Born into slavery in Virginia in 1856, post-emancipation Booker T. Washington was working in the West Virginia coal mines when he heard about the Hampton Institute. Around age 16 he journeyed 500 miles, experiencing prejudice and hunger, before arriving at the school. This story alone is enough to make a person ponder what they might do in order to be educated.
After finishing this book—well, honestly, the entire time I was reading it—I came to believe it should be required reading for every American youth by age 13. In a country where the dropout rate in 2014 was 6.5% (National Center for Education), this book (if they could read it) could slap some sense into people and keep them in school.
Horrors for those of you who don’t indulge in this practice, but my paperback is so dog-eared and notated that I couldn’t begin to include every gem that struck me or this post would be a serial.
What Mr. Washington went through to get his education was as astounding to me as the journey what Joe Rantz experienced in, “The Boys in the Boat” to get his high school and college degrees during the Great Depression.
The development of the Tuskegee Institute and what students, faculty and the community did to bring this school into fruition is an amazing achievement. Who today has the same stamina to do the hard work to produce these results?
Read about Tuskegee University, but let me throw out the following statistics:
Today, the university is privately run, has over 3,000 on campus students, 900 faculty and support staff, includes 5,000 acres and 70 buildings. I think Booker T. would be proud of the growth of his legacy.
Here are a few of the highpoints of this humbling book.
Chapter – Helping Others:
“At Hampton I not only learned that it was not a disgrace to labour, but learned to love labour, not alone for its financial value, but of labour’s own sake and for the independence and self-reliance…”
And sadly, a few pages later: “To-day there are no such organizations (sic Ku Klux) in the South, and the fact that such ever existed is almost forgotten by both races.” If only it was so today.
Chapter – Black Race and Red Race:
Washington recalls a story about Frederick Douglass, where Mr. Douglass was traveling on a train and regulated to the baggage car. (Even though he was the Honorary Mr. Douglass by this time.) Someone apologized to him for the circumstance, for his degradation. Mr. Douglass said, “They cannot degrade Frederick Douglass. The soul that is within me no man can degrade. I am not the one that is being degraded on account of this treatment, but those who are inflicting it upon me.” We would be wise to remember this when speaking badly of someone.
Chapter – Making Their Beds:
The above sentiment is reflected when Mr. Washington says, “I learned that assistance given to the weak makes the one who gives it strong; and that oppression of the unfortunate makes one weak.”
In this same chapter, as he is talking about the evolution of the young Tuskegee Institute, he states, “Two or three times a year I ask the students to write me a letter criticizing or making complaints or suggestions about anything connected with the institution.” How many managers have you worked for who have had enough confidence to request this input?
Chapter – Raising Money:
“In order to be successful in any kind of undertaking, I think the main thing is for one to grow to the point where he completely forgets himself; that is, to lose himself in a great cause. In proportion as one loses himself in this way, in the same degree does he get the highest happiness out of his work.”
And finally, The Atlanta Exposition Address contains a part that really impacts:
“…it is only the little, narrow people who live for themselves, who never read good books, who do not travel, who never open up their souls in a way to permit them to come into contact with other souls—with the great outside world. No man whose vision is bounded by color can come into contact with what is highest and best in the world. In meeting men, in many places, I have found that the happiest people are those who do the most for others; the most miserable are those who do the least.”
Booker T. Washington’s words take thought and pondering. I spent a great deal of time wondering how we as a nation have come so far from the world that he observed and worked in.