The Education of Booker T. Washington: American Democracy and the Idea of Race Relations / Edition 1

Paperback (Print)
Buy Used
Buy Used from
(Save 28%)
Item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging.
Condition: Used – Good details
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $3.43
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 87%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (17) from $3.43   
  • New (9) from $4.30   
  • Used (8) from $3.43   


Booker T. Washington has long held an ambiguous position in the pantheon of black leadership. Lauded by some in his own lifetime as a black George Washington, he was also derided by others as a Benedict Arnold. In The Education of Booker T. Washington, Michael West offers a major reinterpretation of one of the most complex and controversial figures in American history. West reveals the personal and political dimensions of Washington's journey "up from slavery." He explains why Washington's ideas resonated so strongly in the post-Reconstruction era and considers their often negative influence in the continuing struggle for equality in the United States. West's work also establishes a groundwork for understanding the ideological origins of the civil rights movement and discusses Washington's views on the fate of race and nation in light of those of Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., and others.

West argues that Washington's analysis was seen as offering a "solution" to the problem of racial oppression in a nation professing its belief in democracy. That solution was the idea of "race relations." In practice, this theory buttressed segregation by supposing that African Americans could prosper within Jim Crow's walls and without the normal levers by which other Americans pursued their interests. Washington did not, West contends, imagine a way to perfect democracy and an end to the segregationist policies of southern states. Instead, he offered an ideology that would obscure the injustices of segregation and preserve some measure of racial peace.

White Americans, by embracing Washington's views, could comfortably find a way out of the moral and political contradictions raised by the existence of segregation in a supposedly democratic society. This was (and is) Washington's legacy: a form of analysis, at once obvious and concealed, that continues to prohibit the realization of a truly democratic politics.

Columbia University Press

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

The Journal of American History - W. Fitzhugh Brundage
One of the most important books on Washington and on black thought in recent years.
American Historical Review - Gregory Mixon
This is a book that must be read.
The European Legacy - Mia Roth
An important work.


The Journal of American History
One of the most important books on Washington and on black thought in recent years.

— W. Fitzhugh Brundage

American Historical Review
This is a book that must be read.

— Gregory Mixon

The European Legacy
An important work.

— Mia Roth

The Historian
West's arguments...are fascinating and compel us to rethink our views of this complex and contradictory man.
Publishers Weekly
In this illuminating intellectual biography, Holy Cross historian and Africana Studies director West presents the "intertwined history of an idea and a man": Booker T. Washington as the progenitor of "race relations." Challenging the existing historiography on the Tuskegee Institute founder who legitimized the Jim Crow system, West argues that he was not simply a "black conservative" or a pragmatist, but rather "a man whose ambition to lead black people became entangled in the treacherous shoals of the post-reconstruction era Negro problem." Specifically-and provocatively-West argues that Washington was seen as "the Negro leader" by whites because he argued that democracy and segregation, two clearly contradictory ideas, could coexist, thereby defusing racial tension but also replacing the cause of justice with an amorphous promise of "progress." West's study stands out for its innovative argument as well as the author's deep personal investment in the subject matter and his evocative, even lyrical prose style. Furthermore, this valuable investigation illustrates the presence of Washington's ideas "at the back of the civil rights era's dramatic unfolding and ambiguous result," showing how intractable and serious the problem of racial injustice remains. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
With his famed Atlanta exposition address in 1895, Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) succeeded the just-deceased Frederick Douglass as America's national black spokesman. Carroll (editor in chief, Independent Film & Video Monthly; Saving the Race: Conversations on Du Bois from a Collective Memoir of Souls) reprints Washington's 1901 autobiography, Up From Slavery, prefacing it with 20 contemporary perspectives on what exactly Washington's legacy has been or should be. Her contributors discuss education, ethics, economics, identity, and community; they comment not merely on ex-slave Washington's chosen path for blacks to take from slavery to freedom and his ranking in the pantheon of black heroes and villains, but also the best path for black advancement today and tomorrow. They invariably return to the old split between economic self-advancement and political struggle, between Washington's bottom-up, mass-based approach and W.E.B. Du Bois's top-down, "Talented Tenth" approach. West (history & Africana studies, Coll. of the Holy Cross) enters the debate with a five-chapter biographical essay that seeks to place Washington in his own time and place and to match his program with the possibilities of his day. Parsing the vocabulary and grammar that Washington used to render his vision of the "Negro problem" and its national solution, the author portrays Washington as a practical, moral idealist who constructed a vision dubbed "race relations" to reconcile the clashing values of democracy and apartheid. Provocative in conception, West's work redirects thinking about basic issues of segregation and racial justice. Along with Carroll and her contributors, West's reflections offer fresh considerations on the complex consequences of American racism, of its contemporary relevance, and of blacks' sometimes schizophrenic thinking about securing their self-identity, position, and advancement in America. Both books are recommended for collections on black life and history.-Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A dense reassessment of an iconic figure in American history with special attention to his notion of race relations as a key to social progress for African-Americans. West (History/College of the Holy Cross) presents not so much a biography of Washington as a history of an idea. In fact, those hoping to read a narrative about Washington's life had best look elsewhere, for West buries his biographical details in protracted paragraphs (some featuring words like "problematizing") that general readers will find more dissuasive than inviting. It is pleasant to take a leisurely journey along the path of a 125-word sentence in Trollope, but following the lengthy, labyrinthine trail blazed by a less skilled writer is merely tedious. This is not to impugn either the author's research or its results. There is much to think about and learn in these pages. West reminds us that Washington was not the only former slave who lived out a tale worthy of Horatio Alger (who, as the author points out, began publishing his stories about the time Washington was born, in 1856). West also deals frankly with Washington's nearly fanatical fastidiousness (a former student recalls Washington's pauses in grammar lessons to chide his charges about their personal hygiene) and with his wont to ridicule blacks in his speeches before white audiences. But West's principal interest is to explore the origins of Washington's belief in "race relations" and to analyze its pernicious consequences. Washington and his followers failed to see that their focus on "getting along" delayed rather than accelerated the granting of full human and civil rights to blacks. De jure and de facto segregation were the result; Jim Crow was thebeneficiary. West believes that Washington's notion persists in many quarters and concludes that "American democracy was betrayed by the American people." The author offers interesting assessments of other commentators on race-especially Gunnar Myrdal and (a surprise) William Dean Howells. Significant ideas entangled in turgid and uninviting prose.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231130493
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 11/6/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Rudolph West is associate professor of history and director of Africana Studies at the College of the Holy Cross.

Columbia University Press

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Many [of Booker T. Washington's supporters] called him a visionary who offered a means of solving 'the Negro problem.' My argument is that Washington's solution was an idea, a theory... called 'race relations,' that opened the way for the ideological reconciliation of two opposites: racist proscription and democracy. Judged by the esteem of his contemporaries, Washington's idea was a great success. Judged by the sorry fate of millions of African Americans, Washington's leadership was a failure.... The power of Washington's idea-the race relations idea-is the key to understanding the successful progress of Jim Crow America and the shape of the civil rights movement that sought to dismantle Jim Crow

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

PrefaceIntroductionChapter 1"The Great and Intricate Problem"Democracy, the Negro Problem, and the Idea of Race RelationsChapter 2"Negroes Whose Habits You Know"The Boy, "Booker," Progress, and "Racial Feeling"Chapter 3"They Will Pull Against You the Load Downward"The Freedpeople's Failure and Booker Washington's RescueChapter 4"Gathered from Miscellaneous Sources"Democratic Possibilities and Other Kinds of "Racial Feelings"Chapter 5"Prepared for the Exercise of These Privileges"A New Negro and the End of DemocracyNotesIndex

Columbia University Press

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)