I was inspired to read this book because I had read somewhere that Marcus Garvey was greatly inspired after reading it in 1914, this little book influenced Marcus Garvey to go on and accomplish tremendous things. I have re-read this book many times and I think by far my greatest satisfaction is the fear that it drives through the white people around me. Never have I been treated so favorably by the while race as when I am carrying this little book. A white man is generally intimidated by a black man with a book, because he knows more than anyone that there is great power in knowledge. I wish more of us would acknowledge this fact.
I did not know how my life would be changed by reading this book but I felt it was my duty to read it. I truthfully did not draw such great inspiration from this book as Marcus Garvey did on my first read. Don’t get me wrong, this book sends many great messages to the black and surprisingly the white race but it did not initially move me to make dramatic changes in my life and by extension the world around me. However, it wasn’t until my second or third read that I grew to finally appreciate and accept what the book offered:
1. The book gives a great account of the author’s life. It takes you through his life as a slave, emancipation from slavery while still a small child, his painstaking effort to be educated, his life as a great teacher and founder of “The Tuskegee Institute in Alabama” and many other great accomplishments. Washington is recognized worldwide as one of the most influential spokesman for African Americans and this autobiographic novel helps you see his progression.
2. This book is multi-cultural; Washington commends the white race and repeatedly highlights the tremendous support he received from them, particularly the southern whites. However, I was a little perplexed as to the passive manner of the author having endured numerous discriminations throughout the book. He seemed to be unbelievably silent about major issues, such as racial segregation, forced disenfranchisement, violence against black people (lynching), and violent racial uprisings in the south. But in the latter parts of the book I stumbled upon this sentence and it helped me to understand the man a little better “I would permit no man, no matter what his color might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him. I pity from the bottom of my heart any individual who is so unfortunate as to get into the habit of holding race prejudice.” And in the end I don’t know if I am courageous enough to be half the man he was in this regard.
3. The book speaks to the great determination of the black race to become educated after emancipation. I so wish that I could see such a determination among present day Africans displaced around the world. Because I know many won’t even get to this sentence in this review (intimidated by its length) and many more will never read this book.
4. Lastly, though heavily criticized for this, the book emphasizes vocational training as well as liberal education among Africans. Washington encouraged the black man to take pride in occupations such as farming, carpentry, brick making instead of focusing only on occupations in finance, law and medicine. “The individual who can do something that the world wants done," said Washington, "will, in the end, make his way regardless of his race”. He did not want his students to grow too proud to use their hands, and he desired to teach them the beauty and dignity of labor. He also acknowledged that the mass of people cannot all make their livings as doctors and lawyers and intellectuals. "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
This book was, a best-seller, and remained the most popular African American autobiography until that of Malcolm X. In 1998, the Modern Library listed the book at #3 on its list of the 100 best nonfiction books of the 20th century.
About the Author
Booker Taliaferro Washington (April 5, 1856 – November 14, 1915) was an African-American educator, author, orator, and advisor to presidents of the United States. Washington, as the guest of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1901, was the first African American ever invited to the White House. Between 1890 and 1915, Washington was the dominant leader in the African-American community. Washington was of the last generation of black American leaders born into slavery and became the leading voice of the former slaves and their descendants, who were newly oppressed by disfranchisement and the Jim Crow discriminatory laws enacted in the post-Reconstruction Southern states in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1895 his Atlanta compromise called for avoiding confrontation over segregation and instead putting more reliance on long-term educational and economic advancement in the black community.
His base was the Tuskegee Institute, a historically black college in Alabama. As lynching in the South reached a peak in 1895, Washington gave a speech in Atlanta that made him nationally famous. The speech called for black progress through education and entrepreneurship. His message was that it was not the time to challenge Jim Crow segregation and the disfranchisement of black voters in the South. Washington mobilized a nationwide coalition of middle-class blacks, church leaders, and white philanthropists and politicians, with a long-term goal of building the community's economic strength and pride by a focus on self-help and schooling. Secretly, he supported court challenges to segregation. Black militants in the North, led by W.E.B. DuBois, at first supported the Atlanta Compromise but after 1909 set up the NAACP and tried to challenge Washington's political machine for leadership in the black community. Decades after Washington's death in 1915, the Civil Rights movement generally moved away from his policies to take the more militant NAACP approach.
Booker T. Washington mastered the nuances of the political arena in the late 19th century which enabled him to manipulate the media, raise money, strategize, network, pressure, reward friends and distribute funds while punishing those who opposed his plans for uplifting blacks. His long-term goal was to end the disfranchisement of the vast majority of African Americans living in southern states, where most of the millions of black Americans still lived.
Washington wrote 14 books; his autobiography, Up From Slavery, first published in 1901, is still widely read today. During a difficult period of transition, he did much to improve the working relationship between the races. His work greatly helped blacks to achieve higher education, financial power and understanding of the U.S. legal system. This contributed to blacks' attaining the skills to create and support the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, leading to the passage of important federal civil rights laws.
Read more about Booker T Washington;
Up From Slavery is available from Amazon.com in paperback for $7.16 USD, link below.