The Education of Booker T. Washington: American Democracy and the Idea of Race Relations

Front Cover
Columbia University Press, 2006 - Biography & Autobiography - 281 pages

Booker T. Washington has long held an ambiguous position in the pantheon of black leadership. Lauded by some in his own lifetime as a black George Washington, he was also derided by others as a Benedict Arnold. In The Education of Booker T. Washington, Michael West offers a major reinterpretation of one of the most complex and controversial figures in American history. West reveals the personal and political dimensions of Washington's journey "up from slavery." He explains why Washington's ideas resonated so strongly in the post-Reconstruction era and considers their often negative influence in the continuing struggle for equality in the United States. West's work also establishes a groundwork for understanding the ideological origins of the civil rights movement and discusses Washington's views on the fate of race and nation in light of those of Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., and others.

West argues that Washington's analysis was seen as offering a "solution" to the problem of racial oppression in a nation professing its belief in democracy. That solution was the idea of "race relations." In practice, this theory buttressed segregation by supposing that African Americans could prosper within Jim Crow's walls and without the normal levers by which other Americans pursued their interests. Washington did not, West contends, imagine a way to perfect democracy and an end to the segregationist policies of southern states. Instead, he offered an ideology that would obscure the injustices of segregation and preserve some measure of racial peace.

White Americans, by embracing Washington's views, could comfortably find a way out of the moral and political contradictions raised by the existence of segregation in a supposedly democratic society. This was (and is) Washington's legacy: a form of analysis, at once obvious and concealed, that continues to prohibit the realization of a truly democratic politics.


What people are saying - Write a review

THE EDUCATION OF BOOKER T. WASHINGTON: American Democracy and the Idea of Race Relations

User Review  - Kirkus

A dense reassessment of an iconic figure in American history with special attention to his notion of race relations as a key to social progress for African-Americans.West (History/College of the Holy ... Read full review

The education of Booker T. Washington: American democracy and the idea of race relations

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

With his famed Atlanta exposition address in 1895, Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) succeeded the just-deceased Frederick Douglass as America├ƒ┬»├‚┬┐├‚┬Żs national black spokesman. Carroll (editor in ... Read full review


The Great and Intricate Problem Democracy the Negro Problem and the Idea of Race Relations
Negroes Whose Habits You Know The Slave Boy Booker Progress and Racial Feeling
They Will Pull Against You the Load Downward The Freedpeoples Failure and Booker Washingtons Rescue
Gathered from Miscellaneous Sources Democratic Possibilities and Other Kinds of Racial Feelings
Prepared for the Exercise of These Privileges A New Negro and the End of Democracy

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

Popular passages

Page 13 - 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.

About the author (2006)

Michael Rudolph West is associate professor of history and director of Africana Studies at the College of the Holy Cross.

Bibliographic information