. Great classic.”Bev wrote this review Monday, August 5, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Very interesting read. I did not realize the extent of the school at Tuskegee Al. Very good.”Birdie wrote this review Saturday, July 13, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“summer 2013”GiacomoS wrote this review Monday, June 10, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“1st Non-fiction book”Skyler wrote this review Wednesday, May 29, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“I recommend this book for anyone in leadership.”Antoinette Robinson wrote this review Tuesday, January 29, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Booker T. Washington was the founder of the Tuskegee Institute. http://www.tuskegee.edu/about_us/legacy_of_leadership/booker_t_washington.aspx http://www.hamptonu.edu/about/notable_alumni.cfm 8-9 "On several occasions when I was forced to wear a new flax shirt, he [his brother] generously agreed to put it on my stead and wear it for several days, till it was 'broken in.'" 10-11 "I have said that there are few instances of a member of my race betraying a specific trust. One of the best illustrations of this which I know of is in the case of an ex-slave from Virginia whom I met not long ago in a little town in the state of Ohio. I found that this man had made a contract with his master, two or three years previous to the Emancipation Proclamation, to the effect that the slave was to be permitted to buy himself, by paying so much per year for his body; and while he was paying for himself, he was to be permitted to labour where and for whom he pleased. Finding that he could secure better wages in Ohio, he went there. When freedom came, he was still in debt to his master some three hundred dollars. Notwithstanding that the Emancipation Proclamation freed him from any obligation to his master, this black man walked the greater portion of the distance back to where his old master lived in Virginia, and placed the last dollar, with interest, in his hands. In talking to me about this, the man told me that he knew that he did not have to pay the debt, but that he had given his word to his master, and his word he had never broken. He felt that he could not enjoy his freedom till he had fulfilled his promise." 12 "Ever since I have been old enough to think for myself, I have entertained the idea that, notwithstanding the cruel wrongs inflicted upon us, the black man got nearly as much out of slavery as the white man did. The hurtful influences of the institution were not by any means confined to the Negro. This was fully illustrated by the life upon our own plantation. The whole machinery of slavery was so constructed as to cause labour, as a rule, to be looked upon as a badge of degradation, of inferiority. Hence labour was something that both races on the slave plantation sought to escape. The slave system on our place, in a large measure, took the spirit of self-reliance and self-help out of the white people. My old master had many boys and girls, but not one, so far as I know, ever mastered a single trade or special line of productive industry. The girls were not taught to cook, sew, or to take care of the house. All of this was left to the slaves. The slaves, of course, had little personal interest in the life of the plantation, and their ignorance prevented them from learning how to do things in the most improved and thorough manner. As a result of the system, fences were out of repair, gates were hanging half off the hinges, doors creaked, window-panes were out, plastering had fallen but was not replaced, weeds grew in the yard. As a rule, there was food for whites and blacks, but inside the house, and on the dining room table, there was wanting that delicacy and refinement of touch and finish which can make a home the most convenient, comfortable, and attractive place in the world. Withal there was a waste of food and other materials which was sad. When freedom came, the slaves were almost as well fitted to begin life anew as the master, except in the matter of book-learning and ownership of property. The slave owner and his sons had mastered no special industry. They unconsciously had imbibed the feeling that manual labour was not the proper thing for them. On the other hand, the slaves, in many cases, had mastered some handicraft, and none were ashamed, and few unwilling, to labour." 31,2-3 Mrs. Ruffner's helping build the habit of neatness 49,2 labor and results of the labor organizer's strikes 61 "Some of them, like the late Senator B. K. Bruce, Governor Pinchback, and many others, were strong, upright, useful men. Neither were all the class designated as carpetbaggers dishonorable men. Some of them, like ex-Governor Bullock, of Georgia, were men of high character and usefulness." 68 "The temptation often is to run each individual through a certain educational mould, regardless of the condition of the subject or the end to be accomplished. This was not so at Hampton Institute." 86 "Mr Campbell [an ex-slaveholder] is a merchant and banker, and had had little experience in matters pertaining to education. Mr. Adams was a mechanic, and had learned the trades of shoemaking, harness-making, and tinsmithing during the days of slavery. He had never been to school a day in his life, but in some way had learned to read and write while a slave." 94 "When they saw that I was not afraid or ashamed to work, they began to assist with more enthusiasm." 119 weak and strong 124 it is the students' school 138 letter to Carnegie 188-9 Health 202 value creation 225-227 economic progress 227 schedule ”M. Leppa wrote this review Wednesday, January 23, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“In my collection for years, how many I don't know, I finally decided to give this book a try. What an amazing story, during an amazing time in our history. Is some ways his story dispelled a few myths I believe I held about life in the South during and after Reconstruction. Certainly a testament to the ideal that hard work and perseverance lead to success ... I don't know if I have ever met anyone who graduated from the Tuskegee Institute or University, but if and when that day comes I will show some appreciation and respect for their connection to Booker T. Washington.”BeeBee wrote this review Tuesday, January 22, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No