Up from Slavery is the autobiography of Booker T. Washington detailing his work to rise from the position of a slave child during the Civil War, to the difficulties and obstacles he overcame to get an education at the new Hampton University, to his work establishing vocational schools—most notably the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama—to help black people and other disadvantaged minorities learn useful, marketable skills and work to pull themselves, as a race, up by the bootstraps. He reflects on the generosity of both teachers and philanthropists who helped in educating blacks and native Americans.
He describes his efforts to instill manners, breeding, health and a feeling of dignity to students. His educational philosophy stresses combining academic subjects with learning a trade (something which is reminiscent of the educational theories of John Ruskin). Washington explained that the integration of practical subjects is partly designed to reassure the white community as to the usefulness of educating black people.
This text, while certainly a biography of his life, is in fact an illustration of the problem facing African Americans by detailing the problems of one. By showing how he has risen from servitude to success, he demonstrates how others of his race can do the same, as well as how sympathizers can aid in the process.
Nineteenth-century African American businessman, activist, and educator Booker Taliaferro Washington's Up from Slavery is one of the greatest American autobiographies ever written. Its mantras of black economic empowerment, land ownership, and self-help inspired generations of black leaders, including Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and Louis Farrakhan. In rags-to-riches fashion, Washington recounts his ascendance from early life as a mulatto slave in Virginia to a 34-year term as president of the influential, agriculturally based Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. From that position, Washington reigned as the most important leader of his people, with slogans like "cast down your buckets," which emphasized vocational merit rather than the academic and political excellence championed by his contemporary rival W.E.B. Du Bois. Though many considered him too accommodating to segregationists, Washington, as he said in his historic "Atlanta Compromise" speech of 1895, believed that "political agitation alone would not save [the Negro]," and that "property, industry, skill, intelligence, and character" would prove necessary to black Americans' success. The potency of his philosophies are alive today in the nationalist and conservative camps that compose the complex quilt of black American society.