Booker T. Washington – His View
“In all things that are purely social, we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”1 Booker T. Washington stood before the Atlanta Exposition in 1895 speaking of bringing whites and blacks together for the common good of all people. Washington understood the racial climate of the South at the end of the 19th century and appealed to white southerners to give blacks the opportunity to work for what they wanted, while receiving education and jobs. His main objective was that all people, blacks and whites could compromise and work together moving forward and not backward.
Washington identified different economic arenas that were available to blacks. In the post Reconstruction era of the south, African Americans were caught up in the snares of sharecropping and still in a form of slavery to their debts and landlords. They were unable to make any headway as to obtaining land of their own while stuck in this cycle. Washington offered a different approach: an industrial school, a place where an African American could learn a trade and become self-reliant. Washington’s idea was to have students learn how to build and create while learning “to love work for its own sake.”2 Thus being able to earn money through their trade and eventually obtain land of their own.
Washington became the leader of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in 1881. At the time it was an old church that was being used as the building for the school. It was
Washington’s idea to have the students construct new buildings, teaching them how to build them. It was student labor that built the school, and after nineteen years, there were forty buildings.3 Much pride was taken in the work the students had done, and were able to go on from the school and practice trades and earn money. As each student learned how to do something, they taught the next generation coming in, thus never relying on an outside carpenter to do the work.
Before the buildings were built, Washington knew that they would need bricks for the task. No brickyard existed in Tuskegee, and not only was this an incentive to learn how to make bricks, but to also supply them to the community. This was another economic arena that was promising. Over time, the students of the school were well accomplished in brickmaking, so much so that they drew white customers, not only because of the demand but per Washington, the quality was very good. “Many of the white residents of the neighborhood began to feel that the education of the Negro was not making him worthless, but that in educating our students, we were adding something to the wealth and comfort of the community.” 4
Another economic arena that Washington speaks of was the ability to repair and build wagons and carts. He believed that with the bricks, wagons and carts that this would bring the blacks and whites together, the whites appreciating the quality of work the black man could do. This was Washington’s main focus, to show the southern whites that education and hard work, the black man was worth it, there to help and uplift their own race as well as their own. Hard
SAVINO III work, self-reliance and the will to help oneself to achieve the rights they so much wanted and deserved was the goal. In Booker T. Washington’s address at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895, he was praised by many