“Black Race and Red Race”

In Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery, I read Chapter 6, “Black Race and Red Race.” Hampton was a school for African-Americans where Booker T. Washington attended, and then taught.  While Washington was teaching there, a leader of the school, General Armstrong (whom Washington praises in previous chapters) decided to educate Native Americans at Hampton.  Washington at first is nervous, for he realizes that many Native Americans had a contemptuous attitude towards African-Americans, as well as owned slaves prior to its abolition.  But, with time, Booker noticed that, like everyone else, the Native Americans responded well to good treatment, and a positive relationship was forged between the African Americans and Native Americans at Hampton.  And Booker also observed that the Native Americans learned quickly, as African-Americans had.  He may point this out to refute white bigotry, which presents non-white races as intellectually inferior.

Overall, Booker T. Washington is a lot more condemnatory of racial discrimination in this chapter than in the previous ones that I’ve read.  He says that “no white American ever thinks that any other race is wholly civilized until he wears the white man’s clothes, eats the white man’s food, speaks the white man’s language, and professes the white man’s religion.”  This appears to be a lament, even though, in Chapter 1, Washington says that slavery has civilized Africans.

Washington appears to praise white Southerners for their polite treatment of their former slaves and their descendants, maintaining that “My experience has been that the time to test a true gentleman is to observe him when he is in contact with individuals of a race that is less fortunate than his own.”  He then refers to an incident in which George Washington politely lifted his hat to an African-American, who had lifted his hat to him.  When Washington was criticized for this, he said, “Do you suppose that I am going to permit a poor, ignorant, coloured man to be more polite than I am?”  I’m not sure if Booker was criticizing George Washington in this story, but the story certainly doesn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy about George Washington!  I wonder if Booker is being sarcastic.

Booker also notes that Native Americans and visitors from foreign countries are treated better in America than African-Americans.  I’m not sure why the situation was like that, or how this point fits into Booker T. Washington’s wider argument.  But it was an odd situation, and tragic, since white society regarded African-Americans as really low.  Perhaps Booker was demonstrating the absurdity of white racism.

But Booker T. Washington encourages African-Americans in this chapter, for he says that they can he happy that at least they don’t mistreat other races as white society does.  He closes his chapter with an inspiring story about good students at Hampton, who worked hard all day, and then took night classes.  They were so eager to learn that there were times when they wanted the class to go beyond their bed-times.  Washington called them the “Plucky Class,” which became a term of honor at Hampton, to which students aspired.

Something else to note: Booker expresses ambivalence about political office.  When he was asked to run, he declined, and his reason was that “Even then I had a strong feeling that what our people most needed was to get a foundation in education, industry, and property, and for this I felt that they could better afford to strive than for political preferment.”  At the same time, he says that he hoped to prepare the way for African-American Congressmen.  On the one hand, Booker wants African-Americans to be politically active.  On the other hand, he seems to hold that their economic advancement and their training for industry is more of a priority.  W.E.B. Du Bois’ concern was that Booker sacrificed his belief in African-American political activity for his goal of helping them to advance economically.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. 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. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also 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.
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