Up from Slavery: An Autobiography

Up from Slavery: An Autobiography

by Booker T. Washington

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Overview

In this acclaimed autobiography, Booker T. Washington makes a case for lifting up his race through education. Washington uses his personal story as the example, from his birth to slave parents on a Virginia plantation and his struggle to go to school to his adult achievements as a public speaker and black leader. Washington outlines more than forty years of his life, emphasizing how he overcame great obstacles in order to pursue his education at Hampton University. As an adult, he opened a school for black students in Tuskegee, Alabama, and later he established other successful vocational schools. Throughout the book, Washington describes his educational philosophy and his hopes and dreams for African Americans. This is an unabridged version of Booker T. Washington's life story, which was first published in 1901.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781541548015
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/01/2019
Series: First Avenue Classics T
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 234
File size: 1 MB
Age Range: 10 - 18 Years

About the Author

Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) was born a slave on a Virginia farm. Later freed, he headed and developed the Tuskegee Institute and became a leader in education. Widely considered a spokesman for his people, he emphasized social concern in three books as well as his autobiography.

Louis R. Harlan
, born in Clay County, Mississippi, in 1922, is Professor of History at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is the author of Separate and Unequal (University of North Carolina Press, 1958) and of a two-volume biography of Booker T. Washington (Oxford University Press, 1972, 1983). He is the editor, with Raymond W. Smock, of The Booker T. Washington Papers (13 vols., University of Illinois Press, 1972-84). He has been awarded the Beveridge Prize, Bancroft Prize, and Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Washington.

Read an Excerpt

I was born a slave on a plantation in Franklin County, Virginia. I am not quite sure of the exact place or exact date of my birth, but at any rate I suspect I must have been born somewhere and at some time. As nearly as I have been able to learn, I was born near a cross-roads post-office called Hale's Ford, and the year was 1858 or 1859.* I do not know the month or the day. The earliest impressions I can now recall are of the plantation and the slave quarters--the latter being the part of the plantation where the slaves had their cabins.

*According to Louis H. Harlan's Booker T. Washington: The Making of a Black Leader, 1856-1901, Washington was born in 1856.

My life had its beginning in the midst of the most miserable, desolate, and discouraging surroundings. This was so, however, not because my owners were especially cruel, for they were not, as compared with many others. I was born in a typical log cabin, about fourteen by sixteen feet square. In this cabin I lived with my mother and a brother and sister till after the Civil War, when we were all declared free.

Of my ancestry I know almost nothing. In the slave quarters, and even later, I heard whispered conversations among the coloured people of the tortures which the slaves, including, no doubt, my ancestors on my mother's side, suffered in the middle passage of the slave ship while being conveyed from Africa to America. I have been unsuccessful in securing any information that would throw any accurate light upon the history of my family beyond my mother. She, I remember, had a half-brother and a half-sister. In the days of slavery not very much attention was given to family history and family records--thatis, black family records. My mother, I suppose, attracted the attention of a purchaser who was afterward my owner and hers. Her addition to the slave family attracted about as much attention as the purchase of a new horse or cow. Of my father I know even less than of my mother. I do not even know his name. I have heard reports to the effect that he was a white man who lived on one of the near-by plantations. Whoever he was, I never heard of his taking the least interest in me or providing in any way for my rearing. But I do not find especial fault with him. He was simply another unfortunate victim of the institution which the Nation unhappily had engrafted upon it at that time.

The cabin was not only our living-place, but was also used as the kitchen for the plantation. My mother was the plantation cook. The cabin was without glass windows; it had only openings in the side which let in the light, and also the cold, chilly air of winter. There was a door to the cabin--that is, something that was called a door--but the uncertain hinges by which it was hung, and the large cracks in it, to say nothing of the fact that it was too small, made the room a very uncomfortable one. In addition to these openings there was, in the lower right-hand corner of the room, the "cat-hole,"--a contrivance which almost every mansion or cabin in Virginia possessed during the ante-bellum period. The "cat-hole" was a square opening, about seven by eight inches, provided for the purpose of letting the cat pass in and out of the house at will during the night. In the case of our particular cabin I could never understand the necessity for this convenience, since there were at least a half-dozen other places in the cabin that would have accommodated the cats. There was no wooden floor in our cabin, the naked earth being used as a floor. In the centre of the earthen floor there was a large, deep opening covered with boards, which was used as a place in which to store sweet potatoes during the winter. An impression of this potato-hole is very distinctly engraved upon my memory, because I recall that during the process of putting the potatoes in or taking them out I would often come into possession of one or two, which I roasted and thoroughly enjoyed. There was no cooking-stove on our plantation, and all the cooking for the whites and slaves my mother had to do over an open fireplace, mostly in pots and "skillets." While the poorly built cabin caused us to suffer with cold in the winter, the heat from the open fireplace in summer was equally trying.

The early years of my life, which were spent in the little cabin, were not very different from those of thousands of other slaves. My mother, of course, had little time in which to give attention to the training of her children during the day. She snatched a few moments for our care in the early morning before her work began, and at night after the day's work was done. One of my earliest recollections is that of my mother cooking a chicken late at night, and awakening her children for the purpose of feeding them. How or where she got it I do not know. I presume, however, it was procured from our owner's farm. Some people may call this theft. If such a thing were to happen now, I should condemn it as theft myself. But taking place at the time it did, and for the reason that it did, no one could ever make me believe that my mother was guilty of thieving. She was simply a victim of the system of slavery. I cannot remember having slept in a bed until after our family was declared free by the Emancipation Proclamation. Three children--John, my older brother, Amanda, my sister, and myself--had a pallet on the dirt floor, or, to be more correct, we slept in and on a bundle of filthy rags laid upon the dirt floor.

I was asked not long ago to tell something about the sports and pastimes that I engaged in during my youth. Until that question was asked it had never occurred to me that there was no period of my life that was devoted to play. From the time that I can remember anything, almost every day of my life has been occupied in some kind of labour; though I think I would now be a more useful man if I had had time for sports. During the period that I spent in slavery I was not large enough to be of much service, still I was occupied most of the time in cleaning the yards, carrying water to the men in the fields, or going to the mill, to which I used to take the corn, once a week, to be ground. The mill was about three miles from the plantation. This work I always dreaded. The heavy bag of corn would be thrown across the back of the horse, and the corn divided about evenly on each side; but in some way, almost without exception, on these trips, the corn would so shift as to become unbalanced and would fall off the horse, and often I would fall with it. As I was not strong enough to reload the corn upon the horse, I would have to wait, sometimes for many hours, till a chance passer-by came along who would help me out of my trouble. The hours while waiting for some one were usually spent in crying. The time consumed in this way made me late in reaching the mill, and by the time I got my corn ground and reached home it would be far into the night. The road was a lonely one, and often led through dense forests. I was always frightened. The woods were said to be full of soldiers who had deserted from the army, and I had been told that the first thing a deserter did to a Negro boy when he found him alone was to cut off his ears. Besides, when I was late in getting home I knew I would always get a severe scolding or a flogging.

I had no schooling whatever while I was a slave, though I remember on several occasions I went as far as the schoolhouse door with one of my young mistresses to carry her books. The picture of several dozen boys and girls in a schoolroom engaged in study made a deep impression upon me, and I had the feeling that to get into a schoolhouse and study in this way would be about the same as getting into paradise.

So far as I can now recall, the first knowledge that I got of the fact that we were slaves, and that freedom of the slaves was being discussed, was early one morning before day, when I was awakened by my mother kneeling over her children and fervently praying that Lincoln and his armies might be successful, and that one day she and her children might be free. In this connection I have never been able to understand how the slaves throughout the South, completely ignorant as were the masses so far as books or newspapers were concerned, were able to keep themselves so accurately and completely informed about the great National questions that were agitating the country. From the time that Garrison, Lovejoy, and others began to agitate for freedom, the slaves throughout the South kept in close touch with the progress of the movement. Though I was a mere child during the preparation for the Civil War and during the war itself, I now recall the many late-at-night whispered discussions that I heard my mother and the other slaves on the plantation indulge in. These discussions showed that they understood the situation, and that they kept themselves informed of events by what was termed the "grape-vine" telegraph.

During the campaign when Lincoln was first a candidate for the Presidency, the slaves on our far-off plantation, miles from any railroad or large city or daily newspaper, knew what the issues involved were. When war was begun between the North and the South, every slave on our plantation felt and knew that, though other issues were discussed, the primal one was that of slavery. Even the most ignorant members of my race on the remote plantations felt in their hearts, with a certainty that admitted of no doubt, that the freedom of the slaves would be the one great result of the war, if the Northern armies conquered. Every success of the Federal armies and every defeat of the Confederate forces was watched with the keenest and most intense interest. Often the slaves got knowledge of the results of great battles before the white people received it. This news was usually gotten from the coloured man who was sent to the post-office for the mail. In our case the post-office was about three miles from the plantation, and the mail came once or twice a week.The man who was sent to the office would linger about the place long enough to get the drift of the conversation from the group of white people who naturally congregated there, after receiving their mail, to discuss the latest news. The mail-carrier on his way back to our master's house would as naturally retail the news that he had secured among the slaves, and in this way they often heard of important events before the white people at the "big house," as the master's house was called.

I cannot remember a single instance during my childhood or early boyhood when our entire family sat down to the table together, and God's blessing was asked, and the family ate a meal in a civilized manner. On the plantation in Virginia, and even later, meals were gotten by the children very much as dumb animals get theirs. It was a piece of bread here and a scrap of meat there. It was a cup of milk at one time and some potatoes at another. Sometimes a portion of our family would eat out of the skillet or pot, while some one else would eat from a tin plate held on the knees, and often using nothing but the hands with which to hold the food. When I had grown to sufficient size, I was required to go to the "big house" at meal-times to fan the flies from the table by means of a large set of paper fans operated by a pulley. Naturally much of the conversation of the white people turned upon the subject of freedom and the war, and I absorbed a good deal of it. I remember that at one time I saw two of my young mistresses and some lady visitors eating ginger-cakes, in the yard. At that time those cakes seemed to me to be absolutely the most tempting and desirable things that I had ever seen; and I then and there resolved that, if I ever got free, the height of my ambition would be reached if I could get to the point where I could secure and eat ginger-cakes in the way that I saw those ladies doing.

Of course as the war was prolonged the white people, in many cases, often found it difficult to secure food for themselves. I think the slaves felt the deprivation less than the whites, because the usual diet for the slaves was corn bread and pork, and these could be raised on the plantation; but coffee, tea, sugar, and other articles which the whites had been accustomed to use could not be raised on the plantation, and the conditions brought about by the war frequently made it impossible to secure these things. The whites were often in great straits. Parched corn was used for coffee, and a kind of black molasses was used instead of sugar. Many times nothing was used to sweeten the so-called tea and coffee.

Table of Contents

Introductionvii
Notes to the Introductionxliv
Acknowledgmentsxlix
Suggestions for Further Readingli
Note on the Textliii
Notes331

What People are Saying About This

John Hope Franklin

The ascendancy of [Booker T. Washington] is one of the most dramatic and significant episodes in the history of American education and of race relations.

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Up From Slavery 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 86 reviews.
Father_of_5_Boys More than 1 year ago
I had heard often of Booker T. Washington and of his work at Tuskegee Institute, but never really knew much about him beyond just the name recognition. This autobiography was a good way to find out more about him, his life, and his philosophies - most all of which I agree with and think we could use more of these days (both black and white people). The one criticism I have of the book is that the introduction by Louis Harlan is very long and I think would be better as an Epilogue. I found myself reading it going "o.k., o.k., just let me read the book". I ended up going back and rereading a lot of the introduction again, which puts the book and Mr. Washington into historical context, when I was done. I would recommend just skipping the introduction and reading it when you are done with the book. - - It does offer some insights though.
R_Jay More than 1 year ago
When this book was converted to an ebook, the publisher didn't bother to check to see if the e-version was readable. Not all of the characters/letters were converted properly so there are numerous words on every page that can be barely read because the letters are jumbled or incorrect. The original book by Booker T. Washington was terrific, but if you want to read it, buy a different version. This one is terrible.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you want to know how adult education really ought to be taught, you should read Booker T. Washington's autobiography "Up from Slavery". He was one of the greatest educators in history. His methods and determination to provide a high quality education to older teens and young adults proved to be of great worth to many men and women of different ethnic backgrounds. He went beyond "book learning" and provided a means for his students to learn life's skills and how to be good citizens in a most difficult time period in our history. His model and style of education still applies today, and, if they were taken seriously, could solve many of of education issues. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in how education should really be.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good book for understading slavery. This is a 8th grade reading level book good to use as a book report.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a great story of a man who really believed that people needed to find a skill that made them feel useful and worthy. Very well written and I learned a lot about him.
wmarvel More than 1 year ago
The content of this book is riveting and hard to put down...but this nook version is so filled with errors and typos it is difficult to read. this by far is the worst nook edition i have encountered with regard to accuracy.
Bernimarie More than 1 year ago
I knew nothing about Booker T. Washington--until now! What a strong and determined man he was. He held no grudges and spent his entire life helping fellow African-Americans succeed, despite the odds against them at the time. He led an interesting life and made his way up from nothing to becoming a successful, world-renowned educator, orator, author and political leader. I highly recommend this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have foumd out how little was taught about the history of a great American hero in our current educational system. Persons of all cultures should read this autobiography and learn from Booker T. Washington on how to strive to live one's own life. A must read for all, but especially for the youth.
deanc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Booker T. Washington published this, his second, autobiography, in 1901 at age 45. It is a fascinating account of his childhood slavery, emancipation, education, and rise to prominence as a college educator and highly acclaimed African American leader. This is one book I had a hard time putting down. It reveals a man deeply committed to helping African Americans in post-Reconstruction America earn respect based on their skillful work and valuable contributions to society. A quote from the book seems to summarize Washington¿s personal philosophy: ¿I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.¿ He believed that striving for excellence and working cooperatively with all people, regardless of ethnicity or station, was the key to the black man winning his rightful place in the world.It is recommended reading for those wishing to broaden their understanding of and appreciation for African American history, post-Civil War race relations, or the history of higher education in America. The Penguin Classics edition has an index, endnotes (18 in all), and an interesting introduction by historian and Washington biographer Louis R. Harlan.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the first book of history that I was able to read from start to finish without falling asleep.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thanks mr washington
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was very uplifting. A part of history that we all need to know about. It makes oneself proud to be an American, people of all color, races and creeds.
braintrusts More than 1 year ago
The author could just as easily have used his prescription for success for people today, as he did immediately after the Civil War. Booker T. Washington knew that the success of ex-slaves in this country was directly proportional to the level of education achieved. That education also included the interpersonal skills necessary to perform those skills in social settings. READ THIS BOOK!! You won't regret it. Talk to your school boards and make it mandatory reading in Middle Schools.
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This is an interesting book read l
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By lisa genova
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DO NOT BUY THIS. IT IS NOT THE WHOLE BOOK. IT IS JUST THE INTRODUCTION
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