“Think, though, how frequently it is the case that from the first day that a pupil begins to go to school his books teach him much about the cities of the world and city life, and almost nothing about the country. How natural it is, then, that when he has the ordering of his life he wants to live it in the city.” -“Industrial Education for the Negro,” (1903) Booker T. Washington
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson
In a relatively unknown moment in the history of all American and African American literary history, a cadre of celebrated African American leaders and intellectuals–including but not limited to–Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Charles Chesnutt and T. Thomas Fortune, allowed their essays to be jointly published in a book called _The Negro Problem_. Each essay written from the perspective of an accomplished university president (Washington), a prominent scholar and activist (Du Bois), a well regarded poet (Dunbar), a successful journalist and editor (Fortune) and, widely regarded as the first African American novelist, (Chesnutt) offer each respective writer’s views on how to solve what had commonly come to be known as “The Negro Problem.” All the same, a passage taken from the founding principal and president is particularly intriguing about the nature and influence of books. What one consistently reads, one will consistently become. Whether “muckraking” books written about mess and mire that tend to stir the base appetites of men and women who read them or awe-inspiring books designed to spurn and stimulate the minds of men and women who read these books instead to higher heights, the influence of books knows no bounds for they shape the thinking of the men and women who actually read. (How much more will one’s thinking be shaped when the person in back of the book-its author-has lived a life worthy of some emulation such as these men?) For what is most amazing about these men-including Tuskegee University’s founding principal and president, Booker T. Washington-is that they did not simply write books worth reading, they lived lives worth reading. And perhaps W.E.B. Du Bois describes each of their lives best: “Progress in human affairs is more often a push then a pull-the surging forward of the exceptional man and the lifting of his duller brethren slowly and painfully to his vantage-ground.”
Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.
7th President, Tuskegee University