Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr on Love of Neighbor, Black & White
American Minute with Bill Federer
Booker T. Washington was born in a slave hut on a plantation in Franklin County, Virginia, APRIL 5, 1856.
He taught himself to read and write, stating:
“In all my efforts to learn to read, my mother shared fully my ambition and sympathized with me and aided me in every way she could.”
He attended school after working all day.
At age 16, after the Civil War had ended, Booker T. Washington walked nearly 500 miles to attend the Hampton Institute in Virginia, founded by Union General Samuel Chapman Armstrong.
“I have spoken of my admiration for General Armstrong, and yet he was but a type of that Christ-like body of men and women who went into the Negro schools at the close of the war by the hundreds to assist in lifting up my race.
The history of the world fails to show a higher, purer, and more unselfish class of men and women than those who found their way into those Negro schools.”
Graduating from the Hampton Institute in 1875, Booker T. Washington wrote in his book, Up From Slavery, 1901:
“Perhaps the most valuable thing that I got out of my second year at the Hampton Institute was an understanding of the use and value of the Bible.
Miss Nathalie Lord, one of the teachers, from Portland, Maine, taught me how to use and love the Bible …
… I learned to love to read the Bible, not only for the spiritual help which it gives, but on account of it as literature.
The lessons taught me in this respect took such a hold upon me that at the present time, when I am at home, no matter how busy I am, I always make it a rule to read a chapter or a portion of a chapter in the morning, before beginning the work of the day.
Whatever ability I may have as a public speaker I owe in a measure to Miss Lord.”
Booker T. Washington wrote in The Story of My Life and Work (1901):
“Aside from Gen. Armstrong … the persons who made the deepest impression upon me at Hampton were Miss Nathalie Lord and Miss Elizabeth Brewer, two teachers from New England.
I am especially indebted to these two for being helped in my spiritual life and led to love and understand the Bible.
Largely by reason of their teaching, I find that a day rarely, if ever, passes when I am at home, that I do not read the Bible.”
Miss Natalie Lord wrote in an article for the Hampton Institution publication, The Southern Workman (May 1902):
“Booker, as we always called him … I was much interested in him from the first. His quiet, unassuming manner, his earnestness of purpose and faithfulness greatly impressed me.
I saw in him one whom you could completely trust. He was diligent in his business … and yet unselfish in his thought for others.”
Later, Booker T. Washington attended Wayland Baptist Seminary in Washington, DC.
He moved to West Virginia and worked in a salt furnace and coal mine.
In 1876, he taught school in Malden, West Virginia, where he also taught a Sunday School class at the African Zion Baptist Church.
Washington returned to teach at the Hampton Institute.
In 1881, at the age of 25, Booker T. Washington founded the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama with 33 students.
Students not only had to learn academics, but also trade skills. They grew their own crops and raised livestock.
Washington observed that since slaves had been forced to work so hard on plantations, once freed, some held the expectation that they did not have to work as hard, even though they benefited from it.
He countered this by teaching:
“No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.”
“I want to see you own land.”
“What is equally important, each one of the students works … each day at some industry, in order to get skill and the love of work, so that when he goes out from the institution he is prepared to set the people with whom he goes to labor a proper example in the matter of industry.”
“Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let him know that you trust him.”
“To do a common thing in an uncommon way.”
“To do our work so well that it will be a difficult task for anyone to improve upon what we have done.”
“To live up to the high-water mark of daily duty. Whoever does this will meet with constant unexpected happiness and encouragement.”
Booker T. Washington hired Robert Robinson Taylor, the first African-American architect from MIT, who graduated near the top of his class.
Students made the bricks and helped build over 100 campus building, constructing classrooms, barns, outbuildings, and in 1899, Tuskegee’s impressive chapel.
In the Spring of 1896, Booker T. Washington invited George Washington Carver to teach at Tuskegee, as he had just received his Master’s Degree from Iowa State Agricultural Institute.
Booker T. Washington became friends with the leading men of his day, including:
President William McKinley;
President Theodore Roosevelt;
President William H. Taft;
Steel industrialist Andrew Carnegie;
Standard Oil’s John D. Rockefeller and Henry Huttleston Rogers;
George Eastman, inventor and founder of Kodak; and
Sears, Roebuck & Company President Julius Rosenwald.
Julius Rosenwald funded a pilot program of over 100 elementary schools, designed and operated by Tuskegee.
Rosenwald and Carnegie took a “matching fund” approach to expand to 4,977 schools, 217 teacher homes and 163 shop buildings in 15 States.
An Agricultural College on Wheels taught over 2,000 farmers in 28 States.
Booker T. Washington was thankful for rich people who supported his work at Tuskegee (Up From Slavery, 1901):
“The more I come into contact with wealthy people, the more I believe that they are growing in the direction of looking upon their money simply as an instrument which God has placed in their hand for doing good with.
… I never go to the office of Mr. John D. Rockefeller, who more than once has been generous to Tuskegee, without being reminded of this.
The close, careful, and minute investigation that he always makes in order to be sure that every dollar that he gives will do the most good — an investigation that is just as searching as if he were investing money in a business enterprise — convinces me that the growth in this direction is most encouraging.”
“In the city of Boston I have rarely called upon an individual for funds that I have not been thanked for calling, usually before I could get an opportunity to thank the donor for the money …
The donors seem to feel, in a large degree, that an honor is being conferred upon them in their being permitted to give …
Nowhere else have I met with, in so large a measure, this fine and Christ-like spirit as in the city of Boston, although there are many notable instances of it outside that city. I repeat my belief that the world is growing in the direction of giving.”
Booker T. Washington was grateful for the generosity of Christian churches, as he wrote in Up From Slavery, 1901:
“In my efforts to get money (for Tuskegee Institute) I have often been surprised at the patience and deep interest of the ministers, who are besieged on every hand and at all hours of the day for help.
If no other consideration had convinced me of the value of the Christian life, the Christ-like work which the Church of all denominations in America has done during the last thirty-five years for the elevation of the black man would have made me a Christian.
In a large degree it has been the pennies, the nickels, and the dimes which have come from the Sunday-schools, the Christian Endeavor societies, and the missionary societies, as well as from the church proper, that have helped to elevate the Negro at so rapid a rate.”
As recorded in The Booker T. Washington Papers, Volume 3: 1889-1895, compiled by Louis R. Harlan, editor, (University of Illinois, 1974, page 93), he wrote:
“As a rule a person should get into the habit of reading his Bible. You never read in history of any great man whose influence has been lasting, who has not been a reader of the Bible.”
Booker T. Washington continued his description of Tuskegee Institute:
“While the institution is in no sense denominational, we have a department known as the Phelps Hall Bible Training School, in which a number of students are prepared for the ministry and other forms of Christian work, especially work in the country districts.”
“In the school we made a special effort to teach our students the meaning of Christmas, and to give them lessons in its proper observance …
The Season now has a new meaning, not only through all that immediate region, but … wherever our graduates have gone.”
Washington wrote in Up From Slavery, 1901:
“When speaking directly in the interests of the Tuskegee Institute, I usually arrange, sometime in advance, a series of meetings in important centers.
This takes me before churches, Sunday-schools, Christian Endeavour Societies, and men’s and women’s clubs. When doing this I sometimes speak before as many as four organizations in a single day.”
In Up From Slavery (1901), Booker T. Washington wrote:
“While a great deal of stress is laid upon the industrial side of the work at Tuskegee, we do not neglect or overlook in any degree the religious and spiritual side.
The school is strictly undenominational, but it is thoroughly Christian, and the spiritual training of the students is not neglected.
Our preaching service, prayer-meetings, Sunday-school, Christian Endeavor Society, Young Men’s Christian Association, and various missionary organizations, testify to this …”
“You may fill your heads with knowledge or skillfully train your hands, but unless it is based upon high upright character, upon a true heart, it will amount to nothing.”
One of these Bible classes was taught by Dr. George Washington Carver, who wrote to Booker T. Washington, on May 28, 1907:
“For your information only. Mr. B.T. Washington,
About three months ago 6 or 7 persons met in my office one evening and organized a Bible class, and asked me to teach it.
I consented to start them off. Their idea was to put in the 20 or 25 minutes on Sunday evenings which intervene between supper and chapel service.
We began at the first of the Bible and attempted to explain the Creation story in the light of natural and revealed religion and geological truths. Maps, charts plants and geological specimens were used to illustrate the work.
We have had an average attendance of 80 and often as high as 114. Thought these facts would help you in speaking of the religious life of the school. Very truly. G.W. Carver.”
Though Tuskegee was non-sectarian, its daily life was permeated by active religion which included Sunday preaching services and Sunday school classes, daily evening chapel devotionals and a “Week of Prayer” held for two weeks every January.
A Bible Training school was established in 1893 to prepare students for Christian ministry.
Students helped out at community churches on Sundays; ran a Y.M.C.A. that looked after the sick, needy, and elderly in the area; and staffed a Humane Society for the proper care of animals.
On May 24, 1900, Booker T. Washington delivered an address, “The Place of the Bible in the Uplifting of the Negro Race,” at Memorial Hall in Columbus, Ohio:
“No man can read the Bible and be lazy.”
Booker T. Washington stated May 24, 1900:
“The men doing the vital things of life are those who read the Bible and are Christians and not ashamed to let the world know it.”
In Up From Slavery (1901), he wrote:
“Great men cultivate love … Only little men cherish a spirit of hatred.”
“The man is unwise who does not cultivate in every manly way the friendship and goodwill of his next-door neighbor, whether he be black or white.”
“In the sight of God there is no color line, and we want to cultivate a spirit that will make us forget that there is such a line anyway.”
Many places and items were named for him, including:
One high school named for him was Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, Georgia, where Martin Luther King, Jr., was a student 1942-44.
The pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., rose to national prominence through the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Rev. King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1964.
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, were influenced by the German Confessing Church leader Deitrich Bonhoeffer, who resisted Hitler’s anti-Christian totalitarian socialism.
Rev. King was also influenced by the non-violent methods of India’s Mahatma Gandhi who resisted Britain’s centralized big government.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said August 28, 1963:
“Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children …
In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds.
Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
… We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence …
New militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people,
for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
We cannot walk alone.”
In the same spirit, retired NBA player Charles Barkley stated on a CBS Sports panel, April 3, 2021:
“Man, I think most white people and black people are great people.
I really believe that in my heart, but I think our system is set up where our politicians, whether they’re Republicans or Democrats, are designed to make us not like each other so they can keep their grasp of money and power. They divide and conquer ….
We’re so stupid following our politicians … Their only job is, ‘Hey … let’s make the whites and blacks not like each other, let’s make rich people and poor people not like each other, let’s scramble the middle class.’ I truly believe that in my heart.”
Malcolm X gave a similar statement in 1963 before he was assassinated:
“The white liberal differs from the white conservative … Both want power, but the white liberal … has perfected the art of posing as the Negro’s friend and benefactor … to use the Negro as a pawn or a weapon in this political football game that is constantly raging between the white liberal and the white conservative … and the white liberals control this ball.”
In 1958, Manning Johnson wrote an exposé titled Color, Communism and Common Sense.
He stated shortly before being killed in an automobile accident:
“Like other Negroes, I experienced and saw many injustices and inequities around me based upon color, not ability …
After two years of practical training in organizing street demonstrations, inciting mob violence, how to fight the police and how to politically ‘throw a brick and hide’ … I was given an … intensive course in the theory and practice of red political warfare … that changed me from a novice into a dedicated red — a professional revolutionist …
I began to realize the full implications of how the Negro is used as a political dupe by the Kremlin hierarchy …
White leftists descended on Negro communities like locusts, posing as ‘friends’ come to help ‘liberate’ their black brothers …
Everything was inter-racial … cleverly devised as a camouflage of the red plot to use the Negro … beating the racial drums … even if the Negro masses are left prostrate and bleeding — expendables in the mad scramble for power.”
Community organizer Saul Alinsky wrote in Rules for Radicals:
“Disruption … is the first step …
The organizer must first rub raw the resentments of the people of the community; fan the latent hostilities of many of the people to the point of overt expression …
Search out controversy … Create the issues or problems … Stir up dissatisfaction and discontent …
The organizer … polarizes the issue … to lead his forces into conflict … The real arena is corrupt and bloody.”
Former Communist David Horowitz explained:
“The issue is never the issue. The issue is always the revolution …
In other words … civil rights or women’s rights … blacks … are only instruments in the larger cause, which is power.
Battles over rights and other issues, according to Alinsky, should never be seen as more than occasions to advance the real agenda, which is the accumulation of power.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt had warned Congress, January 3, 1940:
“Doctrines that set group against group, faith against faith, race against race, class against class, fanning the fires of hatred in men too despondent, too desperate to think for themselves, were used as rabble-rousing slogans on which dictators could ride to power.
And once in power they could saddle their tyrannies on whole nations.”
On April 16, 1963, Rev. King wrote:
“I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community.
One is a force of complacency …
The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence.
… It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best-known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement …
I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the ‘do-nothingism’ of the complacent nor the hatred of the black nationalist.
For there is the more excellent way of love and non-violent protest.
I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of non-violence became an integral part of our struggle.”
Rev. King proclaimed August 28, 1963:
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed:
‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.’
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood …
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
This closely resembled Booker T. Washington’s attitude, who wrote July 28, 1896:
“I am very glad to hear that The Salvation Army is going to undertake work among my people in the southern states.
I have always had the greatest respect for the work of The Salvation Army especially because I have noted that it draws no color line in religion …
God bless you in all your unselfish Christian work.”
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated April 4, 1968.
On November 2, 1983, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday was designated by Ronald Reagan as a National Holiday.
“Dr. King had awakened something strong and true, a sense that true justice must be colorblind, and that among white and black Americans, as he put it,
‘Their destiny is tied up with our destiny, and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom; we cannot walk alone.'”
Self-Educated American Contributing Editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.