If you go back to the post about the Teabagger Magazine, you’ll notice that there’s an article about Booker T Washington in it. There is a reason that teabaggers would do this, and why they like this man. I wasn’t aware of this, because I didn’t, until last week, know shit about Booker T Washington. But I had to read one of his essays for class recently, and a lightbulb went on. So, I’m going to share what I’ve found out. I’m sure it won’t be too difficult to see why the teabaggers like him.
Booker T Washington was born in slavery, and he was very active in African American politics in the South, especially after Reconstruction, between 1890 and 1915. He was a very prominent figure, especially because he actually had a good number of white sponsors to his cause. This was primarily because of something called the Atlanta Compromise.
Here are some excerpts from and about his speech at the Atlanta Exposition, from his autobiography:
“The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly, and that progress in the enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing. No race that has anything to contribute to the markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized. It is important and right that all privileges of the law be ours, but it is vastly more important that we prepared for the exercise of these privileges. The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in in an opera-house.”
“My own belief is, although I have never before said so in so many words, that the time will come when the Negro in the South will be accorded all the political rights which his ability, character, and material possessions entitle him to. I think, though, that the opportunity to freely exercise such political rights will not come in any large degree through ouside or artificial forcing, but will be accorded to the Negro by the Southern white people themselves, and that they will protect him in the exercise of those rights. Just as soon as the South gets over the old feeling that it is being forced by “foreigners” or “aliens”, to do something which it dies not want to do, I believe that the change in the direction that I have indicated is going to begin.”
“I believe that it is the duty of the Negro — as the greater part of the race is already doing — to deport himself modestly in regard to political claims, depending upon the slow but sure influences that proceed from possession of property, intelligence and high character for the full recognition of his political rights. I believe that the according of the full exercise of political rights is going to be a matter of natural, slow growth, not an over-night gourd-vine affair.”
“As a rule, I believe in universal, free suffrage, but I believe that in the South we are confronted with peculiar conditions that justify the protection of the ballot in many of the states, for a while at least, either by an educational test, a property test, or by both combined”
“then, when we rid ourselves of prejudice, or racial feeling, and look facts in the face, we must acknowledge that, notwithstanding the cruelty and moral wrong of slavery, the ten million Negroes inhabiting this country, who themselves or whose ancestors went through the school of American slavery, are in a stronger and more hopeful condition, materially, intellectually, morally, and religiously, than is true of an equal number of black people in any other portion of the globe”
“To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits for the prosperity of the South, were I permitted I would repeat what I say to my own race, […] Cast down your bucket* among these people who have, without strikes and labour wars, tilled your fields, cleared your forests, builded your railroads and cities, and brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth, and helped make possible this magnificent representation of the progress of the South”
I’m not going to comment on what cultural work Washington’s accommodationist writing was performing during his lifetime, because I’m really not familiar enough with the political and social context. Suffice it to say that he did have contemporary African-American critics, most notably W.E.B. DuBois. However, aligning yourself with these sentiments today speaks volumes, and not necessarily in favor of those who do so, I think.
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*metaphor for seeking what you want where you are, instead of looking for it elsewhere