B.T. Washington Essay, Research Paper
Chad Mertz Booker T. Washington Essay September 25, 2000 Throughout the life of Booker T. Washington expressed in his autobiography, Up From Slavery, one element has remained the same through his influences, education, public speaking, and teaching of others. This is the fact that one cannot succeed solely on a “book” education, but must accompany this with that of an “industrial” education as well. He believed that with this type of education, the black man could provide necessary services not only for himself, but also for those in his community as well. Washington was born on a slave plantation in either 1858 or 1859 in Franklin County, Virginia. He grew up with his mother, his brother John, and his sister Amanda. They lived in an extremely small log cabin, which was typical for a slave family. His father was thought to be a white man who lived on a nearby plantation. Washington knew nothing of him, which was also very typical of many slaves. Washington’s mother was the plantation cook, which meant she did not have a great deal of time to raise the children. The white men that gave them orders raised them. Due to the fact that he was only a small child during the times of slavery, Washington could perform few jobs. These were little jobs such as cleaning the yards, carrying water to the men and women to the fields, and taking corn to mill. Although small, these jobs gave Washington the base of his industrial education, which shaped his views for the rest of his life. After the end of the Civil War, Washington’s mother moved his family to Malden, West Virginia. This is where her husband, who also was Washington’s sister’s father, lived. Although he wanted to attend school, Washington worked in the local salt mines to help support his family. During this time of work, Washington acquired a Webster’s spelling book that came to be the first book he ever read. About this same time a school had been stated in Kanawha Valley, a little town a few miles away from Malden. This is where Washington began his book education. To attend the school, Washington, at first, had to go to night classes due to his job at the salt mines. With a little persuasion, Washington finally was allowed to attend during the day provided he worked from four o’clock to nine o’clock in the morning. This education was very disorderly due to the fact he could not attend regularly. Eventually Washington had to drop out of the school and continue working full time at the salt mines. Washington continued working at the salt mines until he was able to work in the coal mines. The coal mines paid a little more, but not a significant difference. It was here where Washington overheard two men talking about a new all Negro school in Hampton, Virginia. In order to go to this school, Washington needed to save money for clothes and traveling expenses. For this he worked in the house of Mrs. Viola Ruffner, who turned out to have an ample affect on his life. “The lessons that I learned in the home of Mrs. Ruffner were as valuable to me as any education I have ever gotten since,” (Washington 52). From Mrs. Ruffner, Washington learned about taking pride in having a clean living area. She also encouraged his education during the time of his work there. After saving whatever money he could, Washington set off for the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute. During his travels, Washington overcame many hardships. For a while he even slept under a board sidewalk. This fact showed Washington’s dedication for education. He knew it was vital, and in turn, was going to get his at any cost. Upon arrival at Hampton in 1872, Washington was required to take somewhat of an entrance test. The test consisted of him cleaning a recitation-room. He passed it with flying colors due to acquiring this trade for Mrs. Ruffner. About this test Washington writes, “I have passed several examinations since then, but I have always felt that this was the best one I ever passed,” (57). This statement shows the respect Washington had for both a book and industrial education. To get into Hampton, the institution that gave him his book education, he needed the knowledge of the proper way to clean a room. At Hampton, Washington received a wide variety of knowledge from math to the Bible. He paid for his education by working as a janitor. Every hour he spent was either working or studying. It was at Hampton where he learned to study the Bible. This was taught to him by a Miss Nathalie Lord. Lord also taught him the art of public speaking, which became a large part of his later life. Washington writes, “Whatever ability I may have as a public speaker I owe in a measure to Miss Lord,” (64) Another person Washington met at Hampton was General Samuel C. Armstrong. Armstrong became Washington’s mentor and indeed the greatest influence on his life. Just reading a few descriptive lines about Armstrong, one can easily see the respective tone. “He worked almost constantly night and day for the cause to which he had given his life. I never saw a man who so completely lost sight of himself. I do not believe he ever had a selfish thought,” (58). In June of 1875, Washington graduated from Hampton on the honour roll. This allowed him to have the distinguished honor of speaking at the Commencement ceremonies. After Hampton, Washington held a waiter position in Connecticut. This lasted only a short time due to the fact that he wanted use his knowledge to teach others. For this he went home to Malden. There he taught day and night school for two years. Washington felt that he could reach the black community on a much lager level. He would later get this opportunity. In May of 1881, Washington received a letter from General Armstrong stating that two men were looking for someone to start a school in Tuskegee, Alabama. This provided Washington with the forum he needed to teach the full education he felt black students needed. On July 4, 1881, Washington’s school in Tuskegee opened. Admission was open to anyone over fifteen years old with some sort of educational foundation. His educational mission can be summed up in a paragraph excerpt: “We wanted to teach the students how to bathe; how to care for their teeth and clothing. We wanted to teach them what to eat, and how to eat it properly, and how to care for their rooms. Aside from this, we wanted to give them such a practical knowledge of some one industry, together with the spirit of industry, thrift, and economy, that they would be sure of knowing how to make a living after they had left us. We wanted to teach them to study actual things instead of mere books alone,” (96). This could perhaps be the most important passage in Washington’s entire autobiography. It states not only his standards for education, but also the standards for what he felt every person should live by. Starting the school was rough. Funds were small and teachers were scarce. For this Washington sent a Miss Olivia A. Davidson around the country. Davidson literally went house to house looking for money. She did this while Washington oversaw the daily operations at the school. Once financially able, Washington took on the project of adding another building to the school. This was done solely by students. Even the bricks used to construct the building were made by students. Many objected to this saying that the children were there to receive an education, not work. Washington argued that this was part of their education. Besides architecture, construction, and brick making, students also learned such industries as landscaping, farming, and laundry. Overtime Tuskegee secured itself as one of the top schools for African-Americans. During his time at Tuskegee, Washington had made somewhat of a name for himself, which allowed him to speak publicly about his views from time to time. Public speaking was somewhat of a hobby for Washington until the National Education Association asked him to speak at their national convention in Madison, Wisconsin. He unexpectedly praised the South and talked of the importance of the Negro being involved in the community. Many important people throughout the country heard the speech, which opened doors for other speaking opportunities. Washington talked to many groups on many different subjects, but the speech he is truly remembered for took place at the opening of the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition. The audience was filled with influential people throughout the country. Washington knew that if he got his message across, he might be able to secure an enormous amount of money for Tuskegee. Washington overwhelmed the crowd. The core of his speech dealt with the fact that black men, after education, should do their part in the progression of their community. He used the metaphor, “Cast down your bucket where you are,” requesting black men to not look for a community to better service their needs, but to help the place where you are at, (147). This request also extended to white men to whom Washington asked not to move from a community to which blacks integrate, but to work with them to form a healthy relationship on which the town can build. Everyone loved it. President Grover Cleveland even sent a letter of congratulations to Washington. The Atlanta speech made Washington so famous that he received many speaking opportunities to which that he had to regretfully decline. Public speaking consumed most of Washington’s time for the rest of his life. This was possible because he had left such a strong foundation at Tuskegee. This gave him the opportunity to meet many people such as the President of Harvard, the Postmaster General, the Secretary to the President, many United States ambassadors, and Presidents Cleveland and McKinley. Although he failed to mention much information on the subject, Washington was married twice, first to Miss Fannie M. Smith, and second to the earlier mentioned Miss Olivia A. Davidson. He had three children. Their names were Booker, Ernest, and Portia. Booker T. Washington had two goals in his life. These were to receive an education of both books and industry and to utilize this education to teach others. Through his teachings, the school he started, and that of his speeches, he gave both blacks and whites the insight of living in a successful community. For this, his legacy will not soon be forgotten.