One person you will seldom read about in history books is Booker T. Washington.
Unlike many contemporary black leaders, Booker T. taught a lesson that many would do well to heed today, that regardless of skin color or social environment, it is man’s relationship to God that determines the outcome of his life.
Washington was such a man. Born into slavery in 1856 and feed at the end of the Civil War at the age of 9, Booker found himself working in the salt mines of West Virginia. Waking up before 4 a.m. to begin his shift in the mines, he ended the day by learning to read from a literate black ex-soldier hired by his parents. In 1872, at age 16, he was ready to attend Hampton Institute, a new high school for blacks some 500 miles from home. After nine years, at age 25, he was invited to head a new school in Alabama, the Tuskegee Institute.
Washington was a religious man. According to his daughter Portia, “We never at home began the day without prayer, and we closed the day with prayer in the evening. He read the Bible to us each day at breakfast and prayed; that was never missed. Really, he prayed all the time.”
He saw Christianity as the remedy for all social ills, saying, “What is the remedy for lynching? Christian education of the white man and the black man.”
Entitled to be embittered for the injustice of slavery, he chose a different view, a biblical one. “We went into slavery in this country pagans; we came out Christians.”
He believed that religion “must be woven into the warp and woof of our everyday life.” His teaching was exemplified by his life.
There is a lot we can learn from studying the lives of men like Booker T. Washington. Faith in God, hard work, and personal responsibility are among the characteristics that mark men like him. Yet these are qualities we often overlook in modern day America. We forsake God, rely on government, and shun personal responsibility. We emphasize the color of a man’s skin and his ethnic background rather than the content of his belief. This breeds fear, resentment, and unforgiveness, qualities that enslave again – only this time, it is both black and white.
If racism is to cease, it will not be by protests, marches, or social programs. It will be by embracing what Washington referred to as “Christian teaching.”
In this body of truth, we are taught to accept one another, as Christ has accepted us. We are commanded to forgive, if we want to be forgiven. We are instructed to look at a person’s heart, not his outward appearance.
Washington did not let his social environment or the color of his skin determine the outcome of his life. It was faith in Christ and obedience to His word that made him the man he was. I wish I could have known him. He is my brother. What little I have learned about him has enriched my life.