Revisiting “Uncle Tom:” Booker T. Washington and the Politics of the South

Presented by Bertis English, associate professor of history at Alabama State University

Although numerous books and articles have been published about Booker T. Washington, he remains one of the most controversial African Americans in United States history. In general, modern writers have portrayed Washington as an unabashed accommodationist who thought emancipated blacks placed too much emphasis on the social and political possibilities that the Thirteenth Amendment and subsequent Reconstruction-era legislation promised while failing to appreciate fully the economic opportunities that vocational and industrial education could provide. Although a small cadre of revisionist writers has challenged this interpretation for decades, it begs a broader reconsideration. In this presentation, the speaker proposes to create a new paradigm for analyzing Washington and his legacy. By using unpublished documents and the latest scholarship, the speaker seeks to demonstrate that Washington was a driven, boldly optimistic, prophetic individual whose childhood enslavement, religious convictions and adult residency in the segregated, or Jim Crow, South compelled him to “wear the mask” in the words of the celebrated black poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. Unlike Washington’s staunchest supporters, the speaker will not attempt to deify the man. On occasion, he was authoritarian, vindictive, self-serving and presumptuous. Yet these mortal traits did not stop him from working tirelessly to provide thousands of black youth, men and women with lay and professional opportunities in an age when black uplift was dependent on white acquiescence. Rather than being the perpetually selfish, anti-intellectual, power-seeking Uncle Tom suggested by orthodoxy, Washington was an intensely reflective equalitarian whose principal beliefs regarding economics, education, politics and other important matters that affect human behavior are as instructive today as they were during the late 19th and early-20th centuries.

A microphone, large screen and LCD projector are requested.

Contact Bertis English to book this presentation
(334) 229-4368