“As I have said before, I do not regret that I was born a slave. I am not sorry that I found myself part of a problem; on the contrary, that problem has given direction and meaning to my life that has brought me friendships and comforts that I could have gotten in no other way.” -Booker T. Washington, “My Larger Education,” (1911)
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson
Booker T. Washington had more reason than most to decry the circumstances of his upbringing. (For he was born enslaved.) Yet, Mr. Washington’s reference to himself as “part of a problem” was not owing to any intrinsic qualities of his own person. Rather, it was akin to W.E.B. Du Bois’s expression: “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.” All the same, the fact that Mr. Washington was born into such a difficult period did not ultimately deter his ambitions; Instead, it fueled them. And this is clearly one of the most singularly important lessons of Mr. Washington’s life and career-long work at Tuskegee Institute (University) evidenced in his most quoted aphorism: “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.” For the satisfaction gained in spending one’s life transforming seemingly insurmountable obstacles into long-standing triumph and achievement is, after all, the definition of an overcomer.
Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.
7th President, Tuskegee University