Today is the 155th anniversary of the birth of Booker T. Washington
--a birth into a condition of slavery. Yet, even despite the denial of his freedom and the bloody war it took to end that wretched institution, Booker T. Washington's victory over slavery, was all his own. Yes, he was only a child when his actual condition of servitude ended and he could not, therefore, have been involved in ending it. But the lingering effects both of slavery and of the conditions in the hearts and minds of men that had made slavery possible, did much to keep a good number of Americans in a kind of self-perpetuating bondage; and I'm not only talking about black people.
Booker T. Washington, perhaps more than any other American of his generation (and many several generations since), understood that slavery was--above all--a condition of mind. Its victims were not only those of African descent whose ancestors (or who themselves) had been brought to our shores against their will. The victims of the institution of slavery were Americans of every race and color and of every sex and creed. Learning to grow "Up from Slavery" was a task that required different things from different Americans, to be sure. But the central thing it required of all of them was an ability to grasp at an understanding of their own worth and to look beyond those who would deny them the opportunity to demonstrate that worth. Overcoming the slavery of oneself to slavish habits, slavish thinking, and slavish dependence are lessons that remain of fresh importance to each generation of Americans; and they are the first among the requirements for actual political freedom. Few Americans--if any--provide us with a better example of how to achieve all of these things.
Good things about Washington's importance
and example for black Americans today are expressed in this blog post from Shamara Riley. But, as I said above, in a way it diminishes Booker T. Washington's accomplishments to describe him only as an example and an inspiration for black Americans. Booker T. Washington is an inspiration to all Americans. His life was a demonstration of the highest principles of our nation and of the capacities for any man of virtue and determination to succeed on the basis of his merit.