It was believed by many whites in the South that the Negro had denigrated “into beasts” since gaining freedom. Novelist Thomas Nelson Page wrote in 1892, “the Negro…does not possess the faculties to raise himself above slavery.” Trumped up allegations of rape, murder, and theft increased during the late 1800’s justifying white mistreatment of the Negro. Any petty criminal behavior or human frailty was fodder for biased newspapers, cartoons, and fiction. The 1905 novel, The Clansman, portrayed black men as lascivious drunkards while the white hero created the Ku Klux Klan to save his love from rape by a freedman. The racially disparaging novel became the “The Birth of a Nation,” a silent film that swept the country in 1915.
Given the atmosphere in which Booker T. Washington struggled, it is not surprising that he sought a path that accommodated the demands of southern whites. He had to maintain the safety of his students, engage potential employers for his graduates and continue the flow of financial support for Tuskegee Institute. He was compelled to ingratiate himself with Southern whites all the while subverting their racism.