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Booker T. Washington In Invisible Man

1692 words - 7 pages

Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, is filled with symbols and representations of the history of African-Americans. One of the most important and prevalent of these symbols is Ellison's representation of Booker T. Washington and the Tuskegee Institute. Throughout the book Ellison provides his personal views and experiences with these subjects through the college that TIM attends, the college Founder, and Dr. Bledsoe, the president of the college. Ellison uses these characters and other images and scenes related to Washington to show his disagreement with his backward ideals and to convey his theory that, "In order to deal with this problem [of emancipated blacks] the North"¦built Booker T. Washington into a national spokesman of Negroes with Tuskegee Institute as his seat of power"¦" (O'Meally 23).Booker T. Washington was one of the most influential black leaders of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century who advocated black accommodation to the white population of America, along with an emphasis on industrial education and personal hygiene for the African-American. He advised black Americans to give up dreams of political power, civil rights, and the higher education of their youth and instead focus gaining low-level jobs, working hard, and achieving acceptance in the eyes of the white man. In Washington's most famous speech, the "Atlanta Compromise," he states that, "In all things purely social we can be as separate as the five fingers, and yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress" (Singleton 159). Ellison refers to this theory with his description of his grandparents lives in Invisible Man, "they were told that they were free, united with others of our country in everything pertaining to the common good, and, in everything social, separate like the fingers of the hand, And they believed it. They exulted in it. They stayed in their place, worked hard and brought up my father to do the same," (Ellison, Invisible 15). This passage hints at TIM's disapproval of his grandparents' total belief of Washington's teachings. His thoughts coincide with W.E.B. Du Bois's belief that Washington's program, "practically accepts the alleged inferiority of the Negro races" (Du Bois ). One of Booker T.'s greatest accomplishments was founding the Tuskegee Institute, an all-black college designed to train its students mostly in small-scale farming and artisan skills. Washington was always suspicious of "programs for Afro-Americans which were exclusively academic" and instead wanted Tuskegee students to learn about "actual things instead of mere books alone" (O' Meally 13).Ralph Ellison was impacted greatly by Washington and his ideologies while attending the Tuskegee Institute, which can be seen throughout much of Invisible Man. This impact starts with TIM as a young boy with his grandfather carving Washington-like beliefs into his mind, "Son, after I'm gone I want you to keep up the...

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