While most of the contributors re historians, the approaches they use to reevaluate Washington are varied, and the conclusions they reach make him seem much more complex than the character he is often made out to be. Here, Washington is not the “Uncle Tom” whose capitulation to white power throws Du Boss’s radicalism into greater relief. Wilson J. Moses looks at Washington from the vantage point of intellectual history, for example, arguing that UP from Slavery presented a “clearly conceived” version of the Protestant ethic four years before Max Weber popularized the concept.
Louise Newman rereads Washington through the cultural-historical lens supplied by Gail Beadsman’s work on “manliness” and “civilization,” affording her new insight into how carefully Washington constructed his self-image: how he “fashion [deed] himself into the Father of his race” by manipulating a very white concept of what it meant to be a patriarch. Patricia Stretcher also discusses gender politics, but her interest is in how Washington represents women: somewhat infrequently, she concedes, but nonetheless deferentially, in ways that accorded them power.
David Levered builds upon Stretcher’s claims, comparing Up from Slavery to Washington’s earlier autobiography and discussing how the later text addresses a wider, whiter audience by recasting Washington as a sentimental hero, a southerner steeped in traditions of honor, and a “C. E. O. ” The figure that emerges from these essays, Leverage’s especially, is thus “masterful. ” Yet the form of mastery these essays discover is not the same as the one that C.
Van Woodward intended in 1951 when he ironically dubbed Washington “the master of Tuskegee. ” It is instead a kind of mastery that links the historical with the textual, asking us to see Washington as a writer whose intro over literary conventions mirrored and perhaps even enabled his command of Tuskegee and his influence in national politics. Other essays focus on Up from Slavery’s reception, including one from Louis Harlan, Washington’s foremost biographer.
Harlan notes that the text proved inspirational even to Marcus Graver, who read Washington’s work in Jamaica and discovered in his story an ethic of self- reliance conducive to black nationalism. Yet while Graver drew the rudiments of Forecasting from Washington’s text, others used it to Justify white supremacy. In nee of the collection’s more valuable contributions, Hunt Davis discusses how a white South African educator published an abridged version of UP from Slavery in 1929 in order to recommend Tuskegee as a model for colonial education and continued black subordination throughout Africa.
The remaining three essays in the collection acknowledge how ambiguous and even frustrating Up from Slavery can seem to contemporary readers when, for example, it buries its critique of lynching deep in its Total chanter; or when It Darlings up ten Issue AT personal Engle In multiple snappers, often in a language that borders on possessiveness. All seek to conceptualize Washington in ways that remind us how daunting his task was. As Peter Coolants succinctly puts it, “we’re talking about the South a hundred-odd years ago. Coolants examines morbidity rates and epidemiological records in order to explain Washington’s filth “fetish” as a reasonable foundation for his program of economic development. Robert Normal shows how pervasive the culture of white supremacy was in the postmortem South by citing, for example, the myth of African-Americans as a “vanishing race,” which made it impossible for many to purchase life insurance. Wald Martin takes such things into account in order to chart the modes of historiography available to Washington.
Because the consequences of offending white southerners would have been so high, Washington had to be extremely careful, both in how he recounted his own history and how he explained himself in terms of the history of his race. Martin comes closer than anyone else in the collection to being genuinely ambivalent about Up from Slavery. While none of the contributors resorts to myth-making, all perform reevaluations of Washington by finding at least one thing about UP from Slavery worth celebrating.
The collection’s editor, Brigandage, notes this in his introduction, leading him to insist that the “collection is not intended to rehabilitate Washington’s reputation” and that its many “positive conclusions” are “the result of coincidence rather than design. ” This remark is puzzling, however, since it implies that intending to rehabilitate Washington might somehow be inappropriate – and since many of the essays make clear their desires to recuperate him. But even if it is coincidence that the collection turns out to be positive, then this coincidence itself deserves to be interrogated.
What might be going on a century after Up from Slavery’s appearance that makes it a more compelling text than it has been since at least the sass? One answer is that scholars have grown weary of the dichotomy that places Washington on one side (and labels him traitorous) and Du Bois on the other (and regards him as precognitive). It should be possible now to contemplate both as eminent – and eminently complex – historical figures. It is on this note that I register my one real criticism of this collection.
Three of its essays Martin’s, Moses’, and Morsel’s – at times make a straw man of Du Bois in order to elevate Washington, simply reversing a popularization that instead should be done away with altogether. This happens at isolated moments in otherwise valuable essays, but together these moments point to a problem that future work on Washington will need to address: how to recuperate Washington without oversimplifying or dismissing his critics. Fortunately Booker T. Washington and Black Progress already maps how we may do this.