The Education of Booker T. Washington: American Democracy and the Idea of Race Relations

By Michael Rudolph West | Go to book overview

He was an American, because attracted and repelled by the
American scene. He was an American, because he was a na-
tive son; but he was also a Negro nationalist in a vague sense
because he was not allowed to live as an American.

— RICHARD WRIGHT, "HOW BIGGER WAS BORN"


Chapter 2
"Negroes Whose Habits You Know"
The Slave Boy, "Booker," Progress, and "Racial Feeling"

NO SUCH person as Booker Taliaferro Washington was ever born. However, a slave named "Booker" did enter the world on an obscure farm near a not especially significant crossroads of Franklin County in south-central Virginia, and, as far as it can be known, did so sometime in the spring of 1856. The name of the mother of the child was lane, and she was a black woman and a slave; about the father nothing beyond the hazards of guessing is known concretely except that, then and later, rumors swirled about the place, and the community of black people and the community of white people, that he was a white man of the neighborhood.

These facts have engendered three forms of slander against Washington, smoke from the flames of controversy surrounding him. The first of these defamations holds: that, of course, the man and leader Washington was not born, but rather had to be invented by the agencies of white supremacy.

-61-

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