Quotable Literary Quotes: Booker T. Washington

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I’ve been ruminating on the work, life and philosophy of Booker T. Washington ever since I posted this Jason Whitlock video as my last Friday Fave. To that end, I thought it would be good to begin the week with some of the most profound quotes from his autobiography, Up From Slavery.

His thoughts on education:

“Education is not a thing apart from life—not a “system,” nor a philosophy; it is direct teaching how to live and how to work.”
This shouldn’t be novel, but it feels like it in this current zeitgeist. More:
“The ambition to secure an education was most praiseworthy and encouraging. The idea, however, was too prevalent that, as soon as one secured a little education, in some unexplainable way he would be free from most of the hardships of the world, and, at any rate, could live without manual labour.”
I loved that, because it speaks well to our current situation, where education is not a means of personal development in life or training in productive citizenship, but as a way to get out of having to work hard. Shame on us for propagating a hatred of hard work!
I recognize that in a cognitive economy, manual labor is prohibitive as a means of making a living. However, that’s a different matter from raising an entire generation of people who are unwilling to engage in manual labor, both due to lack of skill as well as on principle.
On the subject of the role and limitations of government:
“Among a large class, there seemed to be a dependence upon the government for every conceivable thing. The members of this class had little ambition to create a position for themselves, but wanted the federal officials to create one for them.”
He offers an alternative solution:
“How many times I wished then and have often wished since, that by some power of magic, I might remove the great bulk of these people into the country districts and plant them upon the soil – upon the solid and never deceptive foundation of Mother Nature, where all nations and races that have ever succeeded have gotten their start – a start that at first may be slow and toilsome, but one that nevertheless is real.”
Washington again points out the place which is a truly level playing field, in the real world, in the dirt, working hard. More:
“I have begun everything with the idea that I could succeed, and I never had much patience with the multitudes of people who are always ready to explain why one cannot succeed.”
So much for victimhood, but when you read Up From Slavery, it becomes painfully apparent why Booker T. Washington is held in low regard by many progressives. Despite the amazing work he did with the newly freed slaves and the exceptional accomplishments he achieved The Tuskegee Institute, his failure to fully embrace a narrative which denied the God-given agency of black Americans still relegates him to the fringes of the historical black American record. And that’s too bad.
Hope this provided food for thought.
Happy Monday, all!


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

  1. Bike Bubba says:

    The modern thinker that comes to mind when I read Booker is Mike Rowe, as a lot of what Washington had Tuskegee students do seems to be a way of bridging the gap between “you learned to do this under a whip while you were slaves” and “you can join the middle class if you learn to do this well and learn to handle it as a business.” It’s the same thing Rowe tells young men who are not enamored with calculus, but who might be persuaded to do plumbing, carpentry, or electrical work.

    And for that matter, it’s about the same thing I tell my own kids when they balk at doing their studies. Time on task and being willing to get your hands dirty are important in any number of areas, and it’s a constant struggle to persuade people that no, sometimes there is no substitute for time on task and hard work. Or, as a homeschooling dad, “No, I am not going to buy a new curriculum every time you decide that the one we’re using requires some effort….that effort is a feature, not a bug.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. nellperkins says:

    Part of the current capital P Problem with an ethic of hard work is that so many conservatives have been just so very dad-blamed hateful about it. For example, automatically blaming people who actually are doing their best but live in poverty anyway, accusing them of racism when actually they’re the working, the very much working, thank you, poor. Mr. Washington was not like that, but now the damage is done, and the knee-jerk left in turn refuses to listen to good sense on the issue. When I was in college studying African American history, I knew hardly anything about Booker T. Washington and came away with no more knowledge than that the professor and W.E.B. DuBose despised him.


  3. Elspeth says:

    @ Nellperkins:

    I totally agree with you that modern conservatives (and educated liberals to some extent) have completely misread the fact that our combination of crappy education and family breakdown (thanks, Democrats!) combined with our economy being sold out to big business (thanks, Republicans!) has led to a situation where some people are doing their level best and it’s still very hard.

    Of course, Booker T. Washington lived, worked and taught during a time when the connection between education, hard work and success was more prevalent and direct.

    And yes, he was disliked by many racial commentators both in his day and he still is in ours. Mainly because his approach was based on the idea that there is an order to things, and that priorities needed to be correct. He believed that given opportunities, blacks were perfectly capable of success without handouts and concessions from the greater white society.

    He wasn’t against integration or justice, as he has been accused of. He just didn’t believe integration was the main thing nor that it made sense to beg for justice from people who held you in contempt.


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