My Larger Education: Chapters from My Experience

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Humanity Books, 2004 - Biography & Autobiography - 260 pages
The leading African American leader in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was Booker T. Washington. His conciliatory stance toward the white majority, preference for working behind the scenes rather than public protest to remedy discrimination, and emphasis on education in the practical trades for the black masses as opposed to a liberal arts education, all won favor with prominent white politicians and businessmen. Among many black intellectuals, however, Washington was a controversial figure. They criticized his lack of public emphasis on civil rights and felt that his leadership style almost guaranteed a bleak future of segregation and second-class status for blacks.

In this book, a sequel to his famous autobiography, Up from Slavery (1901), he lays out his philosophy of hard work and cooperative attitudes in persuasive and reasonable terms. He describes the men and experiences that had a lasting influence on his thinking and the impressive achievements of his Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama.

He also respectfully disagrees with his critics among black intellectuals. Chief among these was W. E. B. Du Bois, who criticized Washington’s slow, patient methods and passive stance in the teeth of so much injustice. Indeed, reading Washington’s account, one would never know that in the 1890s lynching reached an all-time high, that blacks were effectively disenfranchised in their own communities, and that the grip of poverty among African Americans was virtually ensured by the white power structure.

However controversial his career, My Larger Education is still worth reading as an important document in African American history, and Washington’s emphasis on economic empowerment for blacks is a continuing theme to this day.

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About the author (2004)

Booker Taliaferro Washington, 1856 - 1915 Booker T. Washington was born a slave in Hales Ford, Virginia, near Roanoke. After the U.S. government freed all slaves in 1865, his family moved to Malden, West Virginia. There, Washington worked in coal mines and salt furnaces. He went on to attend the Hampton, Virginia Normal and Agricultural Institute from 1872-1875 before joining the staff in 1879. In 1881 he was selected to head the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, a new teacher-training school for blacks, which he transformed into a thriving institution, later named Tuskegee University. His controversial conviction that blacks could best gain equality in the U.S. by improving their economic situation through education rather than by demanding equal rights was termed the Atlanta Compromise, because Washington accepted inequality and segregation for blacks in exchange for economic advancement. Washington advised two Presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, on racial problems and policies, as well as influencing the appointment of several blacks to federal offices. Washington became a shrewd political leader and advised not only Presidents, but also members of Congress and governors. He urged wealthy people to contribute to various black organizations. He also owned or financially supported many black newspapers. In 1900, Washington founded the National Negro Business League to help black business firms. Washington fought silently for equal rights, but was eventually usurped by those who ideas were more radical and demanded more action. Washington was replaced by W. E. B. Du Bois as the foremost black leader of the time, after having spent long years listening to Du Bois deride him for his placation of the white man and the plight of the negro. He died in 1915.

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