R G Burnett's children's review of Up From Slavery,
by Booker T Washington.

( From the reviewer's column, Books and Authors, found as a news-paper cutting, in a 1945 copy of the book. )

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Booker T Washington




R G Burnett's review.

In the club one evening, after some of the senior boys had been unusually irresponsible and rowdy, I asked them: 'If you go on like that, how can you expect to be ready to play your part in the government of a democracy?'
To my surprise, they answered: 'We shall never have any part in government. Only the people with money can do that.'

This appears to be a fairly common idea among club members, especially in poor districts. It is not only false; it is most dangerous. Poverty need not be a bar to progress. Riches often are. Some of the greatest statesmen and writers and scientists and painters in our history began life with neither wealth nor special opportunity. It is character that moulds the life of a man or a woman, not money; inherent gifts, not influence.

Nowhere is this more strikingly illustrated than in a book recently added to the 'World's Classics' of the Oxford University Press -- Up From Slavery, by Booker T Washington. You can buy it for 3s. You should be able to borrow it from your local public library. If you are in search of real-life adventure, read it. I shall be surprised if you do not find it thrilling. Washington was born a Negro slave in the Southern States of the U.S.A. Compared with his, the 'poverty' of an English slum seems riches. His mother was good and kind, but she could hardly get enough food to keep him alive. There was no school for him to go to; his ways seemed set in misery and squalor. But the boy had that which is priced above rubies -- a thirst for knowledge that would not be denied.

In this book he wrote about his life you will discover how he overcame all difficulties. He had to work hard and scrape together every possible dime to get to a far-distant school for coloured children. When at last he reached it he had to persuade the authorities to take him in, even though he had no obvious qualifications. When, unable to resist his constant pleading, they accepted him, he had to work for long hours at hard tasks of manual work in and about the college in order to earn enough to pay for his keep. He did it all with a song and a smile. He passed his examinations. He qualified as a teacher.

Then, if he had chosen, he could have forgotten his origins and gone off to make a name for himself. Odd as it may seem, if he had done that he probably would never have been known beyond a limited circle of people. He chose rather to identify himself with the Negro race, founded a school so that he might pass on to other coloured children what he had learned, built that school up into an institute of learning that did amazing things, and in time became famous throughout the world. As One whose word is always worth thinking about used to say:

He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

That is simple truth, borne out by experience. Happiness, success, real wealth of mind and heart, come to those who forget themselves in some great adventure for other people. Booker T Washington put it like this:

I learned that assistance given to the weak makes the one who gives it strong; and that oppression of the unfortunate makes one weak

Let me give you a sample of the adventures to be found in Up From Slavery.

A ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel. From the mast of the unfortunate ship was seen a signal. 'Water, water; we die of thirst.' The answer from the friendly vessel at once came back, 'Cast down your bucket where you are.' A second time the signal, 'Water, water; send us water,' ran up from the distressed vessel, and was answered, 'Cast down your bucket where you are.' The captain of the distressed vessel, at last heeding the injunction, cast down his bucket, and it came up full of fresh, sparkling water from the mouth of the Amazon River.

Does that say something to you? In the light of it, can you say that 'only people with money' can do big things? Dont envy other boys or girls, or imagine that they have chances that can never be equalled by yours. Remember Booker Washington, the Negro slave -- and 'cast down your bucket where you are.'

R G BURNETT.



Note on another found cutting: the cartoon strip, Backward glance No. 33: Booker Washington, by Maz; script by George Beardmore.

Paraphrase of the strip's ten high-lights and low points in Washington's life:

1) Booker T was born a slave in Franklin County, Virginia. Carrying his mistresses books, he thought school was paradise.
2) In 1863, slaves were freed and the 7 year-old Booker walked 300 miles with family to rejoin step-father. Sheltering in a deserted log-cabin, a snake dropped down the chimney.
They slept outside.
3) In salt furnaces, Booker helped pack barrels, whereon his first 'education' was learning his step-father's number.
4) Later, down the coal mine, he was often lost when his light blew out.
5) He saved, and hitch-hiked 500 miles to Hampton Institute, sleeping under the Richmond sidewalk.
6) Booker remarked few civilized agencies more far-reaching than tooth-brushes.
7) Graduating, he founded Tuskegee, Alabama's negro college, with a leaky shanty.
8) Needing a new site, pupils helped towards $500; a woman, 70, gave 6 eggs -- all she had.
9) Pupils built with home-made bricks. The kiln failed three times. Booker pawned his watch to build another.
10) Booker died from over-work in 1915, when the Tuskegee Institute owned 2000 acres locally, 25,000 acres in Alabama; was endowed with $2m; 1537 students learning 38 trades and professions.


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