Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Booker T. Washington in Perspective

Booker T. Washington in Perspective: Essays of Louis R. Harlan

Edited by Raymond W. Smock
Copyright Date: 1988
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Booker T. Washington in Perspective
    Book Description:

    This book, an important companion volume to Louis R. Harlan's prize-winning biography of Booker T. Washington, makes available for the first time in one collection Harlan's essays on the life and career of the celebrated black leader.

    Written over a span of a quarter of a century, they present a remarkably rich and complex look at Washington, the educator and leading precursor of the Civil Rights Movement who rose from slavery to be the dominant force in black America at the opening of the twentieth century.

    Harlan's mastery of biography is revealed in essays printed here exploring the nature of biographical writing. Readers interested in the art of historiography and biography will find here Harlan's essays detailing his experience in crafting his acclaimed biography of Washington, which received two Bancroft Awards, the Beveridge Award, and the Pulitzer Prize.

    Booker T. Washington in Perspectivereveals Harlan as historian and biographer in the essays that were the prelude to his masterwork.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-598-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xi)
    Raymond W. Smock
    (pp. xii-2)
  5. Booker T. Washington in Biographical Perspective
    (pp. 3-24)

    In the current vogue of black history Booker T. Washington has been a figure to ignore rather than to grapple with, an anomaly, an embarrassment. This is partly because his methods were too compromising and unheroic to win him a place in the black pantheon, but it is also because he was so complex and enigmatic that historians do not know what to make of him. We have lost the thread we used to believe would guide us through his labyrinth. When his rich private collection of papers was opened to scholars two decades ago, historians had to abandon the...

  6. Booker T. Washington’s West Virginia Boyhood
    (pp. 25-49)

    Between 1865, when Booker T. Washington was nine years old, and 1872, when he left to attend Hampton Institute at the age of sixteen, he grew up in the Kanawha Valley of West Virginia. Here he learned some of the most significant and compelling lessons of his life. He became one of the earliest of the freedmen to learn to read and write. He learned the equally valuable lesson that freedom could not be conferred by a piece of paper, that the poor and the oppressed were not free. He learned to work as a free youth far harder than...

  7. Booker T. Washington and the Kanawha Valley, 1875-1879
    (pp. 50-67)

    Booker T. Washington returned in 1875 to his boyhood home, the town of Malden in the Kanawha Valley, after three years of training in Hampton Normal and Industrial Institute in Virginia. He was intensely ambitious for his own self-improvement, but the Northern white teachers at Hampton Institute had harped constantly on the duty of graduates to return to their home communities and uplift them. Even before his return home, while he worked through the summer at a Saratoga resort hotel as a waiter, the patrons of the black school in the Tinkersville section of Malden elected him as their teacher....

  8. Booker T. Washington and the White Man’s Burden
    (pp. 68-97)

    Those who have thought of Booker T. Washington as a provincial southern American black, intellectually as well as geographically isolated from the rest of the world, will be surprised to find that he was substantially involved in African affairs.¹ This involvement, however, did not require any fundamental readjustment of Washington’s outlook. The position of blacks in American society at the turn of the twentieth century was, after all, roughly analogous to that of blacks in the African colonies. Both groups were politically disfranchised, socially subordinated, and economically exploited. Black Americans were engaged largely in raw material production in the South,...

  9. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  10. Booker T. Washington and the National Negro Business League
    (pp. 98-109)

    Since the death of the great black conservative leader Booker T. Washington in 1915, there has been such a tremendous reorientation of black social thought that we have tended to read black history backward. That is, we have tended to find, in the past, spokesmen for our present ideas—our own conventional wisdom—contesting with spokesmen for the now repudiated conventional wisdom of the past. Historians looking back a half-century have discovered there the accommodationist Washington and his allies, mostly whites, locked in mortal combat with W. E. B. DuBois and his militant “Talented Tenth.” A total war between the...

  11. The Secret Life of Booker T. Washington
    (pp. 110-132)

    The historian inquiring into the black people’s experience in America must sooner or later confront the presence in the black past of men who do not fit the conventional mold of heroic history. Nevertheless, a study of their lives may be instructive. One such man was Booker T. Washington, the conservative black leader of the early twentieth century. What strikes a later generation about Washington is not so much his accommodation to segregation and other aspects of white supremacy, which has long been recognized, but his complexity, his richness of strategic resource, his wizardry. He used the white money and...

  12. Booker T. Washington and the Voice of the Negro, 1904-1907
    (pp. 133-151)

    Booker Taliaferro Washington dominated the black scene in America throughout the early years of the twentieth century not only in the South, where he presided over Tuskegee Institute, but also in the black ghettos of the leading cities of the North. Unlike the political bosses of the period, Washington sought to control both the actions and the thought and expression of the black community. Little that happened in black America escaped his watchful eyes or those of his lieutenants in every state and city. Much has been written about his partial ownership of the leading black newspaper of the time,...

  13. Booker T. Washington’s Discovery of Jews
    (pp. 152-163)

    Booker T. Washington in his struggle up from slavery learned many things the hard way, through experience. His discovery of and understanding with American Jewry was no exception. It began with a faux pas. In an early article in a black church magazine, Washington told the success story of a Jew, only a few months from Europe, who had passed through the town of Tuskegee, Alabama, four years earlier with all of his earthly possessions on his back. Settling at a crossroads hamlet, the Jew had hired himself out as a laborer, soon rented land to sublet to others, opened...

  14. Booker T. Washington and the Politics of Accommodation
    (pp. 164-179)

    It is ironic that Booker T. Washington, the most powerful black American of his time and perhaps of all time, should be the black leader whose claim to the title is most often dismissed by the lay public. Blacks often question his legitimacy because of the role that favor by whites played in Washington’s assumption of power, and whites often remember him only as an educator or, confusing him with George Washington Carver, as “that great Negro scientist.” This irony is something that Washington will have to live with in history, for he himself deliberately created the ambiguity about his...

  15. The Booker T. Washington Papers
    (pp. 180-184)
    Raymond W. Smock

    When the Booker T. Washington Papers project originated in 1967 it was the first project of its kind that dealt with the letters of a black person. Subsequently, John Blassingame has launched the Frederick Douglass Papers, Herbert Aptheker and the University of Massachusetts Press are engaged in the publication of the W. E. B. Du Bois Papers, and projects to microfilm the papers of John Hope, George Washington Carver, and Mary McLeod Bethune are underway. These projects are an attempt to recover the black past through its documents and to make the record of that past more available to scholars...

  16. Sympathy and Detachment: Dilemmas of a Biographer
    (pp. 185-194)

    I hope that under the circumstances you will allow me to begin autobiographically. I was born in Mississippi but left there when I was three and learned to read and write. I grew up in the South, but it was the urban South, a suburb of Atlanta, where the commercial spirit and bourgeois liberalism were tainted by racism but not completely overwhelmed by it. It was, it seems to me, a right background though certainly not the only right background for a biographer of Booker T. Washington. I was in the South but not completely of it, as a suburban...

  17. Booker T. Washington: The Labyrinth and the Thread
    (pp. 195-202)

    I am living proof that an editorcanbe a biographer. Whether an editorshouldbe a biographer, or vice versa, depends on the person and the subject. I cannot speak for everyone faced with that dilemma, but for me as editor and biographer the double life proved that much richer. As a biographer focusing on the thread of biographical narrative I had the advantage of collaborating with an editor, a co-editor, and a corporal’s guard of editorial researchers who explored the geography of the labyrinth—the historical context, the principal associates of my central figure, and even what Tom...

  18. Index
    (pp. 203-210)