For white America, the advent of the 20th century was a time of optimism and progress. For black America, only decades past the hope born of liberty, it was a time of repression and despair. Not since the days of slavery did the Negro enjoy so few of the basic rights of citizenship. Not even under slavery had he been so thoroughly segregated from white society. The longed-for freedom had become an empty word indeed.
A former slave came forth to offer new hope. Struggling through a lifetime of personal obstacles, he had few illusions about the obstacles his people faced. As an educator and Negro leader, he worked for economic progress as a means of achieving full citizenship for all blacks. At a time of interracial hatred, he called for understanding and harmony. He eventually became one of the Nation's most respected men.
Not everyoneblack or whiteagreed with him. Today he remains a figure of controversy, dismissed by many as an appeaseran "Uncle Tom." Very much a man of his time, he is difficult to appreciate fully now. Yet with an attempt at understanding, Booker T. Washington maintains his place in history as a great American, deserving the admiration of every race.
To understand Washington, we must first understand something about the time and place in which he lived.
Last Updated: 20-Feb-2009