by Jack Hunter
My good friend Dylan Hales has an interesting book review at Taki's Magazine (it also appears at Lewrockwell.com) on Booker T. Washington. Writes Hales, the "former slave, Southern patriot, neo-agrarian capitalist, and founder of the famed Tuskegee Institute, Booker T. Washington is perhaps the most unfairly maligned figure in American history."
"In an age where revisionist history has become the norm, and consensus accounts are usually viewed critically, the standard appraisal of Washington has largely stayed the same. Heavily influenced by Washington’s primary ideological rival W.E.B. Du Bois (a man Washington once offered a job), these histories always seem to paint Washington as an accommodationist of the worst aspects of the post-Civil War South — and often as an outright opponent of his people.
The recent book Up From History by Robert Norrell attempts to fill this void, and to a large degree, is successful. Though Norrell is clearly sympathetic to Washington, he does not pull punches that need to be thrown and his overall assessment provides the reader with a detailed and rich portrait of a complex and decidedly conservative figure, who for nearly twenty years was the unquestioned "leader" of his race in the United States.
Outlining the life of the often-controversial Washington is not easy and there are many gaps. There is very little on young Booker and his personal experiences as a slave. Norrell does an admirable job making what he can of Booker’s personal life, but Washington’s admirable trait of keeping private matters private does not lend itself to a thorough treatment of his personal relationships.
But in not conforming to the tired pattern of many pop biographies, Norrell largely avoids the armchair psychologist routines that have ruined histories written by bigger names. More to the point in establishing a framework through which one may analyze the actual Washington, the mythical anti-hero morphs into a titan of "economic independence and self-help."
Though it would be unfair to call the leading proponent of "industrial education" a Luddite, there is no question that Washington saw land ownership as the key to uplifting blacks. A harsh opponent of unionization, in the soil Booker saw a path to independence that could not be achieved if one was confined by factory walls. One can only imagine what he would have thought of the cubicle."