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‘Up from Slavery’ Booker T. Washington, Summary

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Published: Thu, 21 Sep 2017

The book “Up from Slavery”, is about a nine-year-old slave named Booker T. Washington who lived on a plantation in Virginia. Booker T. Washington describes his childhood as a slave as well as the hard work it took to get an education. Booker T. Washington shares details of the changes he went through from a student to teacher. He also outlines his experience as an educator and how helped with the development and opening of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Booker T. describes the progress of when Tuskegee started having classes small shacks to now having classes in new buildings. The last chapter, describes Booker T. career as a public speaker and civil rights activist. Booker T. mention the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition in 1895 which made him well known nationwide. He ends his story with several acknowledgments he had received for his work which includes an honorary degree from Harvard. In addition to, there were two significant people who made a visit to Tuskegee, President McKinley and General Samuel C. Armstrong.

Booker T. was a nationwide leader for the development of African Americans in the post-Reconstruction South. He pushed for the economic and industrial improvement of Blacks while helping Whites with voting rights and social equality. His mother was the plantation cook where they lived. It did not have glass windows and the doors barely hung on uneven hinges. There were large cracks in the walls that let in cold air in the winter and humidity in the summer. The floor was the stripped to the ground. Booker T. had no reminiscence of playing games or sports. He regretted it because he believed he would have been a more useful man if he had. However, because he was a slave he dedicated his life to work. He cleaned yards, carried water, and took corn to the mill. Moving corn to the mills was the hardest jobs he had ever done.

While at work, Booker T. heard two men chatting about a school for African Americans people which would be opening in Virginia. Booker T. learned that not only was the institute famous, but openings were offered to help cover the cost of room and board and the students would be taught a trade. Booker T. felt like this could be a great chance. He was fixed on going to the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia. Booker T. left the salt mines to get a job at the General Lewis Ruffner, the owner of the mines. He wanted to continue to make money. General Lewis wife was a very strict boss. A lot of young men had quit or had got fired because they didn’t meet her values. Booker T. would walk around all night and beg for a ride until he had reached 82 miles to Hampton. He did not have any money to pay for a place to sleep so he walked around the city of Richmond until he found a place to sleep.

Booker T. had saved enough money to reach Hampton. He believed he had a surplus of 50 cents. When he reached Hampton, he was impressed by the beauty of the school building. He believed that his life would have new meaning. He stood before the head teacher hoping to enroll but he didn’t make a satisfactory impression on her. His clothes were dirty and his appearance was rough. The teachers at Hampton helped to provided Booker T. with fresh clothing because the institute had strict rules. All students attending had to have clean clothes and shiny shoes. Booker T. was also given an extra set of clothing that was sent in barrels from up North. Booker T. slept in a bed for the first time that had sheets on them. He was unaccustomed to sleeping on sheets for the first several nights. After watching the other boys for a while, he picked up on how to make his bed. Booker T. was one of the youngest adolescent boys in the school but that didn’t stop his determination. Even as Booker T. attended school at Hampton Institute, he learned a significant lesson about education that would be with him for a long time.

One of the lessons was being clean was a vital part of a person’s self-confidence. He also learned that even though if a person had an education, it did not put them directly above blue-collar labor. Booker T. believed education should be well rounded and that a people should learn to enjoy labor. He also learned to be more independent and valuable to others in his surroundings. In addition to, Booker T. thought that people should not be selfless but lead by example. Booker T. Washington later take all his left lessons to the Tuskegee Institute where he became a principal.

In the month of May, 1881, General Armstrong accepted a proposal from a group of philanthropists who recommended that the principal for the new school be an African American in the little town of Alabama which would be called Tuskegee. At the time of the request, people assumed that there would not be an African American man that would qualify for the position. Nevertheless, to the shock of the founders of the Tuskegee Institute, Booker T. Washington was recommended for the position where he would be accepted at the school. Shortly after Booker T. Washington made it to Tuskegee, the founders and Booker T. agreed that the school would open on July 4, 1881, Independence Day. Booker T. thought the goal of the Tuskegee Institute would be the source for people who could work hard, learn a skill, and make a living. He also thought people should learn the meaning of hygiene and religion. Booker T. wanted the graduates to go all over the country and be a model to all they met. Reading, writing and arithmetic was taught. But a greater value was placed on the skills and everyday living. Booker T. hope students would know that working as a laborer was not an embarrassment. As a part of all the students training, they were expected to do all the work at the institute.

In 1893, Booker T. Washington married his third wife, Miss Margaret James Murray, who had graduate of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. Portia his daughter was a dressmaker. She had a passion for music. Portia later was hired as an instructor at Tuskegee. His son Booker T., Jr. learned the brick mason’s trade. He wanted to become an architect one day. Ernest, the youngest son wanted to be a doctor. He decided to gain experience in a doctor’s office. His biggest guilt was he couldn’t spend more time with his family.

Twenty years later, the Tuskegee Institute has incorporated a lot of land built by the student. All the manufacturing departments demonstrated skills that permitted students to get careers once they graduated at the institute. Washington died in 1915 as one of the most popular black men in the world. Booker T. had dinners with the President of the United States, as well as dining with royal families in Europe. Washington was an intellectual man who tried to do the best for African Americans. He wanted to have an education that would allow them to live ideal lives. A number of black leaders in America today, such as Alan Keys, hope to go back to Washington’s structure of educating the “head, hand, and the heart.” The Tuskegee Institute has improved since Washington’s time. While the school was built to help African Americans to learn a skill, it now supports students to earn a college degree. Washington’s assessment on integration consisted of living by example. Washington felt if black people could demonstrate white people they could act sophisticated and be an asset to the community, all the races would finally get along. Washington felt like the government could make people like one another by making it legal. Washington believed African Americans had to prove themselves as equals.


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