The only thing I knew about Booker T. Washington was that he found many ways of using peanuts. In the process of my research I learned that he wasn’t a farmer after all rather than a teacher and educator who became a leader of the newly emancipated African-Americans after being liberated from slavery. George Washington Carver who was a student of his school in Tuskegee, Alabama was the one who experimented with growing better yields of peanuts, sweet potatoes and pecans.
I was very much moved when I read Booker Washington’s biography Up From Slavery. I was mostly impressed by his humble and grateful attitude regarding his upbringing. He never blamed anybody for his circumstances or was resentful for his life. Even after being freed his family was very poor and had little to eat. Even young children had to work from morning till night in the salt mine, coal mine or the mill. But because of his determination to make something of himself he found a way to learn, adopt and even go to school. His desire to learn was so strong that he eventually was accepted at the Hampton School in Virginia. He was so motivated to learn that he started out with night classes at Hampton’s. He spend the whole day working for a white family doing basic homemaking chores. Because he wanted to do a good job, he excelled in all his doings which not only gave him the confidence of his employer but also helped him eventually to work at the school in the same way, while going to classes. He became an exemplary student and showed many of the new pupils how to learn physical skills while also absorbing the book knowledge.
“I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.”~ Booker T. Washington (1856-1905), Up From Slavery: An Autobiography
In time, his supervisor, General Samuel C. Armstrong chose Booker to open a new school in Tuskegee, Alabama, to further the education of the children of the freed slaves in the south. In all his doing Prof. Washington encouraged the students to apply their physical skills. In fact, the whole curriculum of the school was designed so that the students worked half a day and the other half was for studying and recreation. Dr. Washington saw the Tuskegee school as his life’s work. He invested himself completely and won the support not only of his own people but also the influential white folks. He traveled all over the country presenting his work with the students at Tuskegee which resulted in the financial support of many of the former slave holders as well the generosity of Northern businesses. During that time he became a well-spoken public orator which gained him even greater funding. His address known as the Atlanta Compromise Speech in 1895 brought him more fame and requests for presentations and appearances to benefit the cause of the black people.
“Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.”
After some 18 years of total dedication to the education of the black population of the south, some of his supporters decided that he needed a break. Some of his Northern benefactors got together to plan a trip to Europe. Mr. Washington in his humility didn’t want to accept at first the expenses for the fare across the Atlantic. None-the-less, he benefitted greatly, not only from the rest and relaxation the voyage provided for him and his wife, but also from the many new contacts he made while overseas.
“Character, not circumstance, makes the person.”
He often reflected on how far he had come ‘up from slavery’ meeting with presidents, royalties and high society. He always went back to his own roots deeply planted in his faith in the greatest benefactor, God. His involvement was never political: rather, he proposed education and raising the standard of living for his own people.
To say the least, I was very moved reading the accounts of Dr. Booker T. Washington’s experiences following his way with strong determination, hard work and deep faith. His motto never changed: cast down your bucket where you are. This is a great lesson for all of us, be grateful for what you have and where you are, but follow a greater vision with passion and persistence.