A few weeks ago we received an email from “missinghome” – a Bajan who by some trickery of fate finds himself driving construction machinery at the Ekati mine in the NorthWest Province of Canada. I can’t imagine living in such a cold place where the sun only peeks above the horizon for an hour or two a day. Nope – not for me!
But “missinghome” says he is doing fine, making big money and saving it all because “…there is nothing to do here except movies and read.” His goal is to come back home and buy a house and a business within three years – and he says he is on schedule.
Missinghome sent us the following article from the Globe and Mail newspaper. We enjoyed it and hope you will too…
Globe and Mail
Sept. 1, 2006
Slavery showed dependence cut both ways
OTTAWA — Booker T. Washington, the American educator and author, was born a slave — “somewhere, at some time” — on a plantation in Virginia. Although the encyclopedia provides a birth date (April 5, 1856), Washington himself says in his autobiography, Up From Slavery, that he never knew exactly when he was born.
The illiterate slaves used single names and slave owners didn’t keep records. His mother, the plantation cook, was Jane. He was Booker. He never knew his father, a white man. His home was a dirt-floor log cabin, 14 feet by 16 feet. His earliest memory was work, and floggings. Looking back in his memoirs, he could recall no time for play. From these “miserable and desolate” circumstances, Booker T. Washington went on to live a life of relentless labour, a life dedicated to the proposition that the way to move up from slavery, from dependence, was to work your way up.
Washington held that slavery imposed nearly as much devastation on masters as on slaves. “Slavery was so constructed as to cause labour to be looked upon as a form of degradation,” he said. “Labour was something that both races on the plantation sought to escape. The slave system took the spirit of self-reliance and self-help out of the white people. My old master had many boys and girls but not one ever mastered a single trade.” And the slaves had no interest in productivity.
When freedom came, Washington said, “the slaves were almost as well-fitted to begin life anew as the master.” He was there himself at the emancipation. A U.S. government official convened all the slaves at the “big house,” and proceeded to read the proclamation.
When he finished, he told them they were now free to go — anywhere. The exultation lasted only a few minutes. Neither slave nor slave owner was ready to end their mutual dependence. Each, oddly, felt pity for the other. In many cases, freed slaves hired on as farm hands with their “old marster” and their “old missus.” Washington’s family, though, trekked 500 miles by foot to work in the salt mines and in the coal mines of West Virginia. Eventually, Washington managed to attend school part-time — although he had already taught himself the alphabet.
At 16, he gained admission to Hampton Institute, a real school. First, without money, he had to get there, a distance of several hundred miles. Then he had to pass an admission test. He was given a broom and told to sweep a classroom. “I knew that this was my chance,” he said. “I swept the room three times. Then I got a dusting cloth and dusted it four times — the woodwork, every bench, table and desk.” He passed. He had worked his way up.
At Hampton, Washington paid his tuition by working as a janitor. A certain Miss Mary Mackie, the principal, sometimes worked beside him — washing windows, dusting rooms. This white woman insisted that the school be kept perfectly clean. Although she came from a wealthy family, she took pride in manual work — and practised what she preached. “Ever since,” Washington said, “I had had no patience with any school that did not teach its students the dignity of labour.”
Washington kept working his way up, becoming principal at age 25 of Tuskagee Institute in Alabama, a school for blacks that made trade instruction mandatory. Many parents protested. (“The longer the titles on the books,” he observed, “the more pleased are the parents.”) He ignored the complaints.
Through his success at Tuskagee, he persuaded great American philanthropists (Standard Oil’s Henry Rogers, Sears Roebuck’s Julius Rosenwald, U.S. Steel’s Andrew Carnegie) to fund thousands of schools for blacks across the country.
In 1895, Washington gave his famous and controversial “Atlanta Address.”
Delivered at the opening of the Atlanta Exposition, and widelyreported across the country, the speech espoused Washington’sconviction that the only way out of dependence, for black or white,was from the bottom up.
“Ignorant and inexperienced,” he declared, “it is not strange in the first years of our new life that we began at the top instead of the bottom — that a seat in Congress was more sought than industrial skills; that the political convention had more attraction than starting a truck garden.
“It is important and right that all the privileges of the law be ours but it is vastly more important that we be prepared for the exercise of these privileges.
“The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory is now worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera house.”
Looking back, writing in 1900, Washington concluded that the end of slavery hadn’t ended subservience. Ever since emancipation, he said, “our people have looked to the federal government for everything, very much as a child looks to its mother.” This dependence was indeed different from slavery. Yet, he said, it was servitude nonetheless.
And regardless of race or colour or creed, it so remains.