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3 good things (primary sources version) March 13, 2009

Posted by Beth in 3 Good Things, Miscellaneous Musings.
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In looking for a copy of Up From Slavery to read for a bookclub, I found it in a volume which contains two other fabulous works. The volume itself is titled Three African-American Classics and contains my 3 good things for today. Reading the words of these  intelligent eyewitnesses to an essential turning point in history brings to life for me the process of defending one’s freedom. I have much to learn from these brave and thoughtful men.

1. Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington

2. The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois

3. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas by Frederick Douglas

From Mr. Washington:

“I have great faith in the power and influence of facts. It is seldom that anything is permanently gained by holding back a fact.”

“The hurtful influence of the institution were not by any means confined to the Negro. This was fully illustrated by the life upon our own plantation. The whole machinery of slavery was so constructed as to cause labour, as a rule, to be looked upon as a badge of degradation or inferiority. Hence labour was something that both races on the slave plantation sought to escape.”

“My experience and observation have convinced me that persistent asking outright for money from the rich does not, as a rule, secure help. I have usually proceeded on the principle that persons who possess sense enough to earn money have sense enough to know how to give it away, and that the mere making known of the facts regarding Tuskegee, and especially the facts regarding the work of the graduates, has been more effective than outright begging. I think that the presentation of facts, on a high, dignified plane, is all the begging that most rich people care for.”

“As far as I can, I make it a rule to plan for each day’s work – not merely to go through with the same routine of daily duties, but to get rid of the routine work as early in the day as possible, and then to enter upon some new or advance work. I make it a rule to clear my desk every day, before leaving my office, of all correspondence and memoranda, so I that on the morrow I can begin a new day of work. I make it a rule never to let my work drive me, but to so master it, and keep it in such complete control, and to keep so far ahead of it, that I will be the master instead of the servant.”

“I am constantly trying to impress upon our students at Tuskegee – and on our people throughout the country, as far as I can reach them with my voice–that any man, regardless of colour, will be recognized and rewarded just in proportion as he learns to do something well-learns to do it better than some one else – however humble the thing may be. As I have said, I believe that my race will succeed in proportion as it learns to do a common thing in an uncommon manner; learns to do a thing so thoroughly that no one can improve upon what it has done; learns to make its services of indispensable value”

And from Mr. Washington’s famous speech at the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta:

“Cast down your bucket where you are.”

(You’ll need to read the speech for the full meaning.)

Of Mr. Douglas as told by Mr. Washington:

“At one time Mr. Douglas was traveling in the state of Pennsylvania, and was forced, on account of his color, to ride in the baggage-car, in spite of the fact that he had paid the same price for his passage that the other passengers had paid. When some of the white passengers went into the baggage-car to console Mt. Douglas, and one of them said to him: “I am sorry, Mr. Douglas, that you have been degraded in this manner,” Mr. Douglas straightened himself up on the box upon which he was sitting , and replied, “They cannot degrade Frederick Douglas. the soul that is within me no man can degrade. I am not the one that is being degraded on account of this treatment, but those who are inflicting it upon me.”

From Mr. Du Bois:

“One ever feels his two-ness,–an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unrecognized strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife, –this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.”


1. Sue - March 17, 2009

I enjoyed Up From Slavery. Learned a lot about the perseverance of Mr. Washington, the power of hope, and the arbitrary nature of slavery.

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