“The title is the shadow; what you say [and do] is the substance.” – “Substance vs. Shadow: A Sunday Evening Talk” – Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson 

Shortly after beginning his presidency, Booker T. Washington began a series of “Sunday Evening Talks” to students and teachers. When compiling these in a book for compilation in 1901, he wrote in his preface: “These addresses were always delivered in a conversational tone and much in the same manner that I would speak to my own children around my fireside.” Unlike a well-prepared lecture or speech that any might be able to prepare, Mr. Washington allowed his hearers to engage him directly in a “conversational” manner to learn who he was as opposed to who he appeared to be. And few other quotations excerpted from one of these talks demonstrate that he was a man of purpose, not pretension, than the one found here: “The title is the shadow; what you say [and do] is the substance.” It would have been all too easy for Mr. Washington to rely upon his fame and renown to fully justify his not appearing before students in such an informal manner. (For he gave speeches across the nation, wrote books read 100 years since his passing and was the force behind what came to be regarded as the “Tuskegee Machine.”) Rather-as a man of both words and works indeed-Mr. Washington wanted to fully demonstrate that he was a tangible person whose life embodied what he proverbially preached. He did not simply possess a title, which permitted him to perpetually parade in pomp and circumstance because of it. His work and achievements could be readily deduced and substantively emulated and followed by those he led. In sum, he was the real thing-not the “shadow” but the “substance.” And in hindsight these Sunday evening talks is what likely leant even more power to his reputation. For Mr. Washington would have them to understand that he was no pretender but a man of purpose. And in the end, it was the person of Washington that men and women of Tuskegee could follow, not the position of Washington-the principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University).

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