Booker T. Washington quotes

Booker T. Washington photo
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Booker T. Washington

Birthdate: 5. April 1856
Date of death: 14. November 1915
Other names: Booker Washington

Booker Taliaferro Washington was an American educator, author, orator, and advisor to presidents of the United States. Between 1890 and 1915, Washington was the dominant leader in the African-American community.

Washington was from the last generation of black American leaders born into slavery and became the leading voice of the former slaves and their descendants. They were newly oppressed in the South by disenfranchisement and the Jim Crow discriminatory laws enacted in the post-Reconstruction Southern states in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Washington was a key proponent of African-American businesses and one of the founders of the National Negro Business League. His base was the Tuskegee Institute, a historically black college in Alabama. As lynchings in the South reached a peak in 1895, Washington gave a speech, known as the "Atlanta compromise", which brought him national fame. He called for black progress through education and entrepreneurship, rather than trying to challenge directly the Jim Crow segregation and the disenfranchisement of black voters in the South. Washington mobilized a nationwide coalition of middle-class blacks, church leaders, and white philanthropists and politicians, with a long-term goal of building the community's economic strength and pride by a focus on self-help and schooling. But, secretly, he also supported court challenges to segregation and restrictions on voter registration, passing on funds to the NAACP for this purpose. Black militants in the North, led by W. E. B. Du Bois, at first supported the Atlanta compromise but after 1909, they set up the NAACP to work for political change. They tried with limited success to challenge Washington's political machine for leadership in the black community but also built wider networks among white allies in the North. Decades after Washington's death in 1915, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s took a more active and militant approach, which was also based on new grassroots organizations based in the South, such as CORE, SNCC and SCLC.

Booker T. Washington mastered the nuances of the political arena in the late 19th century, which enabled him to manipulate the media, raise money, develop strategy, network, push, reward friends, and distribute funds, while punishing those who opposed his plans for uplifting blacks. His long-term goal was to end the disenfranchisement of the vast majority of African Americans, who then still lived in the South.

Photo: Frances Benjamin Johnston / Public domain

Works

Up from Slavery
Up from Slavery
Booker T. Washington
Character Building
Character Building
Booker T. Washington
Citát „Character, not circumstances, makes the man.“

„Character, not circumstances, makes the man.“

—  Booker T. Washington

"Democracy and Education" http://web.archive.org/20071031084046/www.historycooperative.org/btw/Vol.4/html/222.html, speech, Institute of Arts and Sciences, Brooklyn NY (30 September 1896)

„Associate yourself with people of good quality, for it is better to be alone than in bad company.“

—  Booker T. Washington

"Associate yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your own Reputation; for 'tis better to be alone than in bad Company." This was a French maxim, late 16th century, as quoted by George Washington in his "Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation," Rule # 56 (ca. 1744) http://gwpapers.virginia.edu/documents/civility/transcript.html
Misattributed

„You can't hold a man down without staying down with him.“

—  Booker T. Washington

As quoted in The Great Quotations (1971) edited by George Seldes, p. 641

„Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.“

—  Booker T. Washington, book Up from Slavery

Variant: The happiest people are those who do the most for others. The most miserable are those who do the least.
Source: Up from Slavery

„I will permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.“

—  Booker T. Washington, book Up from Slavery

Variant: I would permit no man, no matter what his colour might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.
Source: 1900s, Up From Slavery (1901), Chapter XI: Making Their Beds Before They Could Lie On Them. This statement was quoted in Charm and Courtesy in Conversation (1904) by Frances Bennett Callaway, p. 153 as "I permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him." It has also often been paraphrased in various other ways: I will permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him. I shall allow no man to belittle my soul by making me hate him. I let no man drag me down so low as to make me hate him.
Source: Up from Slavery

„I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.“

—  Booker T. Washington

Variant: Success is not measured by the position one has reached in life, rather by the obstacles one overcomes while trying to succeed
Source: 1900s, Up From Slavery (1901), Chapter II: Boyhood Days
Source: Up From Slavery: An Autobiography
Context: I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed. Looked at from this standpoint, I almost reached the conclusion that often the Negro boy's birth and connection with an unpopular race is an advantage, so far as real life is concerned. With few exceptions, the Negro youth must work harder and must perform his tasks even better than a white youth in order to secure recognition. But out of the hard and unusual struggle through which he is compelled to pass, he gets a strength, a confidence, that one misses whose pathway is comparatively smooth by reason of birth and race.

„Providence so often uses men and institutions to accomplish a purpose.“

—  Booker T. Washington

Source: 1900s, Up From Slavery (1901), Chapter I: A Slave Among Slaves
Context: I pity from the bottom of my heart any nation or body of people that is so unfortunate as to get entangled in the net of slavery. I have long since ceased to cherish any spirit of bitterness against the Southern white people on account of the enslavement of my race. No one section of our country was wholly responsible for its introduction, and, besides, it was recognized and protected for years by the General Government. Having once got its tentacles fastened on to the economic and social life of the Republic, it was no easy matter for the country to relieve itself of the institution. Then, when we rid ourselves of prejudice, or racial feeling, and look facts in the face, we must acknowledge that, notwithstanding the cruelty and moral wrong of slavery, the ten million Negroes inhabiting this country, who themselves or whose ancestors went through the school of American slavery, are in a stronger and more hopeful condition, materially, intellectually, morally, and religiously, than is true of an equal number of black people in any other portion of the globe. This is so to such an extend that Negroes in this country, who themselves or whose forefathers went through the school of slavery, are constantly returning to Africa as missionaries to enlighten those who remained in the fatherland. This I say, not to justify slavery — on the other hand, I condemn it as an institution, as we all know that in America it was established for selfish and financial reasons, and not from a missionary motive — but to call attention to a fact, and to show how Providence so often uses men and institutions to accomplish a purpose.

„The English servant expects, as a rule, to be nothing but a servant, and so he perfects himself in the art to a degree that no class of servants in America has yet reached. In our country the servant expects to become, in a few years, a "master" himself.“

—  Booker T. Washington

Source: 1900s, Up From Slavery (1901), Chapter XVI: Europe
Context: In one thing, at least, I feel sure that the English are ahead of Americans, and that is, they have learned how to get more out of life. The home life of the English seems to me to be about as perfect as anything can be. Everything moves like clockwork. I was impressed, too, with the deference that the servants show to their "masters" and "mistresses" - terms which I suppose would not be tolerated in America. The English servant expects, as a rule, to be nothing but a servant, and so he perfects himself in the art to a degree that no class of servants in America has yet reached. In our country the servant expects to become, in a few years, a "master" himself. Which system is preferable? I will not venture an answer.

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„The home life of the English seems to me to be about as perfect as anything can be. Everything moves like clockwork.“

—  Booker T. Washington

Source: 1900s, Up From Slavery (1901), Chapter XVI: Europe
Context: In one thing, at least, I feel sure that the English are ahead of Americans, and that is, they have learned how to get more out of life. The home life of the English seems to me to be about as perfect as anything can be. Everything moves like clockwork. I was impressed, too, with the deference that the servants show to their "masters" and "mistresses" - terms which I suppose would not be tolerated in America. The English servant expects, as a rule, to be nothing but a servant, and so he perfects himself in the art to a degree that no class of servants in America has yet reached. In our country the servant expects to become, in a few years, a "master" himself. Which system is preferable? I will not venture an answer.

„I pity from the bottom of my heart any nation or body of people that is so unfortunate as to get entangled in the net of slavery.“

—  Booker T. Washington

Source: 1900s, Up From Slavery (1901), Chapter I: A Slave Among Slaves
Context: I pity from the bottom of my heart any nation or body of people that is so unfortunate as to get entangled in the net of slavery. I have long since ceased to cherish any spirit of bitterness against the Southern white people on account of the enslavement of my race. No one section of our country was wholly responsible for its introduction, and, besides, it was recognized and protected for years by the General Government. Having once got its tentacles fastened on to the economic and social life of the Republic, it was no easy matter for the country to relieve itself of the institution. Then, when we rid ourselves of prejudice, or racial feeling, and look facts in the face, we must acknowledge that, notwithstanding the cruelty and moral wrong of slavery, the ten million Negroes inhabiting this country, who themselves or whose ancestors went through the school of American slavery, are in a stronger and more hopeful condition, materially, intellectually, morally, and religiously, than is true of an equal number of black people in any other portion of the globe. This is so to such an extend that Negroes in this country, who themselves or whose forefathers went through the school of slavery, are constantly returning to Africa as missionaries to enlighten those who remained in the fatherland. This I say, not to justify slavery — on the other hand, I condemn it as an institution, as we all know that in America it was established for selfish and financial reasons, and not from a missionary motive — but to call attention to a fact, and to show how Providence so often uses men and institutions to accomplish a purpose.

„Men may make laws to hinder and fetter the ballot, but men cannot make laws that will bind or retard the growth of manhood.“

—  Booker T. Washington

"The Problems of the Colored Race in the South," lecture, Hamilton Club, Chicago (10 December 1895) http://web.archive.org/20071031084051/www.historycooperative.org/btw/Vol.4/html/93.html
Context: Men may make laws to hinder and fetter the ballot, but men cannot make laws that will bind or retard the growth of manhood.
We went into slavery a piece of property; we came out American citizens. We went into slavery pagans; we came out Christians. We went into slavery without a language; we came out speaking the proud Anglo-Saxon tongue. We went into slavery with slave chains clanking about our wrists; we came out with the American ballot in our hands.
Progress, progress is the law of nature; under God it shall be our eternal guiding star.

„Of all forms of slavery there is none that is so harmful and degrading as that form of slavery which tempts one human being to hate another by reason of his race or color.“

—  Booker T. Washington

An Address on Abraham Lincoln before the Republican Club of New York City (12 February 1909) http://web.archive.org/20050322051431/www.historycooperative.org/btw/Vol.10/html/35.html
Context: Of all forms of slavery there is none that is so harmful and degrading as that form of slavery which tempts one human being to hate another by reason of his race or color. One man cannot hold another man down in the ditch without remaining down in the ditch with him.

„Bad as conditions might have seemed at first, when they saw that actual progress was being made, they would have taken a more hopeful view of the situation.“

—  Booker T. Washington

Source: 1910s, My Larger Education, Being Chapters from My Experience (1911), Ch. V: The Intellectuals and the Boston Mob
Context: I am afraid that there is a certain class of race-problem solvers who don't want the patient to get well, because as long as the disease holds out they have not only an easy means of making a living, but also an easy medium through which to make themselves prominent before the public.
My experience is that people who call themselves "The Intellectuals" understand theories, but they do not understand things. I have long been convinced that, if these men could have gone into the South and taken up and become interested in some practical work which would have brought them in touch with people and things, the whole world would have looked very different to them. Bad as conditions might have seemed at first, when they saw that actual progress was being made, they would have taken a more hopeful view of the situation.

„My whole life has largely been one of surprises.“

—  Booker T. Washington

Source: 1900s, Up From Slavery (1901), Chapter XVII: Last Words
Context: My whole life has largely been one of surprises. I believe that any man's life will be filled with constant, unexpected encouragements of this kind if he makes up his mind to do his level best each day of his life — that is, tries to make each day reach as nearly as possible the high-water mark of pure, unselfish, useful living.

„Progress, progress is the law of nature; under God it shall be our eternal guiding star.“

—  Booker T. Washington

"The Problems of the Colored Race in the South," lecture, Hamilton Club, Chicago (10 December 1895) http://web.archive.org/20071031084051/www.historycooperative.org/btw/Vol.4/html/93.html
Context: Men may make laws to hinder and fetter the ballot, but men cannot make laws that will bind or retard the growth of manhood.
We went into slavery a piece of property; we came out American citizens. We went into slavery pagans; we came out Christians. We went into slavery without a language; we came out speaking the proud Anglo-Saxon tongue. We went into slavery with slave chains clanking about our wrists; we came out with the American ballot in our hands.
Progress, progress is the law of nature; under God it shall be our eternal guiding star.

„No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.“

—  Booker T. Washington, book Up from Slavery

Chapter XIV: The Atlanta Exposition Address http://books.google.com/books?id=xN45ZsUMgKEC&q=%22No+race+can+prosper+till+it+learns+that+there+is+as+much+dignity+in+tilling+a+field+as+in+writing+a+poem+It+is+at+the+bottom+of+life+we+must+begin+and+not+at+the+top%22&pg=PA220#v=onepage
1900s, Up From Slavery (1901)
Context: No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem. It is at the bottom of life we must begin, and not at the top.

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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