Not Much on Segregation?

In Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery, I read Chapter 15, “The Secret of Success in Public Speaking.”

This chapter covered a lot of topics.  It’s like “Everything you wanted to know about Booker T. Washington” (my words): his hobbies, what he likes to read, the games he likes to play, how he takes short power naps, how he enjoyed molasses on Sundays when he was a kid, etc.

His advice on public speaking is essentially what my Dad told me one time: have something to say!  Also, speak from the heart.  My problem in the days when I was delivering sermons was that I didn’t have anything to say!  Or let me say this: I wasn’t enthusiastic about preaching what the church liked to emphasize (e.g., evangelism).  Plus, my own spiritual house was not in order, so how could I tell others what to do?  And so I really couldn’t speak from the heart, either.  But those were the days when I felt that I had to believe in a certain way, and I wasn’t overly comfortable with the doctrines I thought I had to accept.  It’s one thing to believe in doctrines because I think that I have to accept them, since they’re from God.  It’s another thing entirely for me to become enthusiastic about proclaiming those doctrines, especially when I feel that there’s no evidence for them that would convince anyone who doesn’t already believe in them.  Often, it seemed that churches and Christian movements were trying to pressure me to do precisely that.

But Booker T. Washington had something to say.  He had strong ideas about the advancement of African-Americans, based on his experience.  And he thought that the advancement of African-Americans coincided with the well-being of society as a whole—an attitude that I also encountered when reading W.E.B. Du Bois.  So he was sharing something valuable.

On my blog, do I have something to say?  To be honest, I really don’t care.  I like to write, and so I write.  I don’t need to justify my blog’s existence to anyone, including myself.  I doubt that the world would be a worse place if people did not read my posts on, say, biblical criticism.  But, all in all, I do find a need to express myself—at the very least for my own benefit.  And I hope also that people can get from my blog that things aren’t clear-cut all of the time—that there are shades of gray.

One line that stood out to me in my reading was James Creelman’s quote of a speech by Booker T. Washington, which said, “In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”  Was Booker T. Washington tolerating segregation?  After I read that quote, I asked myself, “Have I read much about segregation in the writings of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois?”  To be honest, I don’t think that I have.  That’s my impression, and it could be wrong.  But it’s interesting that segregation—the issue that was at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s—does not loom large as an issue in the writings of two great African-American leaders at the turn of the century (the early 1900’s).

Both of them think that social interaction between the races is important, however.  W.E.B. Du Bois said that one problem that contributes to discriminatory attitudes is that whites and African-Americans do not really know one another; although Du Bois detests slavery, he points out that at least there was interaction between the races in slavery days (see here).  Booker T. Washington makes a similar point—when he reminds his white audiences that slaves fought to protect their masters and masters’ families.  And Booker T. Washington also encourages Tuskegee students to get to know their white neighbors, to seek their advice on how to vote, and to impress their white neighbors with their intelligent contribution to the larger community.  For Booker T. Washington, that is how African-Americans advance in society.  Throughout the book, Booker T. Washington talks about the morality of African-Americans because there is an attitude within white society that they, as a race, are immoral.  Washington actually says that in this chapter!  But Washington believes that white society does not really know African-Americans.

Back to the issue of segregation.  Come to think of it, there are times when Du Bois and Washington talk about African-Americans being excluded from certain things (e.g., hotels, etc.) on account of their race.  Du Bois tells these sorts of stories with an attitude of sadness and dejection, whereas Washington tries to maintain his sunny “Don’t let this get you down” attitude (my words).  But, overall, my impression is that both of them focus on African-American success, rather than the integration of African-Americans into white society.  Du Bois desires that African-Americans vote so that white society is not unjustly infringing upon their progress through legal means, and Washington encourages African-Americans to learn skills so as to become self-supporting.  It’s a somewhat insular approach, and yet Du Bois and Washington are emphatic that such is not the case, for they believe that African-Americans have, can, and should contribute to all of society—African-American, white, etc.

This is just my take on the two thinkers, and I could be mistaken.

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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