Up from History by Robert J. Norrell
The Life of Booker T. Washington

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Since the 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr., has personified black leadership with his use of direct action protests against white authority. A century ago, in the era of Jim Crow, Booker T. Washington pursued a different strategy to lift his people. In this compelling biography, Norrell reveals how conditions in the segregated South led Washington to call for a less contentious path to freedom and equality. He urged black people to acquire economic independence and to develop the moral character that would ultimately gain them full citizenship. Although widely accepted as the most realistic way to integrate blacks into American life during his time, Washington’s strategy has been disparaged since the 1960s.

The first full-length biography of Booker T. in a generation, Up from History recreates the broad contexts in which Washington worked: He struggled against white bigots who hated his economic ambitions for blacks, African-American intellectuals like W. E. B. Du Bois who resented his huge influence, and such inconstant allies as Theodore Roosevelt. Norrell details the positive power of Washington’s vision, one that invoked hope and optimism to overcome past exploitation and present discrimination. Indeed, his ideas have since inspired peoples across the Third World that there are many ways to struggle for equality and justice. Up from History reinstates this extraordinary historical figure to the pantheon of black leaders, illuminating not only his mission and achievement but also, poignantly, the man himself.


About Robert J. Norrell

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Robert J. Norrellis Bernadotte Schmitt Professor ofHistory at the University of Tennessee.
Published January 1, 2009 by The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 508 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Political & Social Sciences, War. Non-fiction

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His critics accused him of surrendering his dignity to the white industrialists and philanthropists who supported Tuskegee, of ignoble submission to the white politicians who occasionally threw him crumbs, of practically accepting the alleged inferiority of his race and of wanting to keep the Neg...

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The New York Times

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Washington, the public person known as a capable mulatto, clearheaded and modest, sensible and polite, a Negro who did not give offense.” Interestingly, more than 100 years later, Barack Obama would write in his first book that, as a teenager, he had realized that people “were relieved” and pleas...

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Project MUSE

By carefully accessing Washington in this violently uncertain world of post-Reconstruction, pre-World War I America, as well as taking black intellectual history outside the protest/accommodationist dichotomy, Norrell has successfully created a new Washington, one that was a talented, inspired, a...

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Library Journal

Just as Washington worked to escape the figurative and literal shackles of slavery, Norrell works to rescue Washington’s life from latter-day depictions of him as an “Uncle Tom” who sought to mollify whites.

Feb 11 2009 | Read Full Review of Up from History: The Life of ...

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