Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

Up from Savagery: Booker T. Washington and the Civilizing Mission

Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

Up from Savagery: Booker T. Washington and the Civilizing Mission

Article excerpt

I think we may reasonably hope to build here, on historic grounds, an institution that will aid freedmen to escape the difficulties that surround them . . . by sending out, not pedagogues, but those whose culture shall be upon the whole circle of living, and who with clear insight and strong purpose will do quiet work that shall make the land purer and better.

-Samuel Chapman Armstrong

One might have removed from Hampton all the buildings, classrooms, teachers, and industries, and given the men and women there the opportunity of coming into daily contact with General Armstrong, and that alone would have been a liberal education.

-Booker T. Washington

[I] had been privileged to become a student in American Universities and then a worker under the inspiring influence of Armstrong and [Hollis Burke] Frisell, two of A merica's most effective statesmen in education, cooperation, and civilization. These two personalities and their Negro pupils, Booker T. Washington and Robert Russa Moton of Tuskegee, personified the ideals of effective education and genuine cooperation that are gradually revealing the way of rural life and interracial peace. As the world discovers such men and their realities, civilization will become effective and international peace realized.

-Thomas Jesse Jones1

THIS ESSAY AIMS TO SHOW how colonialist thought pervaded the postbellum South and influenced Booker T. Washington as he built the Tuskegee Institute. What I have done at the outset is to surround Washington, quite literally, with colonialism. On one side is Samuel Chapman Armstrong, Washington's mentor and the founder of the Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia, where Washington studied as a young man. Armstrong based Hampton on a set of educational principles that he had observed while a young man himself in Hawaii, the son of white US missionaries sent to the islands to civilize the natives. On the other side is Thomas Jesse Jones, a native of Wales who immigrated to the United States in 1884. A sociologist by training, Jones joined Hampton's faculty in 1902, one year after Washington published Up from Slavery, to become the head of its Economics and Missionary Department. Impressed by Armstrong's and Washington's writings, he would later travel to such places as Liberia, Kenya, and Rhodesia, where, as educational director of the philanthropic Phelps-Stokes Fund, he would encourage local governments to build schools based on the Hampton and Tuskegee models.

In three men associated with a single school, then, we see over a century's worth of the circulation of colonialist ideas about race and education. Armstrong was born in 1839 and began teaching native Hawaiians the tenets of "industrial education," scholastic training that stressed the spiritual value of manual labor, before he turned twenty. Washington would work to spread the gospel of industrial education throughout the South, elsewhere in the United States, and into such foreign spaces as Cuba and Togo until his death in 1915.2 Jones would continue the work on an even greater global scale until 1946, the last of his twenty-nine years spent directing the Phelps-Stokes Fund's educational efforts. Armstrong's postbellum hopes of "sending out . . . those whose culture shall be upon the whole circle of living" ("First Report" 534) would thus be amply realized by these two followers alone, not to mention the scores of others whom they would influence during their careers.3

So, too, would Armstrong have been pleased at how faithfully his followers echoed his ideas. In each of the passages above, the education of black Americans is conflated with something else: with missionization, with Christianization, with the radiation of "culture," with civilization itself. Each also conveys Armstrong's belief that, when it came to educating freedmen and other darker-skinned subjects, pedagogy was less important than presence: a good teacher accomplished much of his or her mission, Armstrong implied, simply by exuding moral advancement and inspiring students to imitate. …

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