Monday, August 22, 2016

Auntie's 2016 Bookworm Challenge 07

Book: Up From Slavery.

Author: Booker T. Washington

Info: Copyright 1993:  Avenel, New Jersey:  Gramercy Books (Originally Published  in 1901).

Where acquired: Library check out.

Rating (on a scale of 1-4 hashtags): # # # #

What it's about:  Washington chronicles his progression from slavery in Virginia to establishing the Tuskegee Normal School (now Tuskegee University) in Alabama.

Favorite Quotes:

"I have begun everything with the idea that I could succeed, and I never had much patience with the multitudes of people who are always ready to explain why one cannot succeed." p. 49.

"Among a large class there seemed to be a dependence upon the government for every conceivable thing.  The members of this class had little ambition to create a position for themselves, but wanted the federal officials to create one for them.  How many times I wished then, and have often wished since, that by some power of magic I might remove the great bulk of these people into the country districts and plant them upon the soil, upon the solid and never deceptive foundation of Mother Nature, where all nations and races that have ever succeeded have gotten their start--a start that at first may be slow and toilsome, but one that nevertheless is real."  - p. 66.

About the erection of the first official school building at Tuskegee:  "When it is considered that the laying of this cornerstone took place in the heart of the South, in the Black Belt, in the center of the part of our country that was most devoted to slavery; that at that time slavery had been abolished only about sixteen years; that only sixteen years before that no Negro could be taught from books without the teacher receiving the condemnation of the law or of public sentiment--when all this is considered, the scene that was witnessed on that spring day in Tuskegee was a remarkable one.  I believe there are few places in the world where it could have taken place." - pp. 105-106.

"My experience is that there is something in human nature which always makes an individual recognize and reward merit, no matter under what color of skin merit is found.  I have found too that it is the visible, the tangible, that goes a long way in softening prejudices." p. 113.

"Right here, perhaps, I ought to add that I make it a rule never to go before an audience on any occasion without asking the blessing of God upon what I want to say."  p. 157.

The entirety of Mr. Washington's Atlanta Exposition speech on pages 160-164.

"I believe that one always does himself and his audience an injustice when he speaks merely for the sake of speaking.  I do not believe that one should speak unless, deep down in his heart, he feels convinced that he has a message to deliver.  When one feels, from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head, that he has something to say that is going to help some individual or some cause, then let him say it; and in delivering his message I do not believe that many of the artificial rules of elocution can, under such circumstances, help him very much."  pp. 178-179.

What I Liked:
  • Washington's story reads like a documentary with some old fashioned common sense thrown in.
  • The authors victories and defeats were not sugar coated.  His writings expressed both a thorough enjoyment of the positive and the learning opportunities gleaned though the negative.  An example is the school's first attempts at brick making.  Several kilns failed, and Washington had to pawn a valuable watch to purchase materials for the kiln that finally succeeded.
  • Though more than 100 years old, Booker T. Washington's story of rising from obscurity to fame is an inspiration and encouragement to all, regardless of race.  The book was a delight to read.
  • Now that I've read this, I'd like to take a tour of Tuskegee University.
  • I already have an electronic copy of this tome.  I plan to make a hardcover edition a permanent part of my library. 
What I didn’t like: 
  • I was confused by a passage in chapter six.  Washington described a scene on a segregated train car in which a black man, who by all distinguishing features couldn't be identified as black, was easily identified as so by the conductor's looking at his feet.  Forgive my ignorance, but how is that possible if the man's feet were as pale as the rest of his skin?  Weird.
  • Statement on page 194:  "I have never seen a game of football."  Now, that's just sad.
  • Though I enjoyed the presentation of special events in his life, Washington lists way too many names.  Though I realize it is not, the listings read like filler material.
  • I would have liked to have heard about Mr. Washington's encounters with his students.  As a teacher, I know that there are some students who stand out among their peers.  Some anecdotal accounts of his teaching years would have been a great addition to the book.

Booker T. Washington
Some have criticized this book because Washington was willing to befriend and accept aid from anyone, no matter his race.  Washington's efforts were also criticized by some of his contemporaries, including W.E.B. DuBois, who felt that practical industrial work was beneath black students.  Washington rallied for the teaching both industrial and intellectual studies.  Today, we are facing some of the same problems.  At present, some individuals consider practical industry beneath them, while others consider the intellectual "too white."  It's really as sad state of affairs.  This is not something I read; as a Southern black woman, I'm exposed to evidence of it nearly every day.

I think this book should be required reading in high schools and to any adult who hasn't read it.  They will then know what "the struggle" really looks like.  They will then know that it's important to put forth effort and "have some skin in the game" for anything, whether an education, a job, or any material possession, to have any intrinsic value.  They will then know what true positive race relations look like.  Mr. Washington accomplished all his success during the Reconstruction / Jim Crow era of Southern history.  What was widely accepted law then, is illegal and subject to prosecution now.  So, what's our problem?

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