Documenting the American South Logo
Collections >> North American Slave Narratives, Library of Southern Literature , First-Person Narratives >> Document Menu >> Summary

Booker T. Washington, 1856-1915
Up from Slavery: An Autobiography
Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., c1901.


During his lifetime, Booker T. Washington was a national leader for the betterment of African Americans in the post-Reconstruction South. He advocated for economic and industrial improvement of Blacks while accommodating Whites on voting rights and social equality. This approach, however, died with Washington, and its success prior to 1915 was largely due to Washington's adept method of tailoring his speaking and writing to suit the race of his audience.

Booker T. Washington's first autobiography, The Story of My Life and Work, was published in 1900 for a largely African American audience. Meanwhile, during the years 1900-1901, Washington began publishing Up from Slavery, a serialized account of his life in the popular magazine Outlook, which reached a more diverse audience. This account was then published as a book and in both forms it gained Washington significant White support. In Up from Slavery, Washington traces his journey from slave to educator. The early sections document his childhood as a slave and his efforts to get an education, and he directly credits his education with his later success as a man of action in his community and the nation. Washington details his transition from student to teacher, and outlines his own development as an educator and founder of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He tells the story of Tuskegee's growth, from classes held in a shantytown to a campus with many new buildings. In the final chapters of Up From Slavery, Washington describes his career as a public speaker and civil rights activist. Washington includes the address he gave at the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition in 1895, which made him a national figure. He concludes his autobiography with an account of several recognitions he has received for his work, including an honorary degree from Harvard, and two significant visits to Tuskegee, one by President McKinley and another by General Samuel C. Armstrong.

See also the entry for Booker T. Washington from the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture available on this site.

Work Consulted: Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. and Nellie McKay, eds., The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, New York: Norton, 1997.

Harris Henderson

Document menu