Saturday, February 25, 2017

*Review* #BeatTheBacklist - Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington

Genre: Memoir
Published: January 1, 1900
Pages: 256


Booker T. Washington, the most recognized national leader, orator and educator, emerged from slavery in the deep south, to work for the betterment of African Americans in the post Reconstruction period. 

"Up From Slavery" is an autobiography of Booker T. Washington's life and work, which has been the source of inspiration for all Americans. Washington reveals his inner most thoughts as he transitions from ex-slave to teacher and founder of one of the most important schools for African Americans in the south, The Tuskegee Industrial Institute. 

Booker T. Washington's words are profound. Washington includes the address he gave at the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition in 1895, which made him a national figure. He imparts `gems of wisdom' throughout the book, which are relevant to Americans who aspire to achieve great attainments in life. 

I listened to the audiobook version of this book. I would highly recommend not doing that. I found the narrator's voice to somehow seem both pompous and monotonous at the same time. There was very little in the way of inflection that didn't come off as braggadocios, and that made it seem like that was Booker T. Washington's tone as well, but that didn't match up with the message being conveyed most of the time. Basically the narrator's tone made me feel like Booker was just a braggart, and I don't think he meant to be.

Beyond the narrator's tone, I had other problems with this book (although those problems may have been exacerbated by the narrator's tone). I already said that I don't think Booker was trying to be a braggart, but he came off that way at times. He mentions a few times where he receives loans from white people he personally knows from their personal accounts because of their perception of his moral character, and it just embarrassed him that they had such faith in him (so humble bragging before it was cool.) These were loans for improvements to the school he was running in Tuskegee, so the money was clearly for a worthy cause, and I don't know why it came off so much as bragging to me. 

In addition to that, the book was a lot of "I did this...I did that...I went here" so just a whole lot of telling and not showing. I kept trying to remind myself that Booker T. Washington really did accomplish huge things for a person of his background at the time he lived, and that storytelling back in the late 1800s and early 1900s was different than it is today, but it still just didn't sit well with me. The monotonous tone of the narrator didn't help. 

This book did get me thinking about what it would take for a southern black man to get a memoir published so soon after slavery, and sadly, I think it would take a man who would say things like "Us slaves were better off at the end of slavery than our former masters" and "The KKK was a short lived blight on southern society that is no longer around today." (Those are paraphrased quotes because I listened to the book, so I do not have highlights to go back to for quoting purposes.) It would take a man willing to say that he had just as many opportunities to make something of himself as a white man even when his experiences show that that really wasn't actually the case. Although that also makes his achievements all the more remarkable. 

Overall I give Up From Slavery 3 out of 5 stars, and would highly recommend that everyone read it even though my own experience with the book was less than positive. It has great historical significance if nothing else, and I will probably return to re-read it at some point (actually reading it myself, not listening to the audiobook.) - Katie 

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About the Author

Booker Taliaferro Washington (April 5, 1856 – November 14, 1915) was an African-American educator, author, orator, and advisor to Republican presidents. He was the dominant leader in the African-American community in the United States from 1890 to 1915.

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