Blacks, Confederates, and Europeans united around Tuskegee

Cover of "Up From Slavery"Cover of Up From SlaveryI hope everyone has a chance to read Up From Slavery, by Booker Taliaferro Washington.  In this autobiography, Washington masterfully illustrates the struggles faced by the 1st generation freedmen.  He also puts into effect principles of work and faith and community with people of all races.

I cannot help but think how fortunate we would be in the world today if we would remember in all cases to apply those same principles.  Washington was able to inspire former Confederate soldiers as well supporters from the North and abroad to embrace his efforts to establish and support Tuskegee.  Up From Slavery helped me to learn more about what life was like for the emancipated slave in the South.

"I think that the whole future of my race hinges on the question as to whether or not it can make itself of such indispensable value that the people in the town and the state where we reside will feel that our presence is necessary to the happiness and well-being of the community. No man who continues to add something to the material, intellectual, and moral well-being of the place in which he lives is long left without proper reward. This is a great human law which cannot be permanently nullified." See Europe, Up From Slavery.

 Born a slave on a plantation in Franklin County, Virginia,  Washington was not sure if he was born in 1858 or 1859.  His mother was the cook for the entire plantation.  They had no floor in the cabin, and they slept on the ground with rags to protect them from exposure to the dirt floor.  Booker T. Washington was raised without his natural father.  Even though he had a very meager upbringing, he was able to raise himself and countless others to a very high station in life.

He did not let any obstacle keep him from getting an education.  He first gained the desire to do so after seeing white students seated together in a class during a time when negro children were not afforded that opportunity.  After overhearing fellow workers talk about Hampton Institute while working in a coal mine, Washington vowed he would do what he had to to attend school there.

He worked to get enough money to travel to Richmond by train. After he arrived, he was not allowed to stay in the same hotel as the other passengers.  That night he slept outside under a sidewalk.  He was able to find a job which provided him enough for food.  He continued to sleep under the sidewalk until he presented himself to be enrolled at Hampton.

As hard as times were in the South, they did not make Booker T. Washington hard.  He worked to pay for his schooling and was not able to visit his frail mother during the first two years.  He met every challenge with the attitude that they were opportunities to prove himself.  He found the good in everyone and looked upon those who mistreated him because of his race as the real victims.Booker T. Washington's house at TuskegeeBooker T. Washington Home at Tuskegee Image via Wikipedia 

He said that those who treated his race poorly would have a far worse time of recovering than the blacks who would be blessed to overcome their offenses far sooner than their offenders.  Booker T. Washington graduated  from Hampton and went on to establish Tuskegee Institute.  He was successful in garnering support from the community (white and black).  Mrs. Margaret James Murray Washington, his wife, secured many contributions for Tuskegee from people near and far.

Margaret Murray Washington in 1917; HeadshotMrs. Margaret James Murray Washington Image via Wikipedia
After many years, they took a three month vacation to Europe where they were treated with great dignity.  It was wonderful to read about Washington's account of his vacation and the American and European dignitaries they socialized with while traveling.

The book closes with Booker T. Washington receiving an honorary degree from Harvard University on the same occasion as Alexander Graham Bell.  Even with all his success, Washington's teachings and methods were criticized by W. E. B. Dubois.  To be fair, I will read Souls of Black Folk and weigh in at a later time.

As for now,  I am contemplating the qualities which I feel brought a former slave to the halls of Harvard on commencement day.

Please take the opportunity to read Up From Slavery if you have not, or read it again and share your thoughts on About Our Freedom Facebook community page.  These are a few of my own observations:

1.  He faced great trials and adversity, but he never lost sight of basic principles of work, self-reliance, and education. These principles served him well.

History class at Tuskegee, 1902
History Class at Tuskegee 1902.  Image Wikipedia.
2.  He helped to unite the members of the community (white and black), and he helped them to feel a part of Tuskegee.

3.  Being clean, polite, and exercising good manners was just important as education and practicing a livelihood.

4.  He helped the students take ownership of the school by providing them the opportunities to construct its buildings, plant its crops, and develop skills in other industries.

5.  He never took offense.  He often said that he was not the victim.  He never gave anyone that power.
History Class at Tuskegee.  Image via Wikipedia
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