“The Struggle for an Education”

In Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery, I read Chapter 3, “The Struggle for an Education.” It’s about the long, hard journey that Booker T. Washington made before he finally attended the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia.  Booker talks about the uncomfortable place where he had to sleep, how he worked hard at his jobs and impressed his employers (even the hard-to-please white ones), and how he one time couldn’t get accommodation at an inn on account of his race, and yet he was too tired at that time to be resentful, so he kept on looking for a place to stay.  His message may be that African-Americans should not give in to bitterness, but rather should trust God, count their blessings, work hard, and learn from others: that is the path to success.

Probably the part of the chapter that stuck out most to me was the final paragraph:

“And the officers and teachers, what a rare set of human beings they were! They worked for the students night and day, in season and out of season. They seemed happy only when they were helping the students in some manner. Whenever it is written—and I hope it will be—the part that the Yankee teachers played in the education of the Negroes immediately after the war will make one of the most thrilling parts of the history of this country. The time is not far distant when the whole South will appreciate this service in a way that it has not yet been able to do.”

I’m guessing that Booker T. Washington is talking about his experience with Reconstruction, in which Northerners assisted in the education of African-Americans.  If so, then his impression of Reconstruction is more positive than that of W.E.B. Du Bois, who acknowledged that Reconstruction alienated Southern whites and was rife with corruption.  Du Bois still acknowledged that Reconstruction was right to promote the education of African-Americans, however, and, in that, he overlaps with Booker T. Washington.

My opinion (for what its worth) is that both Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois were making some sort of outreach to white society, for the benefit of their fellow African-Americans.  They wanted a society in which whites and African-Americans could live together in harmony.  Booker T. Washington was acknowledging the kindness of Northern white people towards the African-American people.  And W.E.B. Du Bois was empathizing with Southern white anger towards Reconstruction in an attempt to build a bridge with Southern white society.

UPDATE: I peeked at Chapter 5 of Up from Slavery, which is specifically about Reconstruction, and saw that Washington had many criticisms of it.  So my first impression was off!

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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