Impact of Booker T Washington on Education for African Americans

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The history of American education can easily be categorized by separation of educational goals, time frames, and historical figures that impacted it. This includes significant people like Jean Piaget, Mary McLeod Bethune, and, the primary one discussed in this paper, Booker T. Washington. The impact Washington had on education for African Americans post-slavery is controversial when attempting to label it as positive or negative. Various writers such as Joel Spring, who wrote The American school, a global context: From the Puritans to the Trump Era, and writer of The Secret Life of Booker T. Washington from The Journal of Southern History Louis R. Harlan, are two scholarly-based authors with opposing views.

While Harlan believed Washington was a man with good intentions for the black community, Spring suggested otherwise, associating Washington with that of school segregation. Although Louis R. Harlan’s journal is more extensive in advocating for this controversial, historical figure, Joel Spring utilized key vocabulary to persuade readers to agree that Booker T. Washington was not in the “Great Crusade for Literacy” with good intentions to better the black community’s educational opportunities.

Context and vocabulary are everything when it comes to topic debates, such as this one about Booker T. Washington’s secret life and secret intentions. Joel Spring, although he only had a couple of pages on Washington’s impact within his book The American school, a global context: From the Puritans to the Trump Era, seemed unwavering on his opinion. In a comparison of Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois, Spring negatively associated him with segregation laws implemented in schools. That was Washington’s impact; he promoted Jim Crow laws by compromising with white people in order to gain a little in exchange for giving up a lot. In comparison, Du Bois was praised for establishing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which is an organization still relevant and making changes today.

Luckily, Jim Crow laws are not. The chosen context and vocabulary used to discuss Washington’s advances did not only help Spring’s argument, but it hurt Harlan’s argument that there were good intentions in the bad compromises made by Washington. Harlan introduces Booker T. Washington as a “conservative black leader” which already gives readers the impression that he was not truly there to advance the black community (Harlan). Conservatives promote aspects of things staying the same, such as laws and behavior of societal members. They do not work to create much change because they have the mentality of “if something is not broken, then do not fix it.”

Washington was not in this literacy battle to actually change things the way African Americans wanted their lives to change, which is seen in instances mentioned by Harlan like graduate William Monroe Trotter making news headlines for “letting the country know Negroes were not behind him” (Harlan). Despite this event, Washington still went on to make promises he could not keep with white people, encouraging them to “cast down your bucket where you are” by hiring black workers, proving his unloyalty and ignorance towards African Americans (Spring).

The phrase famously spoken by Washington was part of a speech he delivered to an all-white audience at the International Exposition in Atlanta. If he were truly an advocate for the black community, he would have focused more on uplifting them with speeches rather than ignoring their wants. Negroes, who admittingly did not support him, did not desire to be exploited for their talents like Washington was promising to the south.

To cast down their bucket where they are meant for white people to stop searching for foreigners when the best workers, black people, were readily available and had proven their faithfulness when they were those same white people’s former slaves. As an advocate for change, the life of a slave, whether that person was faithful or not, should not be revisited in efforts to create change. That is simply going back to the past and “what worked.” Harlan claims Washington had “schemes for black strength,” however he was only scheming those with black strength by exploiting their labor talents (Harlan).

Washington’s solution was industrial education, which basically had the conditions of social acceptance for black and white people if black people contributed their economic value and labor skills to the industrialization of the south. Technically, this was a compromise in the sense that both sides had to give up a certain part of their argument, but it was not a solution that an advocate for the black community should have come to. While Harlan had more fact-based arguments, the ultimate claim that Washington was in the battle for literacy to better the black community was not factual.

Booker T. Washington is among many historical figures that either earned honorable remembrance or became infamous. In the argument of claims between Joel Spring and Louis R. Harlan, it can be concluded after evidence interpretation that Washington is infamous for his negative impact on the educational progression of African Americans. In comparison to other significant people of that time in the fight for black literacy, like W. E. B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington had a selfish stand on the issue and only wanted the approval of white people in order to gain social acceptance, ignoring the desires of black people as well as his own black identity if it meant fitting in.

Works Cited

  1. Harlan, Louis R. “Conservative” “Letting” “Schemes” “The Secret Life of Booker T. Washington.” The Journal of Southern History, vol. 37, no. 3, 1971, pp. 393–416., doi:10.2307/2206948.
  2. Spring, Joel H. “Cast” The American School: from the Puritans to the Trump Era. 10th ed., Routledge, Taylor Et Francis GRoup, 2018.

Cite this paper

Impact of Booker T Washington on Education for African Americans. (2021, Dec 24). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/impact-of-booker-t-washington-on-education-for-african-americans/

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