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Up from Slavery

Cover of Up from Slavery

Up from Slavery

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Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all timeThe Black educator documents his struggle for freedom and self-respect and his fight to establish industrial training...
Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all timeThe Black educator documents his struggle for freedom and self-respect and his fight to establish industrial training...
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Description-
  • Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time

    The Black educator documents his struggle for freedom and self-respect and his fight to establish industrial training programs.

Excerpts-
  • Chapter One
  • According to Louis H. Harlan's Booker T. Washington: The Making of a Black Leader, 1856-1901, Washington was born in 1856.

    My life had its beginning in the midst of the most miserable, desolate, and discouraging surroundings. This was so, however, not because my owners were especially cruel, for they were not, as compared with many others. I was born in a typical log cabin, about fourteen by sixteen feet square. In this cabin I lived with my mother and a brother and sister till after the Civil War, when we were all declared free.

    Of my ancestry I know almost nothing. In the slave quarters, and even later, I heard whispered conversations among the coloured people of the tortures which the slaves, including, no doubt, my ancestors on my mother's side, suffered in the middle passage of the slave ship while being conveyed from Africa to America. I have been unsuccessful in securing any information that would throw any accurate light upon the history of my family beyond my mother. She, I remember, had a half-brother and a half-sister. In the days of slavery not very much attention was given to family history and family records--that is, black family records. My mother, I suppose, attracted the attention of a purchaser who was afterward my owner and hers. Her addition to the slave family attracted about as much attention as the purchase of a new horse or cow. Of my father I know even less than of my mother. I do not even know his name. I have heard reports to the effect that he was a white man who lived on one of the near-by plantations. Whoever he was, I never heard of his taking the least interest in me or providing in any way for my rearing. But I do not find especial fault with him. He was simply another unfortunate victim of the institution which the Nation unhappily had engrafted upon it at that time.

    The cabin was not only our living-place, but was also used as the kitchen for the plantation. My mother was the plantation cook. The cabin was without glass windows; it had only openings in the side which let in the light, and also the cold, chilly air of winter. There was a door to the cabin--that is, something that was called a door--but the uncertain hinges by which it was hung, and the large cracks in it, to say nothing of the fact that it was too small, made the room a very uncomfortable one. In addition to these openings there was, in the lower right-hand corner of the room, the "cat-hole,"--a contrivance which almost every mansion or cabin in Virginia possessed during the ante-bellum period. The "cat-hole" was a square opening, about seven by eight inches, provided for the purpose of letting the cat pass in and out of the house at will during the night. In the case of our particular cabin I could never understand the necessity for this convenience, since there were at least a half-dozen other places in the cabin that would have accommodated the cats. There was no wooden floor in our cabin, the naked earth being used as a floor. In the centre of the earthen floor there was a large, deep opening covered with boards, which was used as a place in which to store sweet potatoes during the winter. An impression of this potato-hole is very distinctly engraved upon my memory, because I recall that during the process of putting the potatoes in or taking them out I would often come into possession of one or two, which I roasted and thoroughly enjoyed. There was no cooking-stove on our plantation, and all the cooking for the whites and slaves my mother had to do over an open fireplace, mostly in pots and "skillets." While the poorly built cabin caused us to suffer with cold in the winter, the heat from the open fireplace in summer was equally...
About the Author-
  • Booker Taliaferro Washington, the educator and racial spokesman who remains one of the most controversial figures in African-American history, was born into slavery on a tobacco farm in Franklin County, Virginia, on April 5, 1856. His mother was the plantation's cook; his father was an unknown white man. At the close of the Civil War, Washington moved with his mother and stepfather to the river town of Malden, West Virginia, where he toiled in coal mines and salt furnaces, securing a basic education in his spare time. Later he worked as a houseboy for Mrs. Viola Ruffner, a New England woman who recognized his eagerness to advance himself. In 1872 Washington returned to Virginia to enroll in the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, a vocational school for blacks founded by Samuel Chapman Armstrong, a former Union general. Washington graduated with honors in 1875. Afterward, he taught school in Malden and briefly attended the Wayland Seminary in Washington, D.C., before accepting an invitation from General Armstrong to join the faculty at Hampton.

    In 1881 Washington left Virginia for Alabama, to establish the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. The school opened on July 4, 1881, with one teacher and thirty pupils. Through skillful management, tireless fund-raising, and shrewd diplomacy with whites, he built Tuskegee, literally brick by brick, into the top black trade school in the country. Like his mentor, General Armstrong, Washington made sure that all skills and academic courses taught at Tuskegee had practical application in the economy of the postwar South. A pragmatist, not an idealist, he endorsed the Puritan virtue of self-help, maintaining, "the individual who can do something that the world wants done will, in the end, make his way regardless of his race."

    Washington's well-known success as an educator led to his being asked to speak on racial issues. In 1895 he delivered opening remarks at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta. In the now-famous Atlanta Compromise Address, Washington urged blacks to postpone their demands for equal rights and focus instead on improving themselves through education, industriousness, and racial solidarity. "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," he stated. The following year Washington became the first black to receive an honorary Master of Arts degree from Harvard University.

    By 1900 Washington, the so-called "Wizard of Tuskegee," had emerged as America's most influential black leader. He launched the National Negro Business League in Boston and, in rapid succession, published two volumes of autobiography: The Story of My Life and Work (1900) and Up from Slavery (1901). William Dean Howells praised Up from Slavery in the North American Review, and Langston Hughes later deemed it "one of America's most revealing books." Washington created a storm of controversy, however, when he dined at the White House with President Theodore Roosevelt to discuss political appointments in the South.

    In 1903 Washington's accommodationist position came under attack by W. E. B. Du Bois. In The Souls of Black Folk Du Bois wrote: "His doctrine has tended to make the whites, North and South, shift the burden of the Negro problem to the Negro's shoulders and stand aside as critical and rather pessimistic spectators; when in fact the burden belongs to the nation, and the hands of none of us are clean if we bend not our energies to righting these great wrongs." Soon Washington's leadership was challenged by the militant Niagara Movement, founded in 1905, and the National Association for the Advancemen...

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