The Education of Booker T. Washington

The Education of Booker T. Washington: American Democracy and the Idea of Race Relations

Michael Rudolph West
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 296
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/west13048
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  • Book Info
    The Education of Booker T. Washington
    Book Description:

    Booker T. Washington has long held an ambiguous position in the pantheon of black leadership. Lauded by some in his own lifetime as a black George Washington, he was also derided by others as a Benedict Arnold. In The Education of Booker T. Washington, Michael West offers a major reinterpretation of one of the most complex and controversial figures in American history. West reveals the personal and political dimensions of Washington's journey "up from slavery." He explains why Washington's ideas resonated so strongly in the post-Reconstruction era and considers their often negative influence in the continuing struggle for equality in the United States. West's work also establishes a groundwork for understanding the ideological origins of the civil rights movement and discusses Washington's views on the fate of race and nation in light of those of Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., and others.

    West argues that Washington's analysis was seen as offering a "solution" to the problem of racial oppression in a nation professing its belief in democracy. That solution was the idea of "race relations." In practice, this theory buttressed segregation by supposing that African Americans could prosper within Jim Crow's walls and without the normal levers by which other Americans pursued their interests. Washington did not, West contends, imagine a way to perfect democracy and an end to the segregationist policies of southern states. Instead, he offered an ideology that would obscure the injustices of segregation and preserve some measure of racial peace.

    White Americans, by embracing Washington's views, could comfortably find a way out of the moral and political contradictions raised by the existence of segregation in a supposedly democratic society. This was (and is) Washington's legacy: a form of analysis, at once obvious and concealed, that continues to prohibit the realization of a truly democratic politics.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50382-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    Before the present hawking of iconic images of the latest flavor in perishable celebrity; before the virtues of nonviolent passivity were uncoupled from the obligations of nonviolent resistance in the rush to enshrine Martin Luther King as an abstraction that all Americans are presumed to worship; before the letter “X” was transformed from the mysteriousness of that which is long gone into just another bit of merchandise; before culture and lifestyle and politics became synonymous, each and all commodities neatly organized and readily available for convenient browsing; before all that, a similarly conceived artifact from the dawn of mass-market selling...

  5. Chapter 1 “The Great and Intricate Problem” Democracy, the Negro Problem, and the Idea of Race Relations
    (pp. 23-60)

    When he died, they spoke not so much of his tangible accomplishments as of the effect his ideas and example had on them personally, and on the nation. Amid the grief of friends and supporters gathered to mourn his passing and to pay homage to his life’s work, there were a few harsh words for his opponents and enemies. But those who had reviled him or otherwise sought to traduce his leadership and philosophy were mainly ignored, consigned, for that day at least, to the long shadow he cast. He was a paragon, they said, an inspiration, and the embodiment...

  6. Chapter 2 “Negroes Whose Habits You Know” The Slave Boy, “Booker,” Progress, and “Racial Feeling”
    (pp. 61-102)

    No such person as Booker Taliaferro Washington was ever born. However, a slave named “Booker” did enter the world on an obscure farm near a not especially significant crossroads of Franklin County in south-central Virginia, and, as far as it can be known, did so sometime in the spring of 1856. The name of the mother of the child was Jane, and she was a black woman and a slave; about the father nothing beyond the hazards of guessing is known concretely except that, then and later, rumors swirled about the place, and the community of black people and the...

  7. Chapter 3 “They Will Pull Against You the Load Downward” The Freedpeople’s Failure and Booker Washington’s Rescue
    (pp. 103-144)

    The great war ended and freedom came to the South and to the Burroughs place. After Virginia had seen Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, and Virginia masters and Virginia slaves had received word of the happenings eastward from Hale’s Ford at Appomattox Courthouse, after night had fallen on the Confederacy, then there was a jubilee. Booker, “clinging wonderingly to my mother’s skirts,” heard “her shout hallelujah because we were free.”¹ It was, Washington recalled, “a momentous and eventful day to all upon our plantation.” In the days preceding, the people there had taken up the chorus of what had heretofore been slave...

  8. Chapter 4 “Gathered from Miscellaneous Sources” Democratic Possibilities and Other Kinds of “Racial Feelings”
    (pp. 145-184)

    There is a certain irresistibility in the idea that great men, when they are young and before they are great, somehow were alive to the possibility of what they would become. They must be dreamers of great dreams that account for their destinies, small bits and pieces of conscious and unconscious invention, mere wisps of notions coming together, dissipating and reforming until they become something more substantial, clouds of glory falling to earth as a plan or course of action. In unpromising circumstances, those dreams serve to buoy or protect a young man’s purposes, to succor a kept quiet identity...

  9. Chapter 5 “Prepared for the Exercise of These Privileges” A New Negro and the End of Democracy
    (pp. 185-226)

    You can look out upon a river and know with a positive certainty that it has ever been and ever will be thus: elements of earth and water, rock and wood, combining to form a definite and concrete thing, a tableau captured in a painting or reproduced in a photograph. Such frozen certainty, however, wholly depends upon placement and perspective: on where you are in relation to the river; on how far your field of vision extends, even on the temporal intersection of your observing with a moment in the life of the river. Back there, the river finds its...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 227-274)
  11. Index
    (pp. 275-282)