No sooner had I posted the previous op-ed about the battleground of race and memory, I came across this story in Charlottesville Tomorrow about Freedom and Liberation Day in Charlottesville.
Historians gave a series of presentations at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center earlier this month highlighting how freed slaves in the Charlottesville area took action after the Civil War to improve their condition in life.
Ex-slaves participated in politics and fought for public education. They agitated for the redistribution of land (which they never got, although many freed slaves managed to purchase land themselves). Perhaps most notably after the end of Reconstruction and the onset of Jim Crow segregation, they picked up and moved north to cities offering greater economic opportunity.
There is a great tradition of self-improvement among African-Americans, epitomized by the great Booker T. Washington who called for black progress through education and entrepreneurship. Washington was eclipsed by W.E.B. Du Bois, who called for political change to end segregation and discrimination. Sadly, the crusade for equal civil rights has morphed into a crusade for equal economic outcomes, and Washington’s philosophy of self-improvement seems a quaint anachronism.
Perhaps it’s time for a Booker T. Washington revival. Given all the discussion about the history of race and racism these days, it would be more helpful and inspiring to celebrate the positive accomplishments of black Americans in the face of adversity than nourishing the narrative of victimhood in the face of abundance.There are currently no comments highlighted.