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Booker Taliaferro Washington was a famous supporter of industrial education for African Americans. He was also known for his accommodationist approach to relations between black and white races (Mizrahi & Davis, 2010). Despite the fact that he was born in slavery on plantations of Virginia, Washington managed to get a higher education and start a teaching career. Moreover, he became a head of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute and remained on the position for more than twenty years (Mizrahi & Davis, 2010). These few biographical facts already demonstrate his exclusiveness and significant contribution to promotion of rights of African Americans. The aim of this paper is to analyze Booker Taliaferro Washington as a social work/welfare pioneer based on guidelines of Carlton-LaNey.
Major Approaches to Managing the Institute
To begin with, Booker Taliaferro Washington was a real example of a pioneer. In particular, even simple facts of his biography demonstrate that he applied new approaches in everything. For instance, when he began to work in Tuskegee Institute, he could utilize the same system as in other schools. However, he first conducted a research of the conditions of people and then tried to adapt school courses to satisfy needs stipulated by these conditions (Work, 1925).
One of the first conclusions that he made at Tuskegee was that it was very important to consider public opinion on the race issue (Munson & Bent-Goodley, 2003). In particular, he had to learn to make clear answers to certain very fundamental questions. For example, African Americans desired to know the reason why Washington offered to teach their children to work. They believed that their children were given to school not for learning how to work, but for being free and living like white Americans. In turn, some white Americans were against any kind of education for African Americans (Work, 1925).
After searches for the most appropriate approach, Book T. Washington decided to adopt a policy of honesty and openness (Munson & Bent-Goodley, 2003). It meant that he tried to be open and honest with all the sides. Besides, he was against using short-time policies and methods for achieving temporary popularity and support of the public (Munson & Bent-Goodley, 2003). It was also common for Washington to try to solve the race issue. In fact, he created a school around the problem. To put it simpler, Washington transformed the education of African Americans into the way of solving the race issue (Work, 1925).
Understanding of Labor
According to Washington, an important part of the race issue was a question whether African Americans as a group of people were able to achieve a sufficient level of economic effectiveness to take their place as free American citizens (Munson & Bent-Goodley, 2003). It was a difficult question because they did not have such experience earlier; thus, Washington had to help integrate them into the American society (Munson & Bent-Goodley, 2003). The situation was complicated by a specific attitude of African Americans towards labor, particularly working with hands. Thus, during the Reconstruction period and some time after it, they believed that labor was the work of slaves. Therefore, if a person became free, he/she did not have to work. To support this idea, African Americans used the example from the Bible where it was written that God put the curse on Adam. The curse forced Adam to work in order to earn his bread. In other words, work was a sin from the perspective of African Americans (Work, 1925).
In order to change people’s attitude to labor, Washington taught them that labor was dignity so that they had to glorify common labor (Carlton-LaNey, 2001). It meant that African Americans were encouraged to use all their physical and intellectual skills and abilities during the working process. He also denied two traditional views of the object of work. Thus, according to the old view, work was believed to be some kind of curse and punishment for individuals. According to the new view, work was created to give people an opportunity to earn a living (Work, 1925).
Instead, Washington offered people to expand their views about labor. He stressed that labor should not be considered as just the way of making a living because even an animal could do this. Therefore, a human being that is able to do only this is no more developed than an animal. Washington believed that people had to learn to treat work as a privilege and something that God sent as the highest privilege for humans (Work, 1925). Moreover, this approach could be utilized in any race, nation, or time period. Washington stressed that if nations or races realized this meaning of labor, they would achieve real progress in their development. The main idea is that success of nations or races is based on their understanding of work and labor. At the same time, if they fail to realize that labor is a privilege and the highest service of any human group, they will not reach economic effectiveness and development (Carlton-LaNey, 2001).
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Apart from promoting the dignity of labor, Washington stressed that education had to be common. He meant that all society members had to be provided with equal access to education (Munson & Bent-Goodley, 2003). Another Washington’s aim was to make education a tool for receiving knowledge about common things of life. In such a way, he wanted to reduce exclusiveness of education because earlier it was more for the elite than for ordinary people. Washington also introduced a vital bond between education and work. The outcome is that the new approach was achieved with respect to work. Besides, it was interesting how he perceived the notion of “common education”. For example, in one of his speeches in front of the audience, Washington compared common education with the grass and the sunshine, meaning that they were considered as something very common (Work, 1925).
Connection of Education and Labor
Such Washington’s approach to labor and education also helped to connect work, education, and life of the public. The aim was to create interest among people to education because if education was interesting for each student, each family, and each community member, it would gain support everywhere in the South. Therefore, creating a connection between school life and community life was the way for promoting education, particularly the Institute, among all community groups (Munson & Bent-Goodley, 2003).
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Booker T. Washington applied all the ideas described above on practice while working at Tuskegee Institute. Moreover, the community was satisfied with his innovative ideas. Thus, African Americans liked the new system due to a specific new approach to labor. People from the North were glad that African Americans were taught to take their places as human beings and citizens. The protest of the South against education was reduced due to connection of education with common life (Munson & Bent-Goodley, 2003). Thus, education was made more practical and beneficial not only for African Americans, but also for the South.
Another Washington’s idea to deal with the race problem through education was to demonstrate to representatives of all races that only cooperative work could allow them to succeed (Munson & Bent-Goodley, 2003). They would either prosper together or lose together. In fact, it was not a new idea because both races had an experience of working together and making progress, but Washington’s contribution was that he tried to develop and extend this doctrine (Work, 1925).
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However, the race problem was not that easy as it looks from the modern perspective. Booker T. Washington spent twenty years until his death in 1915 on trying to satisfy needs of African Americans and improve race relations. To satisfy needs of African Americans, he transformed Tuskegee Institute into an educational institution whose teaching methods even managed to become the basis for modern vocational training. Moreover, his Institute eventually became famous all over the world (Munson & Bent-Goodley, 2003).
Besides, Washington tried to help African Americans through agencies that assisted people who were not students of his Institute. Agencies educated individuals on the soil. After Washington’s death, the Institute had more than twenty-five various extension activities aimed to give African Americans certain knowledge in such spheres as agriculture, home life, health, business, and religion (Munson & Bent-Goodley, 2003). For example, there was such agency as the Annual Tuskegee Negro Conference. It invited many farmers from the entire South every year in order to inform them about innovations in farming and ways how farms, farm homes, churches, and schools could be improved. This Conference led to emergence of other similar agencies such as the Agriculture Demonstration Work, the Short Course in Agriculture, and the Movable School (Munson & Bent-Goodley, 2003).
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Improving Health and Business Opportunities
Another Washington’s initiative aimed at meeting needs of African Americans was establishment of the National Negro Business League in 1900. Its main function was improving business opportunities for representatives of this race (Munson & Bent-Goodley, 2003). For example, African Americans could make contact with businesspeople from other states and get information about certain business ideas.
Booker T. Washington also attempted to improve health conditions of African Americans. Thus, he opened a health center. The institution had a hospital and a nurse training school (Work, 1925). Besides, it introduced the National Negro Health Week for spreading information about health improvement among African Americans. Washington believed that health and long life were essential aspects in supporting African Americans (Munson & Bent-Goodley, 2003).
Other Ways of Solving Race Problem
In addition, Booker T. Washington supported rural population through opening schools there. This not only met needs of African Americans, but also improved racial relations because both races had to work together on constructing rural schools. Racial relations were also improved through “educational tours”. Washington stressed that African Americans had to enjoy equal opportunities with white Americans, including equal accommodations in transport and equal access to education (Work, 1925). One of important peculiarities of “educational tours” was that Washington asked several white Americans to say what they thought directly to African Americans (Jackson, 2009). Such direct communication was new for both races, but it was necessary for their better understanding and improvement of their relationships.
Washington openly supported segregation, which brought him popularity and influence among African Americans as well as white Americans (Munson & Bent-Goodley, 2003). Thus, he communicated with the richest and most powerful businesspeople and politicians of his time. They treated him as a spokesperson for the entire black community. In fact, these connections were very useful for him because they helped to gain significant sums of money, which were used later for opening schools and supporting the work of Tuskegee Institute (Munson & Bent-Goodley, 2003).
In conclusion, Booker T. Washington was a real African American Social Work/Welfare Pioneer. First, he created an educational institution that met real needs of African Americans and helped to improve racial relationships. Second, Washington attempted to change the attitude of African Americans towards labor. It was beneficial for both white Americans and African Americans, as well as the community in general. Third, he tried to improve health conditions of African Americans through opening the health center and sharing information about the ways of improving the health state. Besides, new business opportunities were granted though establishing business leagues. Finally, he was the first social activist who paid attention to schools in rural areas.
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