Customer Reviews: Up from Slavery
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on November 4, 2001
What is most striking about Washington's autobiographical account of his rise from slavery to revered statesman is his lack of resentment toward white culture. Rather than focus on what whites should do to uplift blacks, Washington encouraged blacks to take individual agency over their lives. He believed the best way for blacks to achieve social parity was to become indispensable members of the communities in which they lived. His absolute confidence in black resilience would probably be regarded as naive in today's political discourse. And yet the long list of his (and all black culture's) achievements during this period are unmistakable and nothing short of inspiring.
It's a shame this book is on the African American Studies shelf. The lessons from Washington's life apply to all humans, not just blacks. This book would be an excellent addition high school reading lists as a model of the values consonant with personal success.
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on March 22, 2000
I found this to be a most amazing work. In telling the story of going from a child of slavery to the founder and president of the Tuskegee institute, Mr. Washington illustrates for us the life-lessons which can empower any individual or race in our free society today.
Namely, look to your neighbor in love, not anger; recognize the nobility in working hard for something rather than expecting charity; be willing to give yourself to a greater cause; believe that people are capable of great things and they will live up to your expectations; recognize the importance of education, not just of the mind, but of the body and soul as well; recognize that any man who provides value to the community in which he lives will be accepted and even welcomed into that community; and above all, trust in God to care for your needs.
I highly recommend this book as a testament to the positive result of thinking from a perspective of Love and Abundance rather than Anger and Scarcity. When Mr. Washington's humility is measured against his accomplishments, he becomes in my eyes one of the greatest Americans to have lived.
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on February 4, 2004
Let me start off by saying I'm a 16 year old female...
Upon looking through the history section of the store I discovered "Up From Slavery", the autobiography of Booker T. Washington. I could easily recall reading about him in US history. Interested, I decided to buy it.. Well I ended up staying up all night reading this book.
Washington entails his life story of endeavers and prosperity gained. He describes of how he raised himself up from slavery through sacrifices and struggles. With the self-reward of obtaining education he decided to develope the Tuskegee Institution to help further educate his peoples. As well he established a bond between, not only blacks and whites, but southerners and northerners (during post-civil war times). He talks on how as people, one should educate themselves not only in books but in labor as well. In doing so, one will achieve full-on success.
"Up from Slavery" enlightened me so much more on Washington and his role in shaping the free life we as americans, live today. I have gained an enormous amount of respect for this intriguingly compelling man. I really do feel a great sensation of pride in our history when I think about Washington and his achievements for this nation. Beautiful.
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on February 3, 1999
Everyone should read "Up From Slavery" by Booker T. Washington. Washington was one of the most outstanding people in our history. If he lived today he probably would become President and be one of our greatest Presidents. He had an iron will to achieve his goals in life and to do something to help his people. He started in life in slavery, born to a single mother. Later on he was abused and exploted by his step-father. He overcame tremendous hardships to get an education. He then dedicated his life to helping other African-Americans to improve their lives. He is often criticized for compromising too much with the white establishment. I think however that people need to understand the difficulties of his time and also his way of trying to change people indirectly rather than through direct confrontation. "Up From Slavery" is a great example of this. It is also fun to read. I have a personal reason for liking Washington. In World War II my father was in the Air Corps. For some time the bomber he flew in was protected by the famous Tuskeegee Airmen who were trained at Tuskeegee Institute, founded by Washington. The Tuskeegee Airmen never lost a plane that they escorted. So you see, if it hadn't been for Booker T. Washington I might not be here.
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on April 12, 2005
Over the years, being aware of the great rivalry between Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Dubois I had grown used to Dubois followers saying Booker T. was an accommodationalist Uncle Tom, and other similar statements. I read Up from Slavery as a teenager, and I didn't get that impression from him at the time, so I usually dismissed people's negativity about him as misunderstanding. Having recently re-read the book, it made a far stronger impression on me as an adult and I feel compelled to give my own opinion, especially since the old "accommodationalist Uncle Tom" reviews are also on this site.

The time period after the slaves were freed was known as Reconstruction. The former slaves were both scared as to what the future held and deeply excited to experience this concept of freedom with the fire and enthusiasm of the Newly Born. For the most part they were very ignorant of their past, of how to establish themselves as a thriving community, how to interact with their white neighbors in a way beneficial to all and how to best use their money and time to grow as individuals. The whites were equally scared as to what the future held (change is often scary) but they were also excited for the former slaves and 100% wished them well. Yes, this was also the time period that formed the KKK, but evil racists were always around and thankfully, then as now, are in the minority.

As Booker T. explained, both the owner and the owned had been damaged by the chattel slavery institution. Because the lowest member of society was the slave to whom all menial labor was delegated to, both races saw work/labor as something to be avoided. The whites saw it as something that was beneath them, while the blacks felt they should rise up above it as free men. For them, "freedom" meant `I no longer have to work hard.' The blacks felt that if they could get an education they could "live by their wits" by teaching, being politicians, preaching or any other profession that required thinking for money, so that they would never have to perform physical work/labor with their hands again. They suffered from many misconceptions as to what made a free person successful, such as purchasing a very expensive item that they couldn't afford as a status symbol to show that they've "made it" even going into severe debt to have it. They felt that intensive study into Latin or Greek languages somehow made them superior to other people and that mastery in these fields also proved that they had "made it."

Booker T. and Dubois created two models designed to help pull the race forward as a free and successful people.

1.) Booker T. Washington's model involved not only a solid education in academics and Qur'anic/Biblical principles (integrity, hard work and patient perseverance) but he also felt that each member of the race should be schooled in industry and the value of Sacred Work/Labor. As opposed to the work they were used to doing as a slave, Sacred Work was the necessary work put forward that not only made an individual indispensable to his community, but it built character, confidence, assurance, dignity and gave the valuable gift of the concept of "a job well done." Each individual was to master a trade (or two or three) that was vital to a community's growth and do that trade to the utmost best of his/her ability so that not only would the community be successful and grow but the neighboring communities would also find that community indispensable. This would promote both a brotherly camaraderie between communities as well as help the economy by increasing the competition in free trade. Booker T's model would enable the average man to be a vital asset to his community which would become structurally solid and a vital asset to the nation's other communities. It is designed to build up the entire black community as a whole while allowing for exceptional individuals (like Booker T. Washington) to excel. This was indeed the American Dream model, that through hard work, determination, persistence and education you can achieve success.

Booker T felt that because the black and white races went through slavery together, they needed to be healed together. Starting off with nothing, the former slaves needed help in order to get a foot hold onto their future. His model pulls the races together for their mutual benefit; as the black race builds itself up the white race will benefit in the proper symbiotic relationship between two businesses. Yes, Booker T. rightly saw the growing community of former slaves as a developing business and he recognized that no business achieves its ultimate success without the help of other businesses, in this case the southern and northern whites. Just like FedEx and Kinko's or Exxon and Ford work together and thus enhance each other, Booker T. knew that in order to really be successful both races needed to work together (Didn't Up from Slavery function as a business plan for investors, after all?). Of course for the grand scheme of things, for the sake of his race's success why would Booker T. (or any other black person) alienate whites by continuously putting in their faces the evils of slavery and colonialism? In other words, why would a struggling start-up business alienate the banking industry and other investors by pointing out their wrong doings? They would be cutting their own throats. Obviously, if ever there was a time to forgive and forget Reconstruction was that time. And once the ultimate success had been achieved both races would do whatever they needed to ensure the wellbeing of the partner. If some racist bigots burned a cross on Kinko's lawn and threatened to lynch the manager, don't you think FedEx would also be insulted and demand the practice stop?

2.) W. E. B. Dubois was actually the spokesman for the blacks who felt that they shouldn't have to work hard anymore, now they should be free to live the way they watched the whites live for two centuries. In the Dubois model, the individual was encouraged to achieve the highest education he was able to. This would guarantee that the "Talented Tenth" (the small percentage of highly gifted individuals among every people) would attain the mega-success that was the American Dream. Dubois felt that it's the Talented Tenth among every race that furthers the goals of the community as a whole, and that the masses would benefit from a Reaganomics-like trickle down effect. This model, encouraging a work-o-phobic attitude and a individual's pursuit of success did nothing to build the black community but gave the hope that whites would accept the blacks into their communities "because we are free like you and we demand to live equally with you because we say so" which actually was the attitude that formed the KKK in the first place. Unlike the model of his rival, Dubois did not establish a system that would remove the slave mentality from the people so they would want to work hard in order to elevate themselves. Consequently, the concept of the "educated fool" was born, with the black academic full of dead languages and abstract principles with absolutely no practical way of using his education to enhance the quality of his character, dignity, morality, integrity or his community as a whole. His community is a raggedy shambles after only a few years of his living in it, because the slave mentality that the Dubois model perpetuates won't permit him even to take pride in slapping on a new coat of paint, mowing the lawn or cleaning up the trash and beer bottles littered in front of his house. Although the Talented Tenth's accomplishments have moved the race forward in very slow increments the average man, with the idea that work is bad and education only benefits a few, is free only to get in trouble or be used up for someone else's dream while he waits for the next minute advancement from the trickle down effect.

Obviously W. E. B. Dubois won the debate. Seeing the Dubois model as the easy route to success, they simply labeled Booker T. as an Uncle Tom and waited for their Talented Tenth to do their thing and never gave another thought about the matter. How they felt about Booker T. was summed up by how actor Moses Gunn played him in the movie Ragtime. Does it feel better knowing that at the end of his life, Dubois admitted that Booker T. was right?

No. The damage has now been done. People are fond of saying, "But we've come so far!" But have we? We would've come much farther much sooner if we had embraced Booker T's vision instead of Dubois' work-o-phobic, trickle down vision. They make that statement by pointing to the kind, modern white people that live among us today. But there have always been kind-hearted white people who've honestly wished us success! Look where all the money that helped found Tuskegee and the Hampton Institute came from. Look at the reality of our progress. As a community, after over a century since the Emancipation Proclamation, we have the same mentality we had as newly freed slaves. Instead of a household sharing a single fork and wasting all of their money on an organ that we can't play, now we've replaced the organ with a Cadillac Escalade or a Coach bag or some rims. Our communities are chaotic and scattered with no concept of leaving a legacy for our children. We lack the business savvy to own our own community shops and stores so that corporate predators can take advantage and just take our money out of our communities.

Without Booker T's life training fundamentals we still are in need of therapy for the centuries of chattel slavery we've gone through and so are the descendants of our former masters. Just like we have made little progress past the legacy of slavery's inferiority complex so they are still suffering from the superiority complex slavery gave to them. For the whites, they don't see anything wrong with building up vast wealth off of the blood, sweat and tears of others and giving them as little compensation as they can get away with. They honestly don't see anything wrong with playing with the worker's minds to make them feel they are getting a good deal. Because of this, the old wealthy white families who've built their money through slave labor and their peers actually sought how they could continue to take advantage of black slave labor without breaking the new anti-slavery laws. I believe that Up from Slavery is an excellent model as to how the black race can pull itself together into an awesome community, but I also believe that the warped mind suffering under a superiority complex can "reverse engineer" the book and use it to prevent such a community from forming in the first place.


Destroy all existing examples of strong black communities


Pull out the wealthiest, most productive members of the community leaving the ignorant, defenseless poor


Allow drugs and alcohol to flow freely into the ranks of the poor so that their frustrations and stress will ignite into various crimes


Paint the picture in the popular media (both bluntly and subliminally) that these people are prone to criminal behavior anyway


With the public's approval, round them up and fill up the prisons with them. Now they are the property of the State, and can be legally contracted out as slave labor... continuing where we left off.

If Dubois' model had not have been adopted, we would have been the ultimate success story, a strong and vibrant community making a major contribution to our nation's prosperity and our own people's legacy. Of course it's not too late to fix it. All we have to do is stop calling Booker T. Washington an "accommodating Uncle Tom" and get to work.
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on December 17, 2012
i wanted to read a book written by someone who lived as an american "slave" as well as thru the period of "reconstruction" that WAS america in the late 19th century; i hoped to hear a first hand account of slavery from a person who survived it. i wanted to understand the struggles and joys of a person who lived as a newly emancipated citizen. booker t washington is one such person who was freed from bondage.

what i loved about this book:

*first hand account of the affects of slavery such as: naming himself, not knowing his own birthday and age, no ties to family, no knowledge of lineage of either of his parents, etc.
*THE TRUTH about why he is lauded as one of america's greatest "african americans"
*the early struggles of tuskegee as a university

what i loved less about this book:

* references to ppl, places, organizations, etc. lost to history. google helped, but dang :(
* incessant listing of accomplishments - including how well received booker was by white media and white america - rather than discussion of his relationships with his 3 wives and 3 children

altho this book was written by booker t washington about his own life, i didnt feel as if his autobiography allowed me to learn much about him as a man... as a person.

i am glad it was written as it gives context for an era and a person i can never know about, but this book is more about the chronography of booker t washington's accomplishments rather than who this man was and how he lived.

that being said, i still think every american should read this book!
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on April 26, 1999
"Up From Slavery" brought to light the real deal behind the man Booker T. Washington. Before reading it, I was taught to believe that he accommodated and assimilated himself and the African American race to that of the white race. It has to be made known that Booker T. Washington was born into an era where the slave mentality was not only prominent but socially acceptable. To understand his conservative efforts, you'd have to understand the fact that he achieved everything in life by hard labor. Therefore, in order to promote economic and social equality, he had to promote issues that led to these things. In other words, he felt that the newly freed blacks were not ready to integrate themselves into white society, a society that did not respect their freedom at all. He wanted African Americans to embrace a nationalistic attitude before asking white society to embrace it. If blacks were seen as the uncouf beings that we were thought to be...acceptance would never occur. So, in using every resource available including accommodation, Washington underhandedly promoted social and racial equality for all.
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on October 19, 1999
Booker T. Washington had every reason to complain and be resentful. He was born a slave, and although national manumission occurred while he was still a boy, very few opportunities offered themselves to the newly emancipated. He fought against the odds to get an education and while he was away at school, his beloved mother died. His biological father was a slave owner who never expressed any interest in his son's life. When he was asked to be headmaster of the Tuskegee Institute, he found himself faced with empty land in a poverty-stricken area. Married three times, his first two wives died very young. His first spouse left him a single father with a young child, and the second time he faced widowhood he had three small children to raise all by himself.
He could certainly have cursed fate and just given up; in stead his autobiography is the work of an unspeakably grateful and patriotic American. Washington could not find enough good things to say about nearly everyone he encountered in life or the country he felt blessed to call his home. He worked very, very hard and success followed all his endeavors. Rather than boast of his many accomplishments, he seemed to feel unworthy of the nationwide respect he earned. He humbly described his friendships with Presidents Grover Cleveland and William McKinley, talked of his constantly sought after speeches throughout the United States and Europe, and detailed his phenomenal money-raising skills that brought the Tuskegee Institute up from a converted hen-house to a campus of over 40 buildings.
Throughout all his trials and successes, he constantly advocated forgiveness, humility, and gratitude. Not only did he recommend these three virtues, he lived a life that embodied them. Perhaps that's why a person born with no realistic chance at getting ahead, died one of the most admired and well-known individuals of his day.
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on February 16, 2003
This is a very well-written statement of the conservative approach to the quest for Black equality. Written as Booker T. Washington's autobiography, it is important to keep in mind that part of the purpose of this book was to recruit donors to fund the Tuskegee Institute--which meant that Washington needed to emphasize that he was an accomodationist and not in any way a radical. That being said, some of the sentiments expressed in this book seem very over-optimistic in retrospect. For example, Washington says he believes that whites in the South will grant blacks full political rights of their own accord, when blacks are mature enough to deserve them, because people are innately good and will do the right thing. The end of Reconstruction and the advent of Jim Crow laws, along with the intensity of the battle for civil rights, showed him to be mistaken on that point--which is partly why he was eventually eclipsed as a leader by W.E.B. DuBois. Still, this book is a fascinating autobiography and a great statement of the moderate, gradualist approach to attaining equality.
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on January 21, 1999
Booker Washington rose to fame as a great American because of his intense understanding of the American system of government and his ability to stay focused. Booker obviously understood the impact of slavery on his race and that freedom alone was not enough in a country that did not respect that freedom. Booker's ideology coincided with that of Frederick Douglas who would have made the speech at the Atlanta Exposition, but he died earlier that year.Booker's speech was "nationalistic" as he told his listeners to be as seperate as the fingers on the hand and to cast down your buckets where you are. It appears to me that he prefered separation, and individualized education geared towards economic empowerment of the newly freed "negroes". 90% of all the black people in this country had been slaves and lived below the Mason-Dixon Line. The other 10% were free, yet not free. Tuskegee (Institute) University attests to his abilites as a monument builder. "Up From Slavery" is a story within a story. Booker T. Washinton, according to Louis Harlan was a "wizard". Even W.E.B. Dubois in his latter years, prior to joining the Communist Party began to agree with many of Washington's philosophies. Booker T. Washington was a politican and a technicrat. He got the job done.
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