The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery

1. What are ways in which Washington's account parallels that of Frederick Douglass? What are some major contrasts between the two accounts--e. g. in their account of their allegedly white fathers? How do they differ in their accounts of black-white relationships? Who may have had greater occasion to observe such interactions?

2. Are there any significant parallels between Washington's experience and that of Harriet Jacobs?

3. Which elements of the slave experience does he refrain from mentioning or downplay? With which views does he take exception? (e. g., on the response of black people to slavery and freedom?)

4. What may be some of the many reasons why Booker T. Washington seems to feel/express less anger than the preceding two autobiographers?

5. How is this book shaped by its need to appeal to an audience of potential white contributors to Tuskegee College?

6. Are there some indirect ways in which Washington displays anger, pride or resentment? Which aspects of his past seem to have most affected him?

7. Do you find his repeated claims that former slaves and black people feel no resentment about slavery nor dislike for white people quite convincing? What do you think of his claim that the federal government, not the southern states, was responsible for the institution of slavery?

8. What are some stylistic features of his autobiography? Of his speech?

9. What attitudes about gender/women are revealed by Booker T. Washington's account?

10. What qualities enabled Washington to move from the coal mine to Hampton College? What values does he associate with the education provided at Hampton?

11. What instances of racism toward a free black person does Washington encounter, and what was (allegedly) his response?

12. How may Washington's attitudes and character have been shaped by his early experiences?

13. What are some aims of his speech at the Atlanta Exposition? Does he fulfill them? Why do you think he designed his arguments as he did to appeal to a Southern white audience?

14. Why do you think the speech was so popular at the time? Why may it have been criticized by some of his fellow African-Americans? Which aspects of contemporary racial relations does he neglect to mention?

15. What may be revealed by Washington's enthusiasm about Grover Cleveland's willingness to spend an hour in the "Negro Building" of the Atlanta Exposition? What is the significance, in his view, of the invitation to judge a Department of Education contest in Atlanta?

16. What do you think of the practicality of his appeal for the training of black people in the crafts and trades? Why doesn't he propose training in the liberal arts?

17. What seems to be his ultimate goal for the position of black people? How does he believe improved conditions will come about? What influences does he claim to believe are retarding progress? What seems to be his view about immigration? About electoral reform?

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