In Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery, I read Chapter 16, “Europe.” In this chapter, Booker T. Washington talks about his pride in his children, his sadness at not being able to spend a lot of time with them, his paid trip to Europe, the famous people he met (i.e., Mark Twain, ex-President Benjamin Harrison, etc.), and the gracious reception he received from several people, including white Southerners. After he read about Frederick Douglass’ ill-treatment on a ship, and compared that to the treatment that he himself received, Booker T. Washington marvels, “And yet there are people who are bold enough to say that race feeling in America is not growing less intense!”
This reminded me of Jesse Owens on the Jesse Owens Story, when Jesse Owens was talking to a prominent organization of African-Americans who championed Tommie Smith and John Carlos, Olympic winners who gave a Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics. Jesse Owens wanted Smith and Carlos to deliver a formal apology, but the African-American organization thought they should stick to their guns, to protest the discrimination that African-Americans continued to experience. Jesse Owens then talked about the advancement that African-Americans had made, and the organization dismissed that as not good enough. “But it’s a beginning!”, Jesse Owens replied. Jesse Owens, like Booker T. Washington (whom he admired), wanted to focus on the progress that African-Americans had made, and did not desire for African-Americans to alienate white society through a provocative statement of protest.
But back to Booker T. Washington’s trip to Europe! Washington gives his impression of the French and the English. For some reason, he views the French as a foil for the African-American race:
“The love of pleasure and excitement which seems in a large measure to possess the French people impressed itself upon me. I think they are more noted in this respect than is true of the people of my own race. In point of morality and moral earnestness I do not believe that the French are ahead of my own race in America. Severe competition and the great stress of life have led them to learn to do things more thoroughly and to exercise greater economy; but time, I think, will bring my race to the same point. In the matter of truth and high honour I do not believe that the average Frenchman is ahead of the American Negro; while so far as mercy and kindness to dumb animals go, I believe that my race is far ahead. In fact, when I left France, I had more faith in the future of the black man in America than I had ever possessed.”
Then there’s the following puzzling statement about the English:
“On various occasions Mrs. Washington and I were the guests of Englishmen in their country homes, where, I think, one sees the Englishman at his best. In one thing, at least, I feel sure that the English are ahead of Americans, and that is, that they have learned how to get more out of life. The home life of the English seems to me to be about as perfect as anything can be. Everything moves like clockwork. I was impressed, too, with the deference that the servants show to their ‘masters’ and ‘mistresses,’—terms which I suppose would not be tolerated in America. The English servant expects, as a rule, to be nothing but a servant, and so he perfects himself in the art to a degree that no class of servants in America has yet reached. In our country the servant expects to become, in a few years, a ‘master’ himself. Which system is preferable? I will not venture an answer.”
This is odd, coming from a former slave.
And, while Booker T. Washington often champions hard work and talks about his busy schedule, he admires the English for their slow-pace:
“The Englishmen, I found, took plenty of time for eating, as for everything else. I am not sure if, in the long run, they do not accomplish as much or more than rushing, nervous Americans do.”
Yet, this is not necessarily a contradiction of other things that Booker T. Washington has written in this book. Washington admires the thoroughness of the English, and he himself talks about the value of being thorough in one’s work. Moreover, Washington has talked about patience.
Booker T. Washington refers to a famous African-American painter he met, Henry C. Tanner, then he launches into his usual lecture about how African-Americans can be received by white society if they do quality work, for all races respect that.
And so this chapter contains Booker T. Washington’s customary optimism, along with some other interesting (and sometimes puzzling) thoughts.