James Lee Dickey: An Analysis of One African-American's Leadership in Jim Crow Texas

The Secret Life of Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington believed the way to achieve civil rights began with earning respect. Since the South resented the federal government's involvement in state business, Washington knew a federal mandate demanding better treatment for Negroes would only result in more hardship for his people; therefore, Washington employed a sleight of hand technique to gain equality. He pandered to white Southerners with humility all the while working covertly to change the situation for blacks. In one instance, a black lawyer in Tuskegee was being chased by a lynch mob in 1895, Booker T. Washington secretly arranged to hide the man off campus so when the mob came to the school, Washington could honestly respond that he was not hiding him. Black newspaper editors publicly berated him for not granting the man asylum. To safeguard the school, Washington was never able to set the record straight. In addition, he anonymously contributed money to challenge segregation in the courts. He felt most passionately about the exclusion of blacks from juries and disfranchisement. Two specific cases were in 1903 Giles v Harris challenging disfranchisement and in 1904 Rogers v Alabama in which the court ruled that excluding blacks from grand juries was a violation of the 14th amendment. He promoted agriculture but behind the scenes he attacked peonage; he encouraged land ownership rather than sharecropping. Though he would never directly instruct to his students to publicly picket a discriminatory business, he wrote "a Negro’s nickel is necessary to keep the street railway corporation alive” in response to segregated rail cars. While he did not openly support political candidates, he advised President Roosevelt of a Lily White candidate in the Alabama election of 1902. He indirectly influenced politics by quietly funding several Negro newspapers and had majority ownership of the New York Age in 1907. He took a stand opposing Negro newspapers that advertised whitening products such as skin lighteners and hair straighteners.

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