Booker, Jim Crow, Plessy V Ferguson discussed on History That Doesn't Suck

Automatic TRANSCRIPT

As you can see from that opening, the early 20th century United States has a sharp line. A color line, as it's known, separating black and white citizens. The racial segregation of Jim Crow made constitutional as we learned in episode one O one by the Supreme Court's 1896 decision in plessy V Ferguson is well entrenched. And today, our sojourn through the progressive era brings us to a new generation of black Americans facing these realities. We begin with the origins of our dinner guest, Booker T. Washington. We'll bear witness as he grows from slave to student to educator to becoming the voice of black Americans after his 1895 Atlanta speech. Or is it an Atlanta compromise accepting Jim Crow? That's how a younger black scholar named WEB Dubois will see it. While both men want the best for black Americans, the whole drastically different views. We'll watch their ideas clash as black troops and Brownsville, Texas, are gravely mistreated, and black Americans die in lynchings and race riots. Hence this episode's advisory. Again, heads up. This will get rough. We'll also hear about the Niagara movement, the founding of the NAACP, and then lay Booker to rest. Alas, the wizard of tuskegee, is not long for this world. Well, our path is set, so let's get to it by bidding a brief farewell to the progressive era and heading 36 years back in time to war torn Virginia. Rewind. It's an unspecified morning, April, 1865, and the sun is just rising over the borough family's small plantation inhales for the Virginia. Everyone enslaved here is up, alert, and excited as they walk toward the borough family's residence. AKA the big House. Their excitement has been building for a while, as it's become increasingly obvious that the Civil War will soon end with a union victory, but last night. When word came around that the morning would bring a big announcement, oh, that was it. Hardly anyone slept a wink. Has it come? The war's end? Freedom. The adrenaline of hope has energized these sleepless enslaver unions. They walk with vigor as the morning's early rays like the fields. Arriving at the big House, they find members of the borough family standing or seated on the veranda. There's also an unknown man. He more than anything will later stand out in the memory of one 9 year old enslaved child this morning. Standing with his mother, brother and sister, the young, all of skinned boy, watches as this unknown gentleman starts reading a paper. It's the Emancipation proclamation. Finishing the document, he then states plainly that all enslaved here are now free. The child's mother is overcome with joy. He'll later recall. My mother, who is standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing that she would never live to see. Yes, the morning's announcement was just what they were hoping for. Freedom. It's a day that the young child named Booker will long remember. Booker has lived his entire life on the borough plantation until that likely union soldier arrived in 1865. Not the Booker knows how long that is. As the witty educator will put it in his future autobiography. I'm not quite sure of the exact place or exact date of my birth. But at any rate, I suspect I must have been born somewhere, and at some time. The borough family Bible will lead future scholars to conclude that he was born April 5th, 1856, and is thus 9 years old at this point. But Booker doesn't know that. Just like he doesn't know anything about his biological father, beyond rumors that he's a local white man. What the child does know is that his mother loves him. And her name is Jane. But with the Emancipation, Booker will leave this nebulous place of origin behind. Literally. His mother is taking him and his siblings to join her husband, Washington Ferguson, out in West Virginia. In a small town that will later be known as Malden. Hiking over mountainous terrain, Jane and her children travel for weeks to get to their new home. Her husband, Washington, or just wash, for short, gladly welcomes them, and soon little 9 year old Booker is working right beside him, packing barrels in a salt furnace. Booker will have little good to say of these days. He'll recall filthy air, rough neighbors, and a cabin that he'll describe as no better than his old slave quarters. One positive thing jumps out at him, though. The number 18. That number is assigned to his father, and the illiterate child watches with wonder as the straight line and two circles are stamped on barrel after barrel. It was illegal for slaves to learn to read in antebellum, Virginia. But that didn't stop Booker from craving education. Day after day, he had carried the borough children's books and watched longingly as they entered the schoolhouse. To quote Booker, I had the feeling that to get into a schoolhouse and study in this way would be about the same as getting into Paradise. Well, a salt furnace is no schoolhouse, but the eager child is ready for that Paradise. And if he can pick out numbers, he can pick out words. Booker's mother, Jane, procures an old copy of Webster's spelling book. With no help, Booker teaches himself the alphabet over the next few weeks. Then, the town's black community decides to pool money to hire an educated black man to teach their children. Booker's family can't afford to have him leave work for school though, so the determined youth studies with the instructor at night until, despite scheduling difficulties, he manages to go to work and to school. Finally in the classroom, hooker perceives something odd at roll call. I noticed that all the children had at least two names, and some of them indulged in what seemed to me the extravagance of having three. And so, when called on, Booker answers that he is Booker Washington. His choice appears to be a clear nod to his stepfather, but Booker will also attribute the selection to the names association with history, freedom, and greatness. Learning later that his mother originally named him Booker toliver. He decides that he too will indulge in the great extravagance of three names. Thus, he becomes Booker, toliver, Washington, or as we know him. Booker T. Washington. Years pass Booker keeps studying as his work shifts from salt packing to a coal mine. Then in 1871, the mine's owner, general Lewis ruffner and his wife, viola raffin, hire him as their house boy. The couple become crucial mentors to the studious teen, deepening his values of education, hard work, and self reliance. In his autobiography, Booker will describe viola as a lifelong friend. But his thirst for knowledge leads him away from the roughness the following year. Hooker's heard about a school back in Virginia that educates black Americans and trains them as teachers called the Hampton normal and agricultural institute. He's determined to attend. Located near the mouth of Virginia's Chesapeake Bay, the Hampton institute is 400 miles from Malden. Booker walks the distance, arriving penniless. For his entrance exam, he has to clean a room. No problem. Booker knows how to work. He prizes work. And with the white benefactor paying his tuition, he's able to commence his studies. As in Malden, Booker finds hard work and education go hand in hand. He absorbs the school's agricultural and industrial focus, particularly as the school's founder, former union general Samuel C Armstrong, becomes his mentor. Three years later, in 1875, Booker graduates with honors and speaks at commencement. So, Booker's done it. He's a teacher. Over the next few years, he returns home to teach in Malden, West Virginia, then heads back to Chesapeake Bay to attend Washington D.C.'s wayland seminary and teach at his Alma mater. The Howard institute. Not bad Booker. His education and accomplishments today are impressive, especially

Coming up next