Thursday, 28 January 2016

Up From Slavery, by Booker T Washington

4 stars

This book made me feel like a bit of an asshole.I'm a frequent whiner, my favourite topics usually being how other people are annoying and not getting enough reading time. Booker T. Washington, despite having much more justified complaints than mine, was most definitely not a whiner.

Born into slavery - exactly when he doesn't know - following its abolition, and despite a lack of any money and sometimes even a roof over his head, Washington would not only pursue the education he fiercely wanted but would go on to become an educator himself, as well as something of a celebrity.

Starting with a handful of ramshackle buildings and a small pool of students, Washington built what would become the Tuskegee Institute with his bare hands (literally, alongside those of his students as part of his philosophy that each student should learn a practical trade alongside their other studies) and, in part due to these Herculean efforts, he would also go on to become a much sought after public speaker. On the strength of the addresses reproduced here, it's easy to see why.

An incredibly driven man who apparently didn't take a vacation in 18 years of running the Institute, both this book and his addresses also displayed an astonishing lack of bitterness or resentment towards the people and society that had kept his race in bondage for so long. Where I'd have been ranting non-stop about how hateful everybody was, Washington spoke of hope, and reconciliation instead of repercussions. 

A fantastic example of grace and strength, Booker T Washington has ensured that, at least, for the next week, I won't whine just because the lady in the canteen made me wait five minutes before giving me my sandwich. I may even be inspired to make my own sandwiches. 

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