Why you should read “Up From Slavery” by Booker T. Washington

What's the best way to get up from slavery?
What’s the best way to get up from slavery?

Lately, my friends have been very excited that I’m a non-white conservative. They want me to answer the grievances of BLM people, and explain from my own experiences what Christianity and conservative policies have to say about making the lives of non-whites better. My friend Wes recommended “Up From Slavery” by Booker T. Washington to help me focus my thoughts.

Here’s a summary of the book:

Dignity through Labor

Over the course of Up From Slavery, Washington develops the idea and ideal of dignity through labor. For Washington, the gravest aspect of the institution of slavery is the denigration of labor for both blacks and whites. Because the enslaved had no personal investment or return on their labor, they did not complete their work with an attitude toward improvement. Likewise, whites, largely deprived of meaningful labor, were robbed of the ability to achieve self-sufficiency. In both races, this produced personalities and characters that seek to escape labor. Washington emphasizes labor as the only way to make oneself useful in an interdependent, modern society. Throughout the whole of Up From Slavery, Washington searches for and obtains work. Further, once he obtains it, Washington completes all labor to best of his ability, no matter how lowly the task. At the Tuskegee Institute, Washington makes this idea and ideal a foundational ethos. All students who study at the Tuskegee Institute must learn a trade or industry alongside their more traditional academic pursuits. In addition, many of the buildings, most of the furniture, the wagons, and the materials used at the school are produced by students. This level of practical skill and diligence also acts as the foundation of Washington’s theory and program for racial uplift.

Selflessness, Desire to Be Useful to One’s Community

The people that Washington most admires and models himself after are those he labels selfless. Washington defines this as the willingness to work on the behalf of others. For Washington, this is not only about duty or labor, but also about the willingness to do one’s best for the benefit of the collective good. Washington believes that racial prejudice can be overcome if black people make themselves indispensable to their communities and their nation. The brick-making episode provides an example. Though the brick-making enterprise at Tuskegee felled three kilns before successfully producing bricks, the venture eventually proved successful and the school began to sell its bricks on the open market. Washington describes how whites who were unsympathetic or apathetic to the education of blacks and the overall project of the Tuskegee Institute were willing to purchase Tuskegee bricks due to their quality and convenience. Washington suggests that if black race can find their niche in society by fulfilling a need, then they can co-exist peacefully and productively with whites.

Impracticality of Political Agitation

Throughout Up From Slavery, Washington defends his ideas about racial advancement and uplift by subtly undermining the proposals of his critics. Though Washington does not explicitly state his objection to the strategies of specific thinkers like W.E.B. Dubois or even his predecessor, Frederick Douglass, he nevertheless highlights the wastefulness of political agitation for equal rights at every chance he gets. To do this, Washington shows that political agitation results in worse relations and outcomes than those that existed before. For example, when he goes home to Malden after his second year at the Hampton Institute, Washington finds that both the salt-furnace and the coal-mine are not in operation due to worker’s strikes. In Chapter IV, Washington describes how strikers usually spent all their savings during the strikes and returned to work in debt, but at the same wages. He raises the impracticality of political agitation again after his controversial Atlanta Exposition speech. After the success of his speech, he hypothetically asks if a black man would have been invited to give a speech had people agitated to put a black person on the program. He answers in the negative, saying that such opportunities can only arise through merit.

And here’s a summary of his most famous speech:

On September 18, 1895, Booker T. Washington was selected to give a speech that would open the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia. The speech, which is often referred to as the “Atlanta Compromise,” was the first speech given by an African American to a racially-mixed audience in the South. In it, Washington suggested that African Americans should not agitate for political and social equality, but should instead work hard, earn respect and acquire vocational training in order to participate in the economic development of the South. By doing so, eventually, he stated, African Americans would gain the respect of white society and be granted the rights of full citizenship.

There’s a free full audio version of the book, and the full text is online. I recommend this book to people of all races, because as the sexual anarchy brought on by feminism becomes widespread, the majority of the children of tomorrow will face the same kinds of challenges.

I see Washington’s ideas as consistent with a Christian worldview, where we don’t expect to be treated fairly. We expect sinful people to treat us badly. What Christianity says is to be patient, and focus on your relationship with God and loving your neighbor. And one way to love your neighbor is to sell them something valuable that you made through your labor. Another way is to work and save, and give to charity.

Government solutions to problems like racism and poverty aren’t a top priority for Christians. Most of all, we need the freedom to be good, and to do good. That’s priority one. You may not make your life better by being moral and diligent, but it’s rare that doing so causes you to harm yourself. It’s very important that you not harm yourself.

So, this dovetails nicely with my own story. My married non-white parents were not smart enough or willing enough to monitor my education, but they were clear that they wanted me to do well in order to find good-paying work. So I completed my BS and MS in a STEM field, and went to work right away, and I’ve been at it continuously for 20 years now. I save most of what I earn for charity and early retirement.

I’ve never experienced any of the racism or police brutality that American blacks complain about. And that’s because I follow what Washington is teaching. I dress in a clean way that doesn’t communicate danger to others. I’m careful to spend my time reading apologetics, economics and military history. I don’t listen to popular music or watch popular TV or movies. I don’t hang out with people who blame other people for their lack of success.

I got my first job by volunteering to do it for free on Saturdays for 7 months. My first full-time job salary after college was $50,000. Then I got a raise of $6,000 and then a raise of $9,000. I used to work 70 hour weeks in my 20s. I graduated college with $9,000 dollars in the black, and my net worth is now about $1.25 million. By the way, the secret to becoming wealthy is to not spend money on showing off. You can be very generous to your friends and still get rich. Just never buy anything that is designed to communicate “status” to anyone. And never spend money on alcohol or chasing sex outside of marriage.

At no time did I accept that the problems defined by the secular left were my real problems. And at no time did I accept their “solutions” as real solutions to anything. As black economist Thomas Sowell writes, the “solutions” of the left are not effective at helping people like me. The “solutions” of the left are designed to make leftists feel better, and look more virtuous to others. You are much better off reading the Bible, Christian apologetics, free market economics, American military history, etc., and then respecting what you learn from that in your decision-making. I think that reading the right stuff is even more important than having good parents or attending church.

5 thoughts on “Why you should read “Up From Slavery” by Booker T. Washington”

  1. Washington was wise. You can’t force people, by law, to stop being racist. They have to come to it by experience. In my own youth, people like Bill Cosby, Sammy Davis Jr., and Stevie Wonder did more to endear me to blacks than any abstract discussions and claims to racial equality.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I totally agree, you cannot legislate racism. All that will do is force the person to “hide” how they feel and become a “great pretender.”

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s