ERIC Number: EJ832762
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2009-Feb-27
Reference Count: 0
Reshaping the Image of Booker T. Washington
Norrell, Robert J.
Chronicle of Higher Education, v55 n25 pB5 Feb 2009
Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute and the recognized leader of American black people from 1895 until his death in 1915, has been viewed as an accommodationist to segregation, an African-American leader who traded black equality and voting rights for his own influence among white bigots. Washington rose to national fame with a speech at the Cotton States Exposition, in Atlanta, in which he told Southerners, black and white, that "in all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress." Most black people and many influential white people looked to him from then on as the leader of his race. But from the 1960s onward, his reputation suffered: As one historian put it, "the tar brush of Uncle Tomism has stuck." In the author's view, leading American historians have committed the anachronistic fallacy of removing Washington from the context of his life. They have done so out of protest against racial injustice--an understandable motive, but one that casts the Tuskegeean as a foil to African-American protest leaders of the 1960s. In this article, the author discusses Washington's accepted biography, contending that Washington was not the conniving compromiser historians would have people think, but rather a pragmatic leader in a difficult time who pursued both protest and evolutionary change. Washington's life, concludes Norrell, was an object lesson of progress and hope that black people could rise to something better: at many levels, this prophecy was correct, and Washington's historical reputation should be revised to reflect that.
Descriptors: Racial Segregation, Reputation, Profiles, Historical Interpretation, Hermeneutics, Biographies, Black Studies
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Opinion Papers
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A