Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Booker T. Washington Reconsidered

Carol M. Swain has written a fine short piece on Booker T. Washington. She starts by saying this: "The older I get, the more I appreciate Booker T. Washington’s educational philosophy of self-help and self-reliance for the
masses of blacks. His teachings are all the more striking, since they are directed to a populace that emerged from slavery with
little more than the clothes on their backs." I have also come to appreciate Washington’s purposes more over the years. Although I have taught classes on him for years and have read Up From Slavery and used many of his speeches, it was not until last year that I read virtually everything he wrote. The more I read the impressed I was. The more I read the more I discovered a deep and thoughtful and serious man, an entirely American man. He wrote ten books, gave innumerable speeches, and wrote many essays. He was not swayed by either Du Bois-like elitism or misleading European philosophy. He found himself (and his people) in an extraordinarily difficult (and probably unique) situation and he pushed and cajoled both whites and blacks to see things clearly and to act accordingly. He certainly was one of the greatest American rhetoricians. I have written a chapter for the book Sikkenga and Frost have edited, History of American Political Thought, and it will be published in May. Eventually I’ll get it on line. You might want to look at his famous "Atlanta Exposition Speech", and then the longer "Democracy and Education." Washington said, by the way, of Lincoln that he was "simple, without bigotry and without ostentation." He also said that Lincoln was a self-made man and "was in the truest sense great because he unfettered himself. He climbed up out of the valley, where his vision was narrowed and weakened by the fog and miasma, onto the mountain top, where in a pure and unclouded atmosphere he could see the truth which enabled him to rate all men at their true worth." Read Swain’s piece. Worth two coffees.   

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