These men knew key to solving problems in black communities

By Bill Federer

Black school in George after Civil War
Black school in George after Civil War

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated April 4, 1968.

Pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, he rose to national prominence through the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Awarded the Nobel Prize in 1964, Congress set aside his birthday as a national holiday.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, were influenced by the German Church leader Deitrich Bonhoeffer, who resisted Hitler’s Nazism. Rev. King was also influenced by the non-violent methods of India’s Mahatma Gandhi.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said Aug, 28, 1963: “Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. … In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. … New militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”

On April 16, 1963, Rev. King wrote: “I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency. … The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best-known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. … I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the ‘do-nothingism’ of the complacent nor the hatred of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and non-violent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of non-violence became an integral part of our struggle.”

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Rev. King proclaimed Aug. 28, 1963: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. … I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Martin Luther King Jr., had attended Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, Georgia, 1942-44.

Booker T. Washington stated May 24, 1900: “The men doing the vital things of life are those who read the Bible and are Christians and not ashamed to let the world know it.”

Booker T. Washington was born in a slave hut on a plantation in Franklin County, Virginia, April 5, 1856. He taught himself to read and write, stating: “In all my efforts to learn to read, my mother shared fully my ambition and sympathized with me and aided me in every way she could.”

He attended school after working all day. At age 16, after the Civil War had ended, Booker T. Washington walked nearly 500 miles to attend the Hampton Institute in Virginia, founded by Union General Samuel Chapman Armstrong.

Booker T. Washington stated: “I have spoken of my admiration for General Armstrong, and yet he was but a type of that Christ-like body of men and women who went into the Negro schools at the close of the war by the hundreds to assist in lifting up my race. The history of the world fails to show a higher, purer, and more unselfish class of men and women than those who found their way into those Negro schools.”

Graduating from the Hampton Institute in 1875, Booker T. Washington wrote in his book, “Up From Slavery,” 1901: “Perhaps the most valuable thing that I got out of my second year at the Hampton Institute was an understanding of the use and value of the Bible. Miss Nathalie Lord, one of the teachers, from Portland, Maine, taught me how to use and love the Bible. … I learned to love to read the Bible, not only for the spiritual help which it gives, but on account of it as literature.

“The lessons taught me in this respect took such a hold upon me that at the present time, when I am at home, no matter how busy I am, I always make it a rule to read a chapter or a portion of a chapter in the morning, before beginning the work of the day. Whatever ability I may have as a public speaker I owe in a measure to Miss Lord.”

Booker T. Washington wrote in “The Story of My Life and Work” (1856): “Aside from Gen. Armstrong … the persons who made the deepest impression upon me at Hampton were Miss Nathalie Lord and Miss Elizabeth Brewer, two teachers from New England. I am especially indebted to these two for being helped in my spiritual life and led to love and understand the Bible. Largely by reason of their teaching, I find that a day rarely, if ever, passes when I am at home, that I do not read the Bible.”

Miss Natalie Lord wrote in an article for the Hampton publication, The Southern Workman (May 1902): “Booker, as we always called him … I was much interested in him from the first. His quiet, unassuming manner, his earnestness of purpose and faithfulness greatly impressed me. I saw in him one whom you could completely trust. He was diligent in his business … and yet unselfish in his thought for others.”

Later, Booker T. Washington attended Wayland Baptist Seminary in Washington, DC. He moved to West Virginia and worked in a salt furnace and coal mine. In 1876, he taught school in Malden, West Virginia, where he also taught a Sunday School class at the African Zion Baptist Church. Booker T. Washington returned to teach at the Hampton Institute.

In 1881, at the age of 25, Booker T. Washington founded the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama with 33 students. Students not only had to learn academics, but also trade skills. They grew their own crops and raised livestock.

Booker T. Washington observed that since slaves had been forced to work so hard on plantations, once freed, some held the expectation that they did not have to work as hard, even though they benefited from it. He countered this by teaching:

  • “No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.”
  • “I want to see you own land.”
  • “What is equally important, each one of the students works … each day at some industry, in order to get skill and the love of work, so that when he goes out from the institution he is prepared to set the people with whom he goes to labor a proper example in the matter of industry.”
  • “Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let him know that you trust him.”

Booker T. Washington hired Robert Robinson Taylor, the first African-American architect from MIT, who graduated near the top of his class. Students made the bricks and helped build over 100 campus building, constructing classrooms, barns, outbuildings, and in 1899, Tuskegee’s impressive chapel.

In the spring of 1896, Booker T. Washington invited George Washington Carver to teach at Tuskegee, as he had just received his master’s degree from Iowa State Agricultural Institute.

Booker T. Washington became friends with the leading men of his day, including:

  • President William McKinley
  • President Theodore Roosevelt
  • President William H. Taft
  • Steel industrialist Andrew Carnegie
  • Standard Oil’s John D. Rockefeller and Henry Huttleston Rogers
  • George Eastman, inventor and founder of Kodak
  • Sears, Roebuck & Company president Julius Rosenwald

Julius Rosenwald funded a pilot program of over 100 elementary schools, designed and operated by Tuskegee. Rosenwald and Carnegie took a “matching fund” approach to expand to 4,977 schools, 217 teacher homes and 163 shop buildings in 15 states. An agricultural college on wheels taught over 2,000 farmers in 28 states.

To read the rest of Bill Federer’s review of great black educators, click here.

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