Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington

up from slaveryAs my cohort recently launched into its third year of the Doctor of Missiology program at Fuller, we were asked to read a biography or autobiography of a person who related to our ministry-professional context.

I work within higher eduction, particularly a modern music and ministry college, Visible Music College. As far as I know, there are not a lot of biographies/autobiographies that relate to the area of music and ministry higher education. I was aware of the U2 biography, Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2. But, at the recommendation of our college’s President, I choose to read Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery.

I just want to say, “What a book!” It was truly an amazing read.

Now how does this book relate to music and ministry higher education?

Of course, there is no specific relation to music really at all. However, there is the component of education, particularly as Booker T. Washington pioneered the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama (now Tuskegee University). But more than that, for me, it was a book that taught what leadership really looks like. Biographies, or in this case autobiographies, are good teachers. They offer authentic, real-life, nitty-gritty insights.

That’s exactly what this book brought to the table.

Up From Slavery tracks the life of Washington: moving from a life of plantation slavery onto the glories of the Emancipation Proclamation to entering his own schooling at the Hampton Institute to the pioneering of the Tuskegee Institute to the great expansion of that very school over the years.

Reading the book left me in awe of what this man walked through. I’ll never experience what he did. Never accomplish what he did. But it stirred in me a desire to lead in such a way as Washington did.

Here are the two greatest things I took from the book:

1) Through all that Washington suffered from others, especially in light of the color of his skin, he was a man who generously forgave. Many times throughout the book he makes it very clear that he had learned forgiveness was the better path above unforgiveness and bitterness. I was somewhat shocked at what I was reading at times.

2) Washington was committed to serving others. Regularly he states of the happy nature of the one who learns to serve others over and above self. His life exemplified this so very well.

How does one who walked through such a massively oppressive state in life find him or herself living out such a perspective? It’s hard to nail it down. But God used the underprivileged plight of Washington to teach him some very important things that I desire to truly walk out myself.

This book was one that recounts the life of a man moving “up from slavery.” But, even more, it entailed a life that embodied many of the ways of what it means to be a leader in the ways of Jesus. As I said earlier, I’ll never experience what he did. Never accomplish what he did. But, as Booker T. Washington says himself:

“The individual who can do something that the world wants done will, in the end, make his way regardless of race.” (p67)

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