Booker T. Washington opened the door for Black excellence in America

The mass education of blacks in America is Washington’s greatest achievement.

Booker T. Washington, was born as an American slave on a plantation on 

April 5, 1856, in Franklin County, Virginia. He was freed after the Civil War and became dazzled at the idea of education so much so that he walked 500 miles to the nearest negro school: the Hampton Institute. After his education, he made it his life’s work to lift up the black population of America.

Washington documents his life story in the famous autobiography, Up From Slavery. He writes of his life starting as a lowly slave, all the way up to the peak of his education and civil rights career. By far the most important conceit of his legacy was his commitment to the growth of 19th and 20th century black man, woman, and child. Booker T. Washington’s main contribution to this conceit was the creation of the Tuskegee Institute of Alabama. The school specialized in educating the poor African American population of the rural south, and it was entirely made through the hard work of Washington and his second wife, Olivia Davidson. The mass education of blacks in America is Washington’s greatest achievement.

Up From Slavery contains a few notable themes that define its significance. 

Among these is the importance of education, natural racial progress, social contribution, and the American Dream. All of these themes relate to upbringing of the modern African American society. They serve to illustrate Washington’s intent: to bring the newly freed men ‘up from slavery.’

The first theme, Importance of Education, is an integral part of the book. 

Through the Tuskegee Institute, Washington was able to educate and ‘civilize’ African Americans up to the white societal standards of the 19th century. In Washington’s honest belief, no black man, woman, or child will ever succeed if they don’t really know how. Washington founded this belief through self experience. After being freed from slavery as a child, he knew that he needed to learn in order to get a job and provide for his family. That is why he chose to hike over 500 miles to the nearest negro school: the Hampton School. In modern day America, basic education is sort of cheap in nature.

But back then, it was only way African Americans could survive.

Once he finished his education at the Hampton Institute, Washington realized that there was a concerning lack of black schools in America. He knew the value of education and how important it was that African Americans be educated. This the sole reason why he later founded the Tuskegee school in rural Alabama. This way, he could lift up his brothers and sisters like he did himself.

Through education, Washington hoped to bring African Americans up to the socioeconomic and cultural level of most white Americans. But in the second theme of the book, Washington acknowledges the value in bringing both races closer together socially. As time went on, the Tuskegee school became a vehicle for dissolving the racial barriers of the south. This came through words, and money.

An example of this racial progress is the general white acceptance of the Tuskegee Institute. Upon proclaiming to the public that a new African American school would be built in the area, white pushback was extremely limited, if not nonexistent. If such pushback did exist, one of the most prestigious black school in America would exist today.

The funding for the Tuskegee School came from various sources, especially donations. Washington often started donation drives in the local community to fund the school. On page 132 of Up From Slavery, he writes that “”a canvas was made among the people of both races for direct gifts of money. Both races saw benefit in the education of African Americans; thus, the Tuskegee school was a vehicle for racial progress.

The third theme of Up From Slavery is the idea of social contribution. With racial lines slowly dissolving due to Washington’s work in Alabama, it became evident that social contribution was becoming a measurable medium of personal success. Washington realized this, and preached to his students about how race isn’t as important as what do for yourself and others.

An example of this in the book is something from Washington’s own experiences. He cites an example where he was on a train conversing with a white woman about his work educating black youth and adults. A few white men noticed the ‘unusual’ situation, but instead they greeted Washington warmly. They acknowledged what Washington did to help African Americans, rather than making assumptions based on his color.

Booker T. Washington also loves to make the point that a person’s race is a much lower factor in determining self worth than their capability to contribute to society. A famous quote from his autobiography illustrates this idea perfectly. “Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.”

The last key theme of Up From Slavery is Washington’s founding of the Black American Dream. After providing the local community with a quality education and personal values, Washington decided to give them something to look up to. He used his own personal image to teach children how to make it in the United States. After all, there’s only one was to teach success: inspire it.

Booker T. Washington went from being a slave to the man in the suit. His pursuit of greatness and ability to achieve success was an inspiration to many African Americans in the 19th century. In fact, Washington was one of the first black men to ever do such a thing, and his students and readers of his autobiography wanted nothing more than to be him.

A key part in the curriculum of Tuskegee is labor skills. Washington urged students to learn basic skills in carpentry, sewing, agriculture, and other professions. Many African Americans despised Washington’s use of labor in the school because labor was often associated with the lower class. But Washington flipped this script. He showed his students that career skills are the best way for them to make money and accomplish the American Dream.

Up From Slavery and its various messages are extremely relevant in the 21st century. Education in impoverished areas is still extremely unreliable. Racial progress is only making gradual progress, even more than 150 years after Washington began his career. Social contribution is long overlooked for general prejudices about color.

And the black American Dream still hasn’t come to fruition for many black individuals. An example of Washington’s continuing beliefs is the growth of the modern black American family. From his start as a student to his renowned career as an educator, Booker T. Washington was focused on supporting others and lifting others up. A family is based on these principles, and the continuing growth of the black American family further preserves the ideas of Up From Slavery.

The dark side of Up From Slavery, racism, is still rearing its ugly head in the modern day. Hundreds of demonstrations protesting the current order of society have occurred in the last two years alone. Plus, the unwarranted killing of men like Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd are reminding people that not much has changed. The problems that Washington saw then still exist now.

The bottom line is this. Booker T. Washington opened the door for black excellence in America. He gave newly freed men, women, and children an academic identity. He pioneered the black American Dream, and gave African Americans a role model.

Up From Slavery is a testament to these achievements, and that is why this book is one of the most impactful autobiographies ever written.