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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

thoughts on: Up From HIstory

Up from History: The Life of Booker T. WashingtonUp from History: The Life of Booker T. Washington by Robert J. Norrell

As his title implies, Up From History, seeks to restore our understanding of Booker T. Washington by placing him firmly in the context of the post-reconstruction South. The misrepresentation of Washington began even during his life, as he was under constant attacks from both white supremacists in the south and northern black men who sought to replace him as the perceived leader of his race. Sadly, it was the latter who were most effective in tarnishing Washington's reputation for much of the 20th century.

Washington was a very private man, so there are no revelations here, no newly discovered papers to reveal his inner life. What is here is a careful analysis of the events the day and how Washington responded to them. In an era of rampant lynchings and disfranchisement, Washington carefully advocated for increased education and opportunities for African Americans. He worked unceasingly to raise money for Tuskegee and other schools, believing that education and economic success would lead to better race relations. He advised President T. Roosevelt, advocating for fair minded men to receive federal appointments. He worked tirelessly to promote the ideal of unity and fight the stereotypical images of blacks in popular culture. He financially supported lawsuits to forward equality and lobbied against disfranchisement. Because his actions were liable to provoke more lynchings and riots, he often hid his involvement in political matters from public view, at least in the south.

In his concluding chapter, Norrell explores the reasons Washington's achievements and contributions were so maligned by later generations, and offers a fair assessment of his legacy.

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