Booker wasn’t always aware of being a slave child. He understood that when he saw his mother praying for freedom one day early in the morning. Booker lived on a plantation in Virginia with his mother, brother and sister and he didn’t know his father, apart from the fact that he was a white man who lived in another place. The masters of Booker’s family were not particularly harsh. However, there was no hate on Booker’s side because he understood that slavery was bad for both sides.
Washington was a child during the Civil war, but he overheard the slaves talking about the importance of it. The slaves were praying for Abraham Lincoln to succeed in his battle. His memories as a child slave include eating meals in an inappropriate manner. His family was in Virginia on a plantation and their food was served to them as if they were animals. Sometimes they didn’t have plates, not even cutlery.
When it comes to Booker’s experience with his masters, he began serving them inside of the house while they were eating for example, by fanning them, when he grew up enough. He wasn’t comfortable wearing the clothes made for the slaves. He would the masters talk about the war and about freedom. At this time Booker became fully aware of his position. For example, he saw his mistresses eating cake and he decided that his ultimate desire is to be free one day and eat the cake in the same manner. The cake was the symbol of freedom and success. One of his young masters died in the war and two were injured. The slaves showed sympathy.
Booker recalls of the emotional bond between the slaves and the masters which continued even after the Civil war. The former slaves would help them financially because some of them ended up poor. Despite the ex-slaves taking care of their ex-masters, they still wanted and enjoyed their freedom. They were just used to being in some kind of a relationship with their previous owners. The Emancipation-Proclamation abolished slavery, but both the masters and the older slaves had a feeling of loss. The masters never learned how to take care of the household and some of the slaves were too old for a new beginning when they got their freedom.
Upon gaining freedom, Booker and his family went to West Virginia where his stepfather arranged accommodation and jobs for the whole family. The life there was unbearable because of the bad hygiene and working hours. He was anxious to learn how to read and he succeeded in it. The school for colored and underprivileged boys opened and he went there. It was open both during the day and night. He managed to go to school before and after the work and to socialize with other boys. He chose his name and his mother sew him a cap to be like other boys. His work in the mines was something he hated and his ambition drove him to study hard so that his children would be proud of him one day. He was not envious of white boys because he was proud to overcome obstacles all by himself. Booker became very proud of his race.
At this time, Booker decided to earn money in so that he could attend the Agricultural Institute in Virginia. He took a job in the home of the master of the salt mines with a determination to go to Hampton to study. On his way, he had tough time because he ran out of money and he was denied of access to some places where white people were welcome. Upon arriving in Richmond, he found a job there to earn for food. Many years later he had a reception in the same place with more than 200 people present.
When Booker reached Hampton, he believed that his dream came true. There he met his head teacher, and they became great friends. He began working as a janitor there only to be able to earn some money. Now, he was in the position of fulfilling his dreams, because of being in the right place to pursue his education as well as to earn some money through work, which he was already accustomed to.
General Armstrong influenced Booker a lot. He achieved that the part of his tuition be paid by Mr. Morgan, a rich man from Massachusetts. Booker was also provided with clean clothes and polished shoes because those were the rules of the school. He slept in the bed with sheets for the first time in his life and he was one of the youngest boys in the school. The teachers in the school were white, they called them Yankee teachers and they felt that the history was written.
Booker had problems where to stay during the vacation and he got a job in a near-by place. However, he couldn’t earn enough money, so he went straight to the Hampton treasurer who told him that he could pay off his debt when he got enough money. During the course of his studies, Booker was influenced by his teachers. Nathalie Lord taught him about the importance of public speech and about the spiritual guidance that the Bible would provide him. Therefore, Booker began to read the Bible and he joined the debate club, organizing a debate himself as well.
After the second year, he went home and began to work. His mother died while he wasn’t around and he was devastated. Mrs. Ruffner helped him out by giving him a part time job. He finally earned enough money to go back to Hampton to continue his education. His final year at the institute was important because it taught him the importance of being selfless and generous. He was one of the Commencement speakers. Upon graduation, he had no money at all and took a job as a waiter in Connecticut. He didn’t know how to do that job properly and was degraded to the position of a dish carrier until he learned how to be a waiter.
After this job, Booker went back to Walden where he became a teacher for the black students. He started a night school as well as a debate club. He taught the students about being clean and proud. He also gave private lessons. Booker helped his brothers and some other students pursue further education at the Institute in Hampton. He also found out about the Ku Klux Klan when the members of this society hurt his friend, General Ruffner.
The next period was the period of Reconstruction. It lasted from 1867 to 1878. Most colored men were learning Latin or Greek and became preachers or teacher in spite of lacking education. Some of them were immoral as well. Booker was worried about this but believed that the situation would improve. The black people were dependent on the Government. They were free but didn’t know how to take care of themselves. The North wanted to punish the people from the South by putting the black people into high political positions. They were not prepared and Booker helped them to do their jobs in a fair manner.
In 1878, Booker spent some time in an institution in Washington D.C. where he observed the student behavior. The black people found the jobs in politics appealing, but they lacked the experience and the knowledge. Booker was interested in making them more independent. The students in the Hampton Institute were much different.
During the political changes in West Virginia, Booker refused to become a political leader because he wanted to help black people become more independent. It was a lesson that he learned throughout his whole life and new the importance of being self-sufficient. He wanted to teach black people that. After giving the Commencement speech “The Force That Wins” in Hapmton, Booker was invited to become a part time teacher to Indians and partly to educate himself more.
The Indians felt superior to the black people because they never became slaves, but it turned out that their level of education was similar. Black people were helping the Indians and Booker gained their respect and trust. This taught everybody a lesson that being human is tested in contact with the underprivileged people. However, at this time, Indians could be served in places where black people couldn’t. After the first year with the Indians, Booker got another job teaching night school for the future students who couldn’t afford to pay the tuition. They worked hard and they managed to graduate later.
Next Booker’s job was that of being in charge of a school in Tuskagee to teach colored students. He found the place for this school because the money he was provided with was enough only for the salaries of the staff. He examined life of blacks in Alabama and was willing to help them change. He was going to open a modern school. It would teach students about trade and things they could apply in real life. Miss Davidson came to teach there and she became Booker’s wife. Booker adapted a big house at an old plantation and turned it into a school. Money came from all sides to make this school work and the students worked hard as well.
Booker taught his students the importance of physical work as well as of trade. All problems with the money were solved by raising it through benefits or because of generosity of other people. Booker’s first speech was at the National Education Association. He was speaking about the importance of the inclusion of the black people in the society. Then he spoke before the Christian Workers in Atlanta. There were influential white people there and he delivered a great speech. In 1895 he spoke at the opening of the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition. It was before the Congress and he managed to get help for the South.
Booker’s speeches spoke to the souls of the audience and that is what made him an influential speaker. He was very influential in his talks. He went to Europe with his third wife and he brought many good experiences and ideas from there. Booker continued to speak throughout the whole country and to promote the values of the South, the need for the North and South to work together and he taught the black people to be independent.
Are Booker T. Washington’s ideas about education relevant for today?
Booker believed that education should be adapted according to the individual needs of all students. Not every student had the same character and the way of learning. That is what he was taught in Hampton. It is different today because education has become a trade. It is depends if someone has enough money to pay for education and even then, the graduates are not prepared for real life and real work. Getting a B.A. and graduating from college is important to get a degree, but it is not necessary to be successful in business.
Times have changed since the time of Booker T. Washington in terms of the necessity of going to college. It is prestigious to go to college, but if it will make students go into great debts, perhaps they should get their jobs first, especially the gifted ones. Education has become marketable. It is goods that can be bought. A student can work hard and graduate without a real purpose. The real education comes later through work.
It was different for Booker, because he needed education in order to elevate himself above the slavery. He had just become free and was anxious to become educated. Therefore he pursued his studies and later became a teacher as well. He encouraged many people to realize their potential. It is not like that today because nobody cares if a person will or will not realize their full potential. Everything revolves around money nowadays. The educational mould is also present.
Associate degrees are important today for BA graduates. With these degrees they get more skills. It is obvious that education has to be combined in order to be well equipped for a well-paid job. Even at the time of when Booker was studying, he finished the Hampton Institute and later came back to pursue further studies. He also learned lot through teaching.
However, the best school was the school of life. It consists of being well organized and clean and taking care of the hygiene. That is what Booker always taught his students and that is the story behind his success with people. Many doors opened for him just because he had good presentation skills and paid attention to his audience. He could get his ideas through.
Today, there are degrees which are not a BA degree, but they lead to gaining more professional skills. It is better to have practical knowledge at first and than to pursue theoretical knowledge as well. It can be argued that theoretical knowledge should be gained in the younger age, but practical knowledge is very important for the actual job. Philosophical knowledge broadens the soul, but physical work makes people human. That is part of the legacy of Booker T. Washington.
Today, even certificates lead to better paid jobs than having a BA. It is the idea that Booker was also spreading. He was never interested only in theoretical approach and he always encouraged his students to work hard by building things and by studying. It is the same today, although many students wish to have a BA degree because it is prestigious. The best way is to work on meeting one’s personal needs in order to be fulfilled in life. Sometimes a BA is enough, but sometimes extra certificates are necessary for getting a good job.
Washington, Booker T. Up from Slavery. New York: Dover Publications. 1995. Print.
Rosenbaum, James E., Jennifer L. Stephen, and Janet E. Rosenbaum. „Beyond One-Size-Fits-All College Dreams.“ America Education Fall 2010. Print.