THIS WORK seeks simultaneously to explain Booker T. Washington—his life and what he meant to the nation—and his part in the history of "the Negro problem," a term that has since the early 1960s fallen out of use. It once was a rubric encompassing the complex of problems ascribed to African Americans themselves ("the problem with Negroes"); to their anomalous presence in America as slaves and, later, as free people; to the antipathetic attitudes of other Americans; to the legacy of the past; or to some other cause. Washington's life is rather the more known commodity: the conservative who founded Tuskegee Institute, a pragmatist in an age of hard reality for African Americans. But many of his supporters called him a visionary who offered a means of solving "the Negro problem." My argument is that Washington's solution was an idea, a theory here called "race relations," that opened a way for the ideological reconciliation of two opposites: racist proscription and democracy.