Dr. Sowell has mentioned Booker T. Washington many times in his books. I finally decided to read his autobiography- Up From Slavery (available on public domain here). I got hooked on it instantly and learnt a lot of life lessons.
Washington began his childhood just after the beginning of the abolition. He always envies children who could go to school, so he worked in a salt furnace and later in the coal mine 6 hours a day while attending the local school for the same amount of time. He later found a job working as a house keeper for a Southern lady who taught him the important lesson of being precise and organized. He was always anxious of him not having the material possessions which would make him look like his peers, but he later learned that appearance did not matter, what really mattered was his merit.
Eventually he saved up some money to buy a ticket to go to Hampton, a boarding school in West Virginia to pursue further education. He did so on his own term, he worked in a dock for a while to save up enough money to do so. When he arrived at the boarding school, the headmistress gave him the first task/entrance exam: to clean a room. The skills he learnt from working as a house keeper paid off, he made sure the room was spotless and he was accepted to the school while working part time as janitor to pay for his fees. He learned that if he wanted to keep his job, he had to make sure he is valued and irreplaceable.
His time at the school also allowed him to encounter a character called General Armstrong who Washington considered as the “perfect man”, through him, he learned discipline and love. General Armstrong fought for the Southern men but he did not have a single resentment nor ever uttered a single bad word against his former masters. He treated everyone with love and respect, it is through him that Washington changed his initial world view and further strengthened his desire to make the negros a better race.
When Washington graduated, he worked as a teacher for his home town in Alabama, it was proven that there are more needs for the education of his people, he eventually started his own school with his love interest. They had nothing, they had to have fundraisers and write letters to donors to beg for money. They were able to secure a piece of land with $500 dollars, though indebted, Washington worked hard for the building of the school and other people noticed his hard work and followed. They built everything by themselves, they planted seeds, plowed the land, did carpentry, made their bricks. Though it was not learning through reading books, people learned skills they could use to make themselves employable. The quality of their bricks were so good that non-negros flocked to their school to trade with them and they returned the favour. The school became so successful that it became a vital part of the community and allowed racial integration to move forward. There were many times that he almost gave up, but with determination and endurance they survived and Tuskegee Normal School became the symbol for the advancement of African Americans.
Washington represents this Ayn Rand quote:
“Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received — hatred. The great creators — the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors — stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won.”
There are more details in his book and I had cried almost every second page because of how heroic Washington really was. I highly recommend everyone to read this book. If you feel like life is too difficult, imagine being in Washington’s position and trust me, you will have a whole new perspective on life.