On our never-ending conversation about race

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, has called off his ill-advised dictate to his employees to engage customers in a conversation about race. I wrote about that folly here. Schultz coming to his senses prompts me to re-post my piece on Booker T. Washington. More people should read about him and should read what he wrote about race and slavery. Washington was the voice of Black America at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. My previous post on Booker T. Washington begins here:

There is another class of coloured people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs — partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs.

I am afraid that there is a certain class of race-problem solvers who don’t want the patient to get well, because as long as the disease holds out they have not only an easy means of making a living, but also an easy medium through which to make themselves prominent before the public.

— Booker T. Washington, from My Larger Education, Chapter V, The Intellectuals and the Boston Mob (pg. 118)

BookerTWashingtonBooker T. Washington was a voice for Black Americans, perhaps the primary voice, from 1890 to 1915, and the author of Up from Slavery (1901). Washington was an educator and orator as well as a founder of the Alabama school that developed into Tuskegee University.

He advised US presidents on racial issues and the appointment of Blacks to government positions. He received honorary degrees from Harvard University in 1896 and Dartmouth College in 1901. Washington authored a dozen books, including The story of my Life and Work (1900), Up From Slavery (1901), Working With the Hands (1904), Tuskegee and Its People: Their Ideal and Achievements (1905), Frederick Douglas (1907), and My Larger Education (1910). He died on November 14, 1915, at Tuskegee, Alabama.

In My Larger Education (1910), his autobiography, Washington discusses how he arrived at his views on race relations, focusing on the importance of cooperation and teamwork and describing the experiences that led to the founding of Tuskegee. My Larger Education is essential reading for anyone wishing to learn more about Washington and his ideas as well as those seeking insights into the challenges faced by Black Americans at the turn of the twentieth century.

The quote at the beginning of this post pretty clearly indicates that Booker T. Washington would not have been an ally of Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, but would have whole heartedly embraced Martin Luther King. He certainly would have no time for those Black Americans today who denigrate getting good school grades as “acting white.”  Washington would have called it “acting right.”

Although Washington was skeptical of “intellectuals” for their fixation on “theories” to the exclusion of real world things, he would no doubt have great respect for such Black intellectuals as Thomas Sowell, Walter E. Williams, John McWhorter, Shelby Steele and Roy Innis, to name only a few. Given his advice to his fellows Blacks to use achievement as the best means to overcome racism he would probably be completely bowled over with Clarence Thomas and Janis Rogers Brown. One could go on and on with more names of prominent Black Americans of high achievement. Wherever Booker T. Washington’s spirit is today, he must be smiling confidently.

Another of my favorite quotes from Booker T. Washington:  “To do common things uncommonly well brings success.”

I believe all of Booker T. Washington’s books are available as Kindle editions for 99 cents each.  Such a deal.


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