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An Imaginary Dialogue
with Booker T. Washington
Political analyst William Larsha, Sr. met with the notable Booker T. Washington through a mishap in time, and this is what they talked about regarding the African American predicament today.
By William Larsha, Sr.
The Mid-South Tribune
Well, it may not sound true, but I dialogued with Booker T. I met him one night under library lights and there he chatted with me.
William Larsha: How well do you think we African Americans have fared during the last 100 years, Mr. Washington.
Booker T. Washington: African Americans? Who are they?
WL: That’s us, Mr. Washington. We no longer call ourselves Negroes you did back in the 1800’s and early 1900’s.
BTW: Back then the word “Negro” was used to identify the race to which all African people of this country belonged. But as I am observing today, not too many African people seem to accept the identity, African American.
WL: Perhaps I should re-phrase the question. How well has out race fared?
BTW: The Negro has fared well socio-politically, but socio-economically he has fared poorly. He failed to “cast down his bucket” in the right waters as I advised him in 1895.
WL: Not so, Mr. Washington. You will find that we did ‘cast down our buckets’ in social sciences, in the exact sciences, and as a matter of fact, in all of the professional fields.
BTW: Certainly the Negro did. But he only pulled up nips of fresh water.
WL: But those nips of fresh water have cultivated a large crop of professionals in education, in politics, and in public and private administrations. We have more elected officials in federal and state governments today than at any time before.
BTW: Remember, young man, that seated behind office holders are wealth-holders. :The individual or race that owns the property pays the taxes, possesses the intelligence and substantial, is the one which is going to exercise the greatest control in government.”
WL: Even son, our race certainly would not have elevated this high without the emergence of politicians and other professionals. Look at the large number of highly educated, highly skilled and highly talented African Americans practicing today in almost any discipline you can mention. That, Mr. Washington, is progress.
BTW: Sounds like to me, you are dog joy over the Negro’s social progress.
WL: Sounds like to me you are still gong ho over your 1895 credo. That ‘ in all things that are purely social, both white and African races can be as separate as the fingers; yet, one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”
BTW: That was ad still is a fundamental rule for those races willing to co-exist.
WL: But most leaders felt then as many do now that your plan merely accommodated the white people who wanted to keep the races separate.
BTW: My plan was and still is about economic virtues in a nation where the races are already separated. Understand, the Negro is only one race in a country of many races, each experiencing natural separation.
WL: Whatever you say, Mr. Washington. But level with me. Had the leadership listened to you? Do you really believe that African Americans would be enjoying the kind of progress we are witnessing today?
BTW: It still depends on how one measures progress. I have always maintained that “At the bottom of education. At the bottom of politics, even at the bottom of religion itself, there must be for our race economic foundation, economic prosperity, economic independence.”
WL: Then you will agree that the huge African American middle class does represent a remarkable degree of progress.
BTW: I acknowledge the presence of the Negro middle class, but I do not see too many members of this class as advocates of the Christian order of “”be thy brother’s keeper.” The Talented Tenth have no souls.
WL: You are not recognizing what they had to go through in order to lift themselves up.
BTW: “A sure way for one to lift himself up is by helping to lift someone else.”
WL: But look at it this way, Mr. Washington. The elevation of African Americans to middle class status has in effect elevated the whole race.
BTW: I fail to see how their elevation has contributed to real economic progress. I predicted in 1895 that “We shall contribute one-third to the business and industrial prosperity of the South, or we shall constitute one-third and more of the ignorance and crime.”
WL: Hold on now! Our middle class can’t be blamed for ignorance and crime in America. The blame falls on the white man’s discriminatory acts against us—both covert and overt acts. And this is why some African Americans protest and demonstrate strong dislike for white people.
BTW: “I used t be a hater of the white man, but I soon learned that hating the white man did not do him any harm.
WL: Maybe so, Mr. Washington. But you can admit that the white man has much hopelessness in our race, and hopelessness is one reason for crime, poverty and high unemployment.
BTW: Our high unemployment rate is due to the fact that the Negro is not a job producing race of people. The Negro today is not even a substantial consumer of goods and services offered by his own Negro businesses. We are a weak people economically because we have long been asleep on matters of economics.
WL: Asleep! What do you mean asleep?
BTW: I am saying that the Negro has somehow ignored those factors which are necessary to advance the body of socio-economics. “No race can accomplish anything ‘til its mind is awakened.”
WL: Now, now, Mr. Washington. You can’t really mean that the sum total of our educators, our politicians, our clergy, and members of our middle class are all sleep?
BTW: Economically speaking, yes. Read the books in this library with reference to the Negro. Not the books on sports, dancing, singing or those on how well the Negro can protest against the behavior of the white man. Read the books analyzing the pecuniary conduct of the Negro.
WL: Money spending conduct? But I don’t believe any of those books will conclude that African Americans are sleep.
BTW: Read this study. You will find that the Negro middle class earns in excess of $190 billion a year. Yet this middle class has not awakened to the fact that in order to be real brothers’ keepers, it must, in concerted efforts, invest some of those billions for the purpose of producing jobs.
WL: Are you saying that the middle class should become job producers of the African American race?
BTW: Yes. The billions of the Negro Middle class can be invested in industrial research, utilizing those Negroes with inventive talents. Some invested in factories to produce the items invented. Some invested in warehouses and other modes of distribution in both wholesale and retail outlets. In the process, unemployment will go downward. Casting down our bucket in commerce is as fruitful now as it was in 1895.
WL: Maybe you are not aware, Mr. Washington, that there are African American businesses of all sorts throughout this country.
BTW: But how many of those businesses employ more than 1,000 workers? Very few. Most of our businesses are small. We need big businesses.
WL: Big businesses, I’m told, can be risky business. So how can you expect the middle class to invest their money in risky ventures, especially when so many laws do not favor us?
BTW: “Dependence upon law alone will not accomplish everything.
WL: Without laws that are color-blind, Mr. Washington, we cannot accomplish anything in this country.
BTW: “It is important that all of the privileges of the law be ours, but it is vastly more important that we be prepared for the exercise of those privileges.”
WL: Now, we are prepared. More than ever, we are prepared.
BTW: But above all being prepared is the consciousness of being prepared. I am saying that not until the Negro is awakened to the fact of his preparedness can he fully, foster economics progress in what you call African American.
WL: Then the conscious thrust of the middle class should be self-directed toward economic empowerment?
BTW: Yes. “No race that has anything to contribute to the markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized.”
WL: You said that 100 years ago, Mr. Washington.
BTW: I was trying to make my race aware that “Nobody cares anything for a man that hasn’t something that somebody wants.”
WL: You know, Mr. Washington, I’m really pleased to have chatted with you, and I can say now, it’s a shame that our leaders didn’t listen to you.
BTW: Well, one thing is certain, the Japanese did.
Initially printed in The Mid-South Tribune Special Edition on the 100th Anniversary of Booker T. Washington High School, on October 2, 1998.