On the ninetieth anniversary of Booker T. Washington’s death comes a passionate, provocative dialogue on his complicated legacy, including the complete text of his classic autobiography, Up from Slavery.
Booker T. Washington was born a slave in 1858, yet roughly forty years later he had established the Tuskegee Institute. Befriended by a U.S. president and corporate titans, beloved and reviled by the black community, Washington was one of the most influential voices on the postslavery scene. But Washington’s message of gradual accommodation was accepted by some and rejected by others, and, almost a century after his death, he is still one of the most controversial and misunderstood characters in American history.
Uncle Tom or New Negro? does much more than provide yet another critical edition of Washington’s memoirs. Instead, Carroll has interviewed an outstanding array of African American luminaries including Julianne Malveaux, cultural critics Debra Dickerson and John McWhorter, and Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and radio talk-show host Karen Hunter, among others. In a dazzling collection bursting with invigorating and varying perspectives, (e.g. What would Booker T. think of Sean Combs or Russell Simmons? Was Washington a “tragic buffoon” or “a giver of hope to those on the margins of the margins”?) this cutting-edge book allows you to reach your own conclusions about a controversial and perhaps ultimately enigmatic figure.
Today's struggle over the role of Booker T. Washington is "actually a struggle over the soul of the black community," argues Debra Dickerson, one of 20 contributors to this anthology, which highlights the complex position of one of America's most famous and controversial black leaders. Carroll (Saving the Race; Sugar in the Raw) brings together a diverse array of African-American voices, including economist Julianne Malveaux, linguist John McWhorter and broadcaster Karen Hunter. Washington's reputation has waxed and waned since his death, mostly due to his quasi-segregationist rhetoric, and the collection reflects these disparate views of him. Some contributors side with Hunter in her declaration that "he was a great man"; others align themselves more with Malveaux, who states, "here are some things about Booker T. Washington that were purely evil." Nearly every contributor agrees, however, that whatever Washington may have said or thought, he is a preeminent example of self-realization through hard work and determination. Wisely refraining from a final verdict, this book exemplifies the diversity and value of African-American thinkers past and present. And Carroll's decision to include the complete text of Up from Slavery in the volume makes this an ideal choice for book clubs.