Washington T Booker was one of the most significant leaders of the African Americans in the period of 1890 to 1915. His efforts towards emancipation of black people through education stand out tall, compared to that of other black leaders of his time. Having been born in slavery and rising through various levels to become one of the leading voices in the push for the liberation of black Americans was not a mean achievement. The current essay is an attempt to justify the legacy of Washington T Booker as a leader of the blacks in the years following the civil up to the time of his death. The information contained herein is based on the account in the book Up from Slavery.
Washington was born as a slave in a year he cannot completely remember but thinks it was either 1858 or 1859. As a young boy, he lived in miserable conditions but did not blame it on their masters. Before the emancipation proclamation, he had never slept on a bed before. As a slave boy, he had no education, had no time to play and all he could remember doing was working. According to him, there was no general hatred towards the white masters, especially where the slaves were treated in a decent manner. At one time when a master was killed and two others were injured, the slave quarters were stricken with sorrow. After the civil war, some of the slaves indeed continued to take care of their poor masters and mistresses (Washington, 2014).
Washington portrayed slavery as an institution that had been perpetuated by the government in general and could not be blamed on an individual. He argued that if one was to disregard the cruel things that were done to the slaves, one could conclude that both the black and the white man reaped from slavery. This was emphasized by comparing the state of the black men in America and those elsewhere in the world. It can be seen from his view; Washington was a leader at heart. He had a forgiving heart and was not willing to harbor a grudge for an institution that no person would control. He did not allow the past to take control of him. He wanted to move into the future. His acceptance of the white people as not bearing the responsibility for what was going on made him practical, which was a good quality for a leader (Washington, 2014).
His boyhood days were marked with a great desire to learn how to read. He was disappointed that his stepfather with whom he lived wanted him to work other than going to school. Despite this, he showed a yearning for history, knowledge and identity. He did a lot towards self-improvement as a young boy. He worked in a coal mine and also in a salt furnace. This showed his determination to emancipate himself from the poverty that afflicted the black race in an effort to help his people. He was a very accommodating person even as a young boy, a quality that came in handy in his later life (Washington, 2014).
When he got into school, he had to struggle through in order to acquire education. He had to work to support him financially. Mr Washington gave credit to the support he received when acquiring the education. He was a modest man who knew better than to treat any person with suspicion just because he belonged to a particular race. His legacy of uplifting the black race began when he became a teacher after having worked in a hotel. He taught not just the knowledge from books but also the importance of cleanliness and being proud of themselves as a people. He went ahead to open a night school, carried out the establishment of a reading room and opening a debating society. He used to teach Sunday school and would also teach private lessons for young men, preparing them for Hampton institute where he had studied. He also helped his brother John to join the institution and he did not stop until their adopted brother got the education that was being offered at the institute. Having learnt of unselfishness and kindness at the Hampton institute, he made it his goal to uplift his people through education and he worked hard to achieve this goal (Washington, 2014).
During the reconstruction period, he made a lot of observations about what was ailing the black society. He noticed that there was too much reliance on the Federal governments by and the government failed to prepare the blacks for citizenship. The allure for political life that characterized the life of many Negroes was a worrying trend, since most were not equipped for such responsibilities. These were the observations of a man who cared about the lives of his people and was ready to take action (Washington, 2014).
Booker refused to join politics for selfish reason after having had great achievements as a public speaker. He believed that he could serve his people in other capacities. He went back to teach Indians at Hampton at the instruction of General Armstrong. He did not harbor any ill feelings towards them, despite the fact that they treated the black people as inferior. He also helped students who could not pay their fees by making sure that they worked and went to school at night. He was a selfless man whose desire to uplift the life of his people outweighed his personal ambitions (Washington, 2014).
When Booker was recommended by General Armstrong to head a school in Tuskegee, he took the job with devotion and honor. He had spent a lot of time looking for an accommodation for his school and travelled widely throughout the state of Alabama in an effort to learn about the lives of people who lived there. He was worried by what he perceived as poor economic decision making by the residents. Their insistence on planting cotton and no other crops was going to make them remain poor. In this light, it can be said that Booker was a teacher committed to the success of his students to the extent of wanting to learn about their lives at home. He wanted to learn about their problems, as well as their motivations.
He did a lot of work in setting up the school at Tuskegee. With the help of Olive A Davidson, they trained people on how to work on the plantations. In spite of the attitude that getting education meant no manual labor, they strived and succeeded. He even went to the extent of taking a loan himself in order to start a school to help the black population. He was a great motivation to his students who had refused to do the manual work of building the school. When they realized how hard he was working, they became very enthusiastic and worked as hard as they could (Washington, 2014). When it came to the issue of repaying the loan, he encouraged his wife to organize dinners to raise money. He was able to mobilize a community of poor folks into a noble cause. Every set back on his way was an opportunity for him to show his leadership skills. This indeed was a great contribution to his legacy as a leader of the black people.
There came a time when people would just be merry during the holidays without knowing their true meaning. He endeavored to teach his people the meanings and he started doing so by with Christmas. In Tuskegee, he oversaw the purchase of a new firm, as well as its cultivation. In his tenure, new buildings were constructed and donors to the school increased. He encouraged his students to erect their own buildings perhaps to show them the dignity and beauty in labor. As a leader, he knew that the mistakes which would be made would serve as valuable lessons for the students. He even got the teachers to help their students in making bricks when two of the kilns they had built proved to be a failure. The school proved to be a training ground for many workmen who proved to be useful in the community. As a leader, he realized that sometimes the masses do not know what they want. When parents protested that they wanted their children to be taught nothing but books, he did not heed their advice. Despite the many difficulties that were experienced by students in the new school, he was able to provide leadership at a time of turmoil and ensured that people maintained their sanity.
While he was the leader at Tuskegee, he impressed upon the students that the school was not his but theirs. This inspired the students to build furniture for the school. Through his interaction with Andrew Carnegie, he was able to obtain funding for the school. He did not discriminate between small and huge donations. This had built his legacy as a leader by ensuring that he was loved by all. It also went ahead to reinforce the faith of the community in the system of education that the school was offering. When allowed to speak, he knew better than to bore people constantly asking for funds. In the north, he went to seek funds but in the south, he would focus his attention on improving the material and intellectual status of both races. The Atlanta Exposition address that Booker gave was more focused on uniting the races, rather than the rights of a single race. Although the African Americans felt that he was too lenient on the whites, they later came to agree with his methods of uplifting people. As a leader, he encouraged the Negroes to vote and explained why it would be detrimental to deny them the right to exercise their fundamental democratic right. He also advised the blacks to be guided by principles, rather than race factors when they chose to vote for a particular candidate. By this he was acting as both a political and a moral leader for his community.
From the information presented above of Mr Booker’s efforts in education, as well as those aimed at uniting the white and the black race, it is safe to conclude that he built a great legacy for himself as a great leader. It was mainly for the black people after the civil war up to the time he died. He was a leader whose work will be envied by generations to come.
Mr Booker T Washington’s ideas about education are relevant to modern society. Some of his tenets cannot apply in so far today’s education system is concerned. First, he believed that education is an important way of emancipating those who are perceived to be lowly endowed in the society. This is true even for the modern society. According to the article Beyond One Size Fits all College Dreams, people believe that a decent education is the key to good employment and, therefore, an improvement in the welfare of people. In a way, it is true to say that education is idealized today as much as it was by Booker T Washington.
Booker T Washington believed that education should teach people not just the knowledge of the books but also enable them to put to use the skills learnt in their day to day activities. This is why he was deeply disappointed when he realized that people thought that education automatically guaranteed success.
Booker believes that students should take control of their education instead of just waiting for their parents to cater for their school fees. He demonstrated this by working at a coal mine and a salt furnace. While this may not be entirely possible, some of these tenets may be included in modern day education. It may not be possible for a student to work as they study but the concept of working during the day and attending night classes is still feasible to this day. The biggest impediment to this is that college students nowadays have to learn more than what their counterparts did many years ago.
The idea of students erecting their own buildings in campuses is not applicable today. First, there is the requirement by the government that buildings should be erected by qualified professionals. The students of today would not be willing to put away their pride and engage in manual labor. The involvement of the community in the effort of raising funds to build school is well illustrated by Mr Booker. He is of the opinion that this is very important in ensuring that the community feels a sense of faith in their education, by knowing what it all entails. The participation of the community in the quest for education is something that can be emulated even nowadays.
Booker had the idea that an improvement in the number of college educated graduates was directly proportional to the level of economic growth that can be reached by a community. This is not the case with today’s competitive business environment. An example is given of two European countries - France and Germany. In one period, the earlier country had a surge in the number of college students graduating with degrees, while the latter country stagnated. Despite this trend, the economy of Germany still remained stronger than that of France. What this tells us is that the United States should not be blinded into believing that being the World’s leading country in number of college degree graduates will not automatically imply a spur in the economy. The United States might benefit from diversity of education offered in universities and successfully cope with the changing market needs. On this note, the ideas of Booker may not apply since the times in which he lived were ones where people with college education were very few and it was, therefore, his goal to ensure that this number increased.
There is one aspect of Mr Booker’s ideas on education that stands tall and could easily be applied in current times. When he encouraged students to do manual work of making bricks and furniture, his idea was to make them understand the dignity and the beauty of labor. Therefore, schools became not just a place where people were taught how to cram lots of information from books but also vocational skills which served the economy well. If the education system of the current times was to focus more on the practical application of the knowledge learned in the classrooms, this would be a step in the right direction.
In conclusion, Mr Washington was a great man whose ideas on education still resound with great wisdom. Most of these ideas, if incorporated into the current education system, would bring change for the better. However, based on the differences in the times which he lived and the world of today, not all of his ideas are applicable.