In the South of the 1890s, Booker T. Washington stood as the often controversial personification of the aspirations of the black masses. The Civil War had ended, casting uneducated blacks adrift or, equally tenuous, creating a class of sharecroppers still dependent on the whims of their former owners. Black Reconstruction, for all its outward trimming, had failed to deliver its promised economic and political empowerment. While an embittered and despairing black population sought solace and redemption, a white citizenry systematically institutionalized racism. From this Armageddon rose a Moses, Booker Taliaferro Washington, who was born in 1856 in Virginia to a slave mother and a white father he never knew. After Emancipation, Washington began to dream of getting an education and resolved to go to the Hampton Normal Agricultural Institute in Virginia. When he arrived, he was allowed to work as the school's janitor in return for his board and part of his tuition. After graduating from Hampton, Washington was selected to head a new school for blacks at Tuskegee, Alabama, where he taught the virtues of "patience, thrift, good manners, and high morals" as the keys to empowerment. An unabashed self-promoter (Tuskegee was dependent upon the largesse of its white benefactors) and advocate of accommodation, Washington's "pick yourself up by your bootstraps" and "be patient and prove yourself first" philosophy was simultaneously acclaimed by the masses and condemned by the black intelligentsia, who demanded a greater and immediate inclusion in the social, political, and economic fabric of this emerging nation.More
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Insightful, though overly optimistic
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