To See the Negro Saved: The Religious Pragmatism of Booker T. Washington
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It might seem strange to group the words of Thomas Jefferson and Booker T. Washington together in the same context. Nearly a century separated the two men and they came from vastly different social and racial backgrounds. In fact, the greatest contrast between these two historical figures can be drawn from the fact that Booker T. Washington was born a slave and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, even fathering children by one of them. For all the differences that these men had from one another, however, their views on religion were strikingly similar. Indeed, Booker T. Washington had much in common with the civil religion of nearly all the Founding Fathers. George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin all understood that religion played a crucial role in the social and moral health of 50 a people and that some conception of God acted as a legitimizing force for political leaders (Bellah 225-245). As one of the most prominent black leaders during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Booker T. Washington was very much an heir to the religious legacy of the Founding Fathers, sharing with them what sociologist Max Weber famously called “the Protestant ethic,” a set of cultural values that blended Christian piety and capitalist productivity. Washington’s religion was intensely pragmatic and he stressed practical aspects of the Christian faith. Although he did not literally edit the Christian scriptures with scissors as did Thomas Jefferson, Booker T. Washington selectively amplified aspects of the faith that best suited his particular social philosophy. With his emphasis on the benefits of industrial education for working class African Americans, most notably associated with his founding of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, Washington preached a religion that envisioned a God powerful enough to save black souls and black society.
Lucerna. Volume 10: p.49-62