Booker T. Washington: The Wizard of Tuskegee 1901-1915

By Louis R. Harlan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
Up from Serfdom

I are sho' ready to lef' dese lowgrounds. I has hearn Booker T. . . . I has seen de ile mill, de big wheels an' all dat.*

WHATEVER else the Wizard of Tuskegee was in his many guises, he was always indelibly a southerner. He blended into his time and place like an old tree in a woodland landscape: of medium size and medium brown color, at home in a rumpled business suit, unexcitable, a master of understatement, modest but too dignified to be humble. In the many photographs taken of him at Tuskegee in company with northern dignitaries, the Yankees generally stood in stiff pose while he lolled relaxed with a thumb in each side pocket of his trousers. When he dressed up for public occasions it was as a prosperous peasant, wearing a brown derby instead of a top hat. The same rural southernness showed in his speech, never salty but always earthy and direct. He abhorred abstractions as he lived among people to whom mathematics was a foreign language and polysyllables a Yankee invention. He was southern also in his closeness to nature, the out-of- doors, in his pleasure in working with animals, in his fear and distrust of cities and city-dwellers, whether white or black.

Southernness came naturally to Washington, for he was born in the South, chose to remain there, achieved the zenith of his fame there

____________________
*
An old black woman, attending the dedication of the Mound Bayou Cotton Oil Mill, November 25, 1912.

-202-

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