Posted by Michael Fong
Booker T. Washington, "Up From Slavery"
"From any point of view, I had rather be what I am, a member of the Negro race, than be able to claim membership with the most favoured of any other race...I am conscious of the fact that mere connection with what is known as a superior race will not permanently carry an individual forward unless he has individual worth, and mere connection with what is regarded as an inferior race will not finally hold an individual back if he possesses intrinsic, individual merit...This I have said here, not to call attention to myself as an individual, but to the race to which I am proud to belong." (Booker T. Washington, "Up From Slavery" Chapter II. Boyhood Days)
The above quote was from Booker T. Washington's Up from Slavery, an autobiography of a man who had experienced and was subsequently freed from slavery as a child, a man who did everything he could to educate himself, a man who delivered the inspirational speech "Atlanta Compromise" that established itself as one of the most significant milestones in the history of African Americans, a man who was christened as "the Moses of his race".
Autobiographies often prove to be such fascinating reads, and in the case of Up from Slavery, the awe and respect which I personally hold for this brilliant man after reading a portion of the book simply cannot be exaggerated. I personally believe that the African Americans have every right to claim that the environment, the hostility that they were up against in the society, and even the laws made after the emancipation were unfair to them, and under the situation they cannot achieve anything significant. If I myself were to be in their shoes, I would've thought similarly; that I, too, cannot be successful. And yet Washington, in those times of turmoil, boldly said that he believed, not hope, but am conscious of the fact that being African American would not hold one back from the trials to success, and he was proud to be a negro. Basically, he's saying that yes, we may be regarded as the inferior race at the moment, but that should not condemn us in thinking that we do not possess any merit or value. Moreover, he argued that "the surest way for blacks eventually to gain equal social rights was to demonstrate patience, industry, thrift, and usefulness...that these were the key to improved conditions for African Americans in the United States" (wikipedia). I admire him for how he stood his ground and hung to his principles even as racial discrimination and degrading portrayals of the African Americans were running rampant at that time. I also admire him for sowing the seeds for non-violent resistance. Though he himself was a slave when he was a child, he bore no grudge nor bitterness against the whites; he merely implored people of his race to resiliently and silently work on, and the success of them would eventually alter the views and prejudices of those around them. This reminded me of a quote from yet another famous African American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King: "To meet hate with retaliatory hate would do nothing but intensify the existence of evil in the universe. Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love; we must meet physical force with soul force. Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding." Did that seem impossible at that time? Certainly. And yet now, in the year 2009, the United States of America will be having her first African American president. Both Washington and King would have been proud.
It was Martin Luther King who delivered his "I have a Dream" speech, and it was Booker T. Washington who inspired the dream within King, not to mention countless of African Americans. In the book of Exodus, Moses delivered the Hebrews from slavery and lead them, after forty years in the desert, to the promised land of Canaan. I would say that Washington did the same.