Believing that the quotations of Booker T. Washington, one of the greatest leaders of the Black race in the history of the United States, are as relevant today as they were when they were first spoken, we have lovingly compiled some of our favorite of his cherished quotations.
Not many have heard the story of how the young slave boy Booker became Booker “T.” Washington. The T stands for Taliaferro, a name his mother had given him at his birth and a name some say might indicate the identity of his biological father.
“Washington” was merely a name that young Booker uttered at the first school he attended. It was the first name of his stepfather, Washington Ferguson, which is perhaps the reason this name came to his mind as the roll was being called one morning. He realized that most of the students answered to two names and he had only one. When he was called upon he simply added Washington and answered Booker Washington; thus, Washington became his last name.
As two of the great-granddaughters of Booker T. Washington, we have our own version of the significance of the T in his name. We affectionately like to say that the T actually stands for the Timeless Treasures hidden in the wisdom of our great grandfather’s words; hence, the title of our book.
But for a change to account for the vernacular of the day (i.e., Negro or colored to African-American or black), the liberating wisdom of Booker T. Washington’s words is as relevant and necessary today as it was in his lifetime. We feel we would be remiss if we did not add that the wisdom that he proclaimed is not only relevant to the black American race, but it is also relevant to any race or nationality whose goal is to strive to achieve excellence in every area of life.
Knowing that our great-grandfather relied upon his deep and abiding faith and trust in God to guide him, we have included, besides his words, some of our favorite scriptures from “The Word,” the Bible.
The evidence of God in the life of this great and noble man was striking. Though he was born into a system of chattel slavery, in his brief lifetime of only fifty-nine years he rose to become one of the most captivating orators and spokespersons of his time and the leader of over ten million of his race. He was the consummate statesman and diplomat, a famous educator, and the founder and builder of Tuskegee Institute and the National Negro Business League. He was also a builder of men and of women.
Booker T. Washington was an advisor to presidents McKinley, Roosevelt, and Taft; was received by the king of Denmark; and enjoyed tea with the queen of England at Buckingham Palace. He was the first black American to be commemorated on United States coins and postage stamps, and to have a U.S. Navy vessel named in his honor. He was the first black American to have his birthplace declared a national monument.
Tuskegee and the National Negro Business League became training grounds for free-market access. Entrepreneurial skills were refined and multitudes of trained blacks started thriving businesses. These businesses provided jobs and became the backdrop of flourishing communities that served as anchors for our race as we pushed forward toward economic self-sufficiency.
While most people in the United States were paying scant attention to the problems and concerns of blacks in other parts of the world, Booker T. Washington lifted his voice and used his considerable influence on their behalf as well. In 1913, amid all of his other responsibilities, he became the first black American to convene an international conference at Tuskegee Institute to address these concerns.
Against the backdrop of his enormous public undertakings, it must also be remembered that he was a loving, devoted, and cherished husband and father. He was also a best-selling author. His inspiring autobiography, Up From Slavery, the most renowned of the many books he wrote, has never been out of print. It has been translated into over seventeen languages, and it has been an inspiration to people throughout the world. Though many, these achievements are but a brief synopsis of the manifold accomplishments and honors of this extraordinary man.
It could only have been God guiding Booker T. Washington and governing his life. Even after experiencing the harsh realities of slavery, and later watching as the hope embodied in the Reconstruction period was dismantled, he still possessed the strength of character to utter the words, “I will let no man drag me down so low as to make me hate him.” He refused even to hate his former slave master, choosing instead to spend his time and energy living by the principles of the Word of God, lifting people up and appealing to what was best in them. This principled man spent his life lighting candles in the lives of others, rather than wasting his life cursing the darkness.