Quotable Literary Quotes: Booker T. Washington

Throughout most of my adult life, it’s been my practice to focus on people who have overcome struggles, hardship, and adversity to achieve their goals. Most inspiring to me are those who have achieved success through hard work, ingenuity, and a commitment of service to others. These are the stories I have taken pains to teach our children. The stories of people such as Madam C. J. Walker, George Washington Carver, and Frederick Douglass frame the backdrop of any discussions of black history.

Without question, the man whose work and writings have inspired me more than any is Booker T. Washington. In the absence of a Word Nerd Wednesday installment, I have decided to offer some of Washington’s most notable and timely literary quotes.

On the foolproof formula for happiness:

“The happiest people are those who do the most for others. The most miserable are those who do the least.”

On the true measures of success:

“I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome while trying to succeed.”

Another:

“Success waits patiently for anyone who has the determination and strength to seize it.”

On the folly of being sucked into personal animosity and battles based on ethnic differences:

“I would permit no man, no matter what his colour might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.”

Another:

“Of all forms of slavery, there is none that is so harmful and degrading as that form of slavery which tempts one human being to hate another by reason of his race or color. One man cannot hold another man down in the ditch without remaining down in the ditch with him.”

Lastly, On the motivation of grievance peddlers:

“There is another class of coloured people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs — partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs.”

Food for thought. Timeless, from a great thinker who died more than 100 years ago.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, no?

 

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “Quotable Literary Quotes: Booker T. Washington

  1. Crystal Keller says:

    “There is another class of coloured people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs — partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs.”

    Wow! This sure seems like timeless words wisely spoken and worthy of reviving. Wow! Thanks for these selections. I was also convicted by the reminder that happiness comes with helping others. If I’m not happy-perhaps the focus is too much upon myself and my hands need to become busy with efforts to bless another. That is good medicine for a sick and weary land in which we call our home.

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  2. Elspeth says:

    I know you know this Crystal, but for the uninformed, Booker T. Washington was born in slavery. And yet, he was able to reach these conclusions.

    There may be something of an innate tendency to collectively process all of these events. I don’t know nor do I know why I don’t possess the tendency.

    But my view is more along the lines of the late Mr. Washington and I think I am in very good company!

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  3. Bike Bubba says:

    One of the things that struck me about Washington, when I read his history of Tuskegee, is how he was able to see the consequences of slavery in the behavior of his fellow freedmen–perhaps because of his then-rare college education.

    Really, I’d argue that one of the hardest things for anyone to do is to see beyond what is to see what can be. That’s why a group’s culture is one of the most stubborn things to change–most of those in the group are going to instinctively act to protect what is, whether or not it’s right, wise, productive, or whatever.

    My theory, anyways.

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  4. Bike Bubba says:

    I would be curious as well. My first guess would be that since the dominant tenor of civil rights today derives from W.E.B. DuBois and the “political action” side of the argument (to oversimplify a bit I admit), Washington’s messages like “learn to put a little bit of salt in your cornbread” and “learn a trade” are going to be seen as rather belittling. I personally remember thinking “this would really tick me off if I were black” when I read Washington’s work for the first time–it’s so easy to miss Washington’s reminder “this is what slavery did to my people” and forget that Washington is blaming an evil institution for the problems, not the people subjected to it.

    On the flip side, I would love to see what he’d have said if he was able to scroll through “Flour and Parchment”. I’m guessing it would have been enthusiastic.

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