The book up from slavery by booker t Washington describes his life events as a slave in the United States of America. He describes his life starting the time he was born to his mature adulthood days as a free African American. During his life, he approached the white majority with energy and advocated for the blacks rights including their inherent right to vote as well as being accorded social equity in light of the fight for their recognition as human beings (Morgan, 1972). However, the popular opinion was that a slave was just an asset to the master and could be disposed off at will. Some would not even be considered as human beings as Jones (2012) points out.
Washington begins his book by describing his childhood days as a slave. The conditions under which he grew up were desolate and unimaginable. The house in which they were housed could only be compared to a shanty with very many openings. This meant that the cold winter nights were even colder despite the fact that they had a perceived roof over their heads. This troubled his young life a lot but in the midst of all that, he found himself not knowing anything about his family tree since his father was said to be a white man who owned some slaves in the neighborhood.
His black family however was more disintegrated as he could only remember a few of his uncles and aunties. However, none of this mattered to him as he was too young to take note of his family tree and even after the proclamation of emancipation, he did not follow up anything. This, he did not follow because during his childhood days, he had no time to learn all that since he was a slave from the day he saw the light of the earth. He even argues that he has never played with his sisters or anybody else for that matter. This, according to many would seem that it was a missed opportunity to live as a child through the stages of growing up. In addition, the data available to slaves with regard to their historical background was that of their masters and had been written in history books to date (James, 1993)
The lack of education for the slaves is depicted in the introductory section of his book where he points out that he only went as close to the classroom as the door would allow him to while carrying his mistress’s books. His thirst for education is revealed here, as he would peep to see whoever was present in the classroom. Well, as he was too young to work in the plantation, he was left at the cabin to tend to the chores that demanded small people’s attention such as taking food to other slaves and other related issues such as taking corn to be ground.
Looking at the book from the slave education point of view, they got a lot of information due to their resourceful nature. Despite the lack of access to books, they had information on current affairs as far as their freedom and other social issues were concerned. In view of this, the slaves had always tried to agitate for their right to be free despite the lack of formal education. This is evident when Washington’s mother prays for Lincolns win and in their freedom to that effect meaning that had he not won, Abrahams name as the “great emancipator” would not be in existence today (Nagler, 2009). In view of this, it is important to note that Booker T. Washington’s memory, although vague during his childhood days, was clouded with the thirst for freedom just as any other slave (Neely, 2000).
The thirst for freedom was fueled by many things including the need to live freely but largely the white man was opposed to the slave liberation in all its antiquities. However, despite the obvious lust for freedom, the slaves in the south were more of enslaved in their own masters and mistresses homesteads and emotions. At one point, Booker points out that the civil war injured some of their masters and they (slaves) were so caring to the masters to the point that it seems to disgust him. Nonetheless, it brings out the gentle and caring nature of human being unlike the barbaric treatment the slaves received from their masters. The slaves were so protective of their masters and mistresses. Most would attribute this to the fact that the slaves felt at home despite their unfair treatment they received from them. Others would go to the extent of being bodyguards to their owners and giving assistance in terms of food and shelter to their young masters in the event they became broke and drunkards.
Booker views the above as belittling oneself in the quest for freedom. He points out that despite the bitterness the blacks felt against the whites; the instances where they betrayed this bitterness were plenty. Even in the wake of an imminent freedom, the slaves would cut deals with their owners not to be set free as he points out in an incident where a slave was enslaved even after the emancipation proclamation. The slave had set out to free himself by entering into an agreement with his owner to work anywhere he wanted for a fee. The contract was such that the slave upon clearing the debt, he would be set free. However, the emancipation proclamation came too soon and it was then that the slave realized that he should have done better. May be the blatant ignorance had something to do with this eventuality as Washington (1901) points out. The three hundred dollars the slave owed his master however was waived after the proclamation but due to the trust he had instilled in his master, he felt obligated to pay it off in order to be a free slave. Of course, none of them however has ever gone back to their masters to demand to be enslaved again, the circumstances defined above were isolated events which demanded that the slave exercise due diligence and not betray the trust bestowed upon him by his master. This meant that despite the president’s emancipation proclamation, there was still an issue of self-emancipation, which had to be dealt with in due course (Mitchell, 2008).
In his introduction, Washington uses the major part to elaborate his feelings towards he white man and his treatment of the black folks working in the southern part of the country. He however concedes that despite the fact that they treated his race badly, he held no grudge against them since the economic and social institutions demanded that slavery be a part of their government’s agenda. For slavery, the government of the United States was already used as its major workforce and hence letting go of the idea was a tough call to make. Ending slavery however meant that most slaves would be free and stronger in their own rights.
For Washington, he feels that the end of slavery opened up a race of people that felt stronger in their own rights. This is because they found themselves free in the United States, a land of many dreams, compared to other slaves in other countries. Booker T. Washington shows this by indicating that former slaves were able to get to move around the world spreading their knowledge, education religion and other assets they had acquired from the American state. He however points out that prejudice was a major hurdle in the quest for this freedom as the white man was unwilling to grant them all these rights on a silver platter despite the proclamation. Moreover, upon emancipation, the trade, which was a major asset to the country the economy is seen to have almost slowed down for a while as the country “was established for financial and selfish reasons” (Washington, 1901, p. 17).
Washington, in reference to the above financial and selfish reasons, points that they had an effect across the divide. This is to mean that the economic viewpoint of the white man’s enslavement of the black man was to work in the plantation. This they did not realizing that they too were slaves of the idea that one had to work to look after the slaves in the plantation. This idea meant that the white folks had no free time for other activities and only specialized in single trades such as working in the homes for women and in the plantations for the white male folks. This meant that the master and the slave had no special skills in terms of education for the slaves and for the white folks, they had to stick to their plantations in order to survive. Therefore, the law of the jungle was existent in a place where order had been created earlier by social and economic needs of the government. Booker T Washington argues that the slaves however ignorant they were, some of them were able to gain access to some skills of their own and hence were able to pick themselves up. However, for the white man who was used to commanding the blacks, something had changed and manual labor was an inherent word for them and their plantations.
In conclusion, it is obvious that most slaves were affected by the slave trade that existed in the United States. Despite the government’s efforts to free the black folks, there was one barrier that the two (whites and blacks) had to overcome in terms of racism. The racial discrimination that existed after the freeing of the slaves was excess and thus required action (Fields, n.d). This is what Booker T Washington tried to address in light of the fight for equal rights and justice for all people living in the United States of America.