Essay on In Defense of Booker T. Washington

Essay on In Defense of Booker T. Washington

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In Defense of Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington's legacy is a troubled one. Dubois was right to say, "When Mr. Washington apologizes for injustice, he does not rightly value the privilege and duty of voting, belittles the emasculating effects of caste distinctions, and opposes the higher training and ambition of our higher minds" (afro 1). But can we really fault Booker T. for being misguided and flat-out wrong? Washington is not the first successful, insufferable man in America who rose from abject poverty to a life of bourgeois comfort, who then assumed that everyone else could too, if only they did as he did. This is not sycophancy. This is a classic case of projection and denial: myopic projection of his own experience, and flagrant denial of the horrors of white supremacy. To accuse Booker T. Washington of complacency is an insult to a good man's efforts in working ceaselessly for the betterment of several million newly freed, unemployed, African American slaves, of which he was one. The post-Civil War problems facing the nation were intractable and myriad. This was uncharted territory. In his defense, Washington founded a college made of mortar and brick which still stands today that has educated celebrated alumni like Eli Whitney, Ralph Ellison, and Damon Wayans. He opened a much-needed dialogue between the black community and the ruling (racist) white class in America. He paved the road for better thinkers, like Dubois, who saw the danger in Booker T's faulty reasoning.

Much has been said about Booker T's obsession with hygiene. It is a common criticism that the Northern school teachers, who came to the South to educate black children, seemed more concerned about clean fingernails...

... middle of paper ...

... Godliness at a very impressionable age. Swimming in charitable donations from the North while at Tuskegee, Booker T. believed in the essential goodness of the white race. (The next several decades proved him wrong.) Sycophancy requires a dishonest flattery. Washington revered the people who helped him to establish his school. Complacency implies lack of concern, and Washington truly believed that he was helping the black community by appeasing the white man. Learning a working class trade when the professional job market was shut-off to people of color (and most Americans, for that matter) seemed like the only way up to Booker.

Works Cited

"Afro-American Heritage and History." Working paper, 3 September 2002. 4 april 2005. <>

Washington, Booker T. Up from Slavery. New York: Dover Publications, 1995.

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