Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Up From Demoralization

My title today comes from a book written by the son of a slave, called "Up From Slavery."  Booker T. Washington lived in an era of change. His mother told him at the time of emancipation that although she was very excited about this change, she also felt very apprehensive and sad, since her people had become so dependent on others for their care. She said they would have to learn to earn a living on their own, and find homes of their own to live in.  They could no longer depend on the generational work and homes that the plantations provided. 

 Booker began immediately thinking about what he could do to help make this transition from dependency to independence successful. He began Tuskegee Institute, a college to teach skills that would help his people create jobs for themselves or to be able to be employed in some of the new businesses of the times. Here was taught everything from financial bookkeeping to creating a business.  

He first brought himself "up from slavery" by working at small jobs of seemingly no significance, in order to learn how things worked in the world. He aided a school teacher in her classroom by sweeping floors and washing the chalkboards, lighting the lamps and building a fire for warmth in winter. He wrote in his book, "Up From Slavery" which you can read free on Google books,  that he noticed the school teacher was not content just to let him do all the work he was hired for. When she had finished looking over her lessons, if she had time to spare, she would work along side him erasing the chalkboards or cleaning desks, just to get the job done. She did not avoid work just because it was not her job, nor did she expect others to do everything, even if they were hired. When she saw something that needed to be done, she would do it, not thinking whether or not it was her job or if it was beneath her.  This work principle deeply affected Booker and he adopted it into the teachings he imparted in his school, the Tuskegee Institute.

  There, he taught from that experience to find a job and do it and to look for things that needed to be done and to work with willing hands. He said he realized that although a person might have no trouble knowing how to work, it was largely the attitude toward work that needed to be improved, so that the students would not only have skills for new kinds of work but also the enthusiasm and purpose for it.  His mother wisely warned that while liberation was an uplifting thing for an oppressed people, there was a danger of trying to be liberated from work, totally.  This was one attitude that Booker thought about  quite a bit.

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