Thursday, October 6, 2016

Book Review: "Up From Slavery" by Booker T. Washington

There is so much I don't really know about the Civil War and Slavery and the Civil Rights Movement.  I know (some of) the facts as presented to me in high school American History classes...  many years ago.  So reading this book is part of my re-education if you will.

Booker T. Washington was born a slave and freed at the end of the Civil War when he was a boy.  His family, like so many Southern Black families at the time, were dirt poor.  But Washington saw the advantages of having an education, and so did everything he could to go to a good school that would teach him usable skills.  From there he saw that education would be the way to help raise up his entire race in the South.  Washington founded the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama which was a boarding school for Black Men and Women where they would study both "normal" subjects as well as an industry so as to have marketable skills at the time of graduation.  Washington's hope was that his newly educated graduates would spread through the South and raise their situation with their knowledge of the latest technology in agriculture or brick making or construction.  This would raise the status of the Black people.

To run the school, though, Washington had to continually raise funds and ask for donations, often from wealthy whites in the North.  In fact, a good portion of this book is name dropping those who donated and how much they gave and I wonder if that wasn't part of the transaction.  Combined with the fundraising was the speaking engagements (which he often did for money) which led to name dropping those in attendance.  I know I'm looking at this from my comfy home in 2016, so I needed to remind myself what a HUGE deal it was back then to have a black man address an audience of whites and blacks together.  Or for him to speak to such highly placed people in the government.

I started this book way back in June, but had to put it down for a bit and ended up reading Gone With The Wind before coming back to finish.  Putting these two books together by total accident was kind of a happy accident.  In thinking about how terribly black people were portrayed in GWTW, I almost expected something of the reverse in this book.  A few times early on, Washington does recount a couple instances  where he was the victim of racism and prejudice.  But he just seems to take it as 'this is just how it is sometimes' and doesn't express the anger that I would have expected (or felt in his situation).  He wants to raise his community, his race, using education to make them valuable to the whites and other blacks and in that way "solve" the issues.  He doesn't make issue with the white community being wrong in the first place.  And I'm afraid that he wasn't taking a harder stance against the racism that was prevalent at the time because he was afraid of offending his rich while donors from the North.  Of course, this is all conjecture, and I am probably saying this all wrong.  But I guess I'm just suspicious of this being a true account of everything he dealt with and of everything he felt.  But even so, he created a wonderful school that really did do much to educate and help Southern Blacks following the Civil War.

Up From Slavery
by Booker T. Washington
Modern Library, 1999.  First published 1900.
220 pages
Source:  Purchased used


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