Friday, April 24, 2009

Booker T. Washington

He has been unfairly maligned, according to an article by Dylan Hayes on "The Soul of Booker T. Washington." (Via Joshua Snyder) To quote:

A former slave, Southern patriot, neo-agrarian capitalist, and founder of the famed Tuskegee Institute, Booker T. Washington is perhaps the most unfairly maligned figure in American history. In an age where revisionist history has become the norm, and consensus accounts are usually viewed critically, the standard appraisal of Washington has largely stayed the same. Heavily influenced by Washington’s primary ideological rival W.E.B. Du Bois (a man Washington once offered a job), these histories always seem to paint Washington as an accommodationist of the worst aspects of the post-Civil War South—and often as an outright opponent of his people.

The recent book “Up From History” by Robert Norrell attempts to fill this void, and to a large degree, is successful. Though Norrell is clearly sympathetic to Washington, he does not pull punches that need to be thrown and his overall assessment provides the reader with a detailed and rich portrait of a complex and decidedly conservative figure, who for nearly twenty years was the unquestioned “leader” of his race in the United States....

More importantly however, is the fact that Booker was not calling for a State-enforced segregation policy. He was not calling for segregation at all. Washington was simply noting that blacks didn’t need whites to define their lives or black worth. The lives of African-Americans, and their quality, should be defined by black men, for black men, and integrationist schemes that would dilute this integral independence were counter-productive. It is true that Booker was ultimately an integrationist of sorts, but he was not an “accommodationist.” While the difference is a matter of degree—that difference is a chasm—too large to ignore and worthy of its own category.


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