Readers ask about matchbooks & Booker T. Washington
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    Auction Finds

    Book with photos of Booker T. Washington’s legacy

    The book was half-buried under others in a box at the auction house. I had almost missed it, with its black and faded gold lettering against a very dark background – a senseless combination it seemed to me for a book cover.

    The title was “Booker T. Washington: The Master Mind of A Child of Slavery” by Frederick E. Drinker, and the cover contained an embossed image of the noted educator and force behind the founding of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1881. During the late 19th century and early 20th century, Washington was a major black voice in the country.

    Booker T. Washington with his wife Margaret and sons Ernest Davidson and Booker T. Jr.

    Surprisingly, the cover of the book was intact, which is sometimes not the case in the many books I come across. I’m always on the hunt for books relating to African American history, and have been lucky enough to find a few (even some non-related books about my native South).

    I flipped through the book, glancing first at the contents with chapters that told of Washington’s birth, his rise to prominence, his dining with President Theodore Roosevelt, his death and his legacy. As soon as I got past those, I came across one of the best features of the book – pages of photographs of him, his family and scenes from Tuskegee.

    I was struck not only by the photos themselves but the types of photos that were chosen. Most were of Washington and Tuskegee students working in or harvesting the gardens and fields of the institute. They were testimony to his philosophy that industriousness and self-reliant were the key to African Africans’ digging a way out of the predicament they had been forced into at the time. He preached an attitude of subordination to whites, a “don’t upset the status quo” philosophy that endeared him to white philanthropists with money to finance his school along with some blacks, but riled scholars and others like W.E.B. DuBois.

    Booker T. Washington hoeing potatoes and feeding chickens.

    While Washington was preaching conciliation to whites, DuBois was demanding civil and political rights from the country. He sought those rights through his writings, speeches, the short-lived Niagara Movement, a predecessor to the NAACP, and Crisis magazine, the NAACP publication that he edited.

    The book at auction was a memorial edition published in 1915, soon after Washington died at Tuskegee. It was a paean to the man, meant to show “what one man born in slavery and obscurity accomplished by perseverance and sheer force of personal effort, which shines forth as a Beacon Light for every Colored American and as a guide to further development.”

    One of the first photos was of Washington, his wife Margaret and sons Ernest Davidson and Booker T. Jr. posing outside their home at Tuskegee. I realized that I knew little about the rest of Washington’s family. The caption didn’t mention Margaret’s name, but she was his third wife and helped raise his two sons, the children of his second wife who had died in 1889. Margaret was a graduate of Fisk University, a teacher at Tuskegee, and had founded schools for African American boys and girls. Booker T. Jr. became a real estate broker and Davidson was a fund-raiser at Tuskegee. The photo was taken by Underwood & Underwood, which I knew as a company that made stereoscope cards.

    Here are some of the photos from the book:

    Washington and his son Davidson picking greens in the garden.

    The book by Drinker, and Washington’s body in a casket, surrounded by flowers.

    Girls in a gym class at the college. Photo by Underwood & Underwood.

    A physiology class and a geometry class. Photos by Underwood & Underwood.

    Students in a canning class, and digging sweet potatoes in a field.

    Students learning tile-setting, and harnessing and saddle-making.


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    1 Comment

    1. I have this book and have also been to the Tuskegee campus. This is a piece of educational history that I cannot get enough of. Thank you for sharing the pictures from the book.

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