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Thursday, February 25, 2016



"To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits for the prosperity of the South, were I permitted I would repeat what I say to my own race,“Cast down your bucket where you are.” 

...Cast it down among the eight millions of Negroes whose habits you know, whose fidelity and love you have tested in days when to have proved treacherous meant the ruin of your firesides. 

Cast down your bucket among these people who have, without strikes and labour wars, 

-tilled your fields, 

-cleared your forests, 
-builded your railroads and cities, 
-and brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth, 
-and helped make possible this magnificent representation of the progress of the South... 

you will find that they will 

-buy your surplus land, 
-make blossom the waste places in your fields, 
-and run your factories. 

While doing this, you can be sure in the future, as in the past, that you and your families will be surrounded by the most 

-and unresentful people 

...that the world has seen. 

As we have proved our loyalty to you in the past, 

-in nursing your children, 
-watching by the sick-bed of your mothers and fathers, 
-and often following them with tear-dimmed eyes to their graves, 
-so in the future, in our humble way, we shall stand by you with a devotion that no foreigner can approach, 
-ready to lay down our lives, if need be, in defense of yours,
- interlacing our industrial, commercial, civil, and religious life with yours in a way that shall make the interests of both races one. 

In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.
(Support for the founding for Jim Crow?)

* * * * *

Did you know that it was W.E.B. DuBois is the one that re-named Booker T. Washington's speech "The Altanta Compromise?"  Many people think the revised title fit well. 

I do.

Washington essentially promised white people that black people would not try to rise above their station in life by voting; or by aspiring to jobs too high (into jobs like Washington himself already possessed); or by failing to perform that loving subservience that white people had come to expect during slavery such as the nursing of babies and the nursing of ancient white people with one foot in the grave. All was to continue as it had.

The most important thing Washington promised was Jim Crow.

Keep in mind during the times of slavery, whites and blacks saw each other all the time because white people were keeping a close eye on their property. Black people were under constant scrutiny.

Post-slavery white people were afraid of the resentment that leads to revenge. So whites wanted a new distance from black people

More than that poor white people who had never slaves lost the only thing they possessed when slavery ended. They lost the status of not being a slave due to having white skin.

Some slaves ate better than poor whites during slavery, for example. Of course, they might be whipped to death for nothing. But their owners did need them healthy enough to work. Poor white farmers might be eating grass out of their front yard. The only thing they could be proud of was their white skin making them socially higher than a slave. When slavery ended that status was gone. 

Lower class whites didn't want to be poor people together with poor black people. Poor whites wanted their comparative higher status based on whiteness back. Jim Crow was a method of creating that comparative higher status. 

When Booker T Washington said, "In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers..." he may have inadvertently laid the foundation for segregated buses, lunch counters, schools, water fountains, bathrooms at gas stations, etc. I don't know if that's literally what he had in mind, if he understood how violent the black codes could become (once they became Jim Crow after his death)

Today, I don't think we have an appreciation for just how violent this group of lower class white people could get, would get, half a century later, while trying to create these artificial markers of white superiority.

Clearly, Booker T Washington didn't either.

I recently read a memoir that included the story of a black woman, a mother, getting on a bus and sitting her infants down on "the white seats" while digging out change for the bus driver. I could expect a violent verbal reaction from the white bus driver after reading so much history. But I nearly vomited when I read he stepped on the gas and stomped the breaks hard enough to throw the babies to the floor. My grandmother had told me of witnessing white bus drivers doing this to black women, adults. But it was beyond my imagination to imagine someone deliberately hurting infants.

But then there WAS the 16th street church bombing where little girls were going to Sunday School wasn't there?

I don't think Booker T Washington understood what kind of acquiescence he built into his legacy.

I also don't think Washington understood just how firmly he believed in US vs THEM within the black community either. Or maybe he did. I haven't read a biography on "The Wizard" yet. In my mind though, he clearly believed in the superior black people (the few of us that should go on to be professors, lawyers, and doctors) who were very different from the blacks he spoke of in his speech, those black people that should just let white folks drop their buckets where they live. Oh yes, white folks should drop that bucket where they are and let that bucket fill up with black people who do not aspire to be much different than they were during slavery.

You could almost believe Booker T Washington was putting on a show for the white folks if you don't read some of the battles he had with W.E.B DuBois. Even if you think W.E.B. DuBois was biased, and he surely was, his separation of black people into US and THEM is the only way for me to explain to myself at least some of his arguments with Dubois in addition to the fact that the Tuskegee Experiment took place at Booker T Washington's Tuskegee.

There's so much talk about what the white folk did during the Tuskegee Experiment. And that white racism was terrible. But what is even more heartbreaking to read is that black doctors and black students at Tuskegee, "the black haves", participated in the experiments on "the black have-nots," the rural black men that lived in the area. In the movie about the Tuskegee Experiment called "Miss Evers Boys," Joe Morton represents several black men who experimented on other black men at the behest of white men.

I'm not sure the Tuskegee Experiment could ONLY have happened at Tuskegee but sometimes I feel so very certain that Booker T Washington's classist(?)/elitist(?) attitudes were built into the foundation of Tuskegee. And I'm not talking about the building. 

I appreciate the fact that, just coming out of slavery, many black people felt they could behave their way into peace with white people. The Cherokees tried the same thing just before white people put them on the trail of tears. But some people managed to get over themselves. They looked around and saw they'd have to demand their rights and cut off white folks sources of money. Ida B Wells probably paid the highest price I heard of to get over being self-righteous about how to behave as a black person. It sounds like Ida B put somebody else's business out in the street and then a killed herself. The who-is-sleeping-with-who thing wasn't exactly a respectability politics situation itself.*  But it made Ida B rethink her judgmental attitudes, period. And she was a much better woman for it. She broke with classist attitudes that her contemporaries, heroes and heroines of ours, did not.

It doesn't sound like Booker T Washington ever had such a come Jesus moment. Ida B Wells' error makes me wonder what would have been different if Washington had been different, less focused on his own prestige, a little less focused on money as power, quite a bit more focused on political power.

Differences of opinion, "beefing with one another,"  is only "good" if you can learn from the person you are arguing with. I'm not sure Booker T Washington and W.E.B. DuBois ever really did that. Then again, the rest of us who read history have benefited from reading about their arguments tremendously. We need to see multiple views of single events or a flow of single events, right?

The biggest lesson I get out of reading about Booker T Washington, so far, is that wealth builders shouldn't always be speakers, influence-ers, and representatives. Sometimes wealth builders should build the wealth and power, hand a bunch of that wealth over to the activists better at thinking and representing, take a bow, then find someplace to sit down and be quiet.

But there's really no place or time in America where a man does that is there?

*As I recall, Ida B Wells was outing a white man and black woman for sleeping together. She was pointing out black and white people sleep together voluntarily when it's not labeled as "rape" She was just beginning to talk about the justifications for her newspaper. Not cool. I can't remember if she named-names. She did a lot of innuendo in her early writing. But towns were so small...