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Featured Books

Featured Books

The Future of the American NegroSummary and Reviews of The Future of the American Negro
My Larger Education (An African American Heritage Book)Summary and Reviews of My Larger Education (An African American Heritage Book)
Working with the HandsSummary and Reviews of Working with the Hands
Up From SlaverySummary and Reviews of Up From Slavery
Selected Short Works of Booker T. Washington (Dodo Press)Summary and Reviews of Selected Short Works of Booker T. Washington (Dodo Press)
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Booker T. Washington

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Booker Taliaferro Washington (1856?-1915) literary work embodies the American Dream and the American concept of self-reliance.  Up from Slavery, Washington's autobiography, recounts his birth as a slave in the worst of circumstances.  His father was white, but no one knows who he was.  We do know he gave his no advantage over his other slaves.  Booker's mother, Jane, was the driving influence in his life.  The Civil War ended Booker's slavery at age nine, but not his hardship.  His mother moved him to West Virginia where her husband worked in the salt mines.  Booker himself was working in a salt furnace by the age of twelve, and though it was dangerous work, he did see reason for hope.

Washington attended night school and, thereby, became literate.  It was while working as a houseboy for Mrs. Viola Ruffner, the wife of a mine owner, that he had the opportunity for a regular education.  It was in his dealings with her that he began a pattern of gaining favor with white people who could help him better himself.  In 1872, he was admitted to Hampton Institute, a school for blacks and Indians.  He was a standout in academics but also learned how to lead by gaining favor.  Soon after graduating from Hampton Institute, he became a faculty member.  The Alabama Legislature asked the head of the Institute to recommend someone to lead a black school in Tuskegee, Alabama.  Washington was the chosen man for the job.

From then until the end of his life, Washington focused on three main things.  The first was Tuskegee Institute.  The second was his own standing has a leader of the black race in America.  The third was the advancement of his philosophy of black advancement through education and economic progress.  He believed that blacks advanced by gaining favor with white society.  His address at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta expounds this philosophy explicitly, and Up from Slavery demonstrates its results.

Tuskegee Institute provided a practical education-what we might call a vocational education today.  The emphasis on this type of education earned Washington a reputation as a realist as opposed to an idealist.  In his Atlanta address, he concentrated on the present and not the future.

Washington was more pragmatic than Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois, and the political ramifications of his philosophy were that the advantages of full citizenship, such as full voting rights.  This philosophy carried the majority of the black population, though, as reflected in the fact that Up from Slavery was the best-known book written by an African American for decades after its publication.  Up From Slavery combined and refined elements of Benjamin Franklin's and Frederick Douglass's autobiographies.  Washington's autobiography is a slave narrative, but he paints a picture of slavery much different than Douglass's.  Washington's picture of slavery is of an opportunity to learn not as an injustice to escape.  Washington modeled his life largely from Franklin and his ethical system.  However, some modern scholars see a much less altruistic motive behind Washington's rhetoric.  The debate continues.

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