2016 Regions Riding Forward® Winning Essay by Sarah B.

The first time I heard about Booker T. Washington was in a middle school history class. His story is incredible, and I have read his autobiography, Up From Slavery, multiple times since then. During these formative years in my life, I also learned about W. E. B. Du Bois and his aspirations for equality. While both of these Civil Rights Leaders had valid goals, I always gravitated towards Washington’s desire for peace. I believe that he was just as influential as Martin Luther King Jr. in his efforts to establish equality through peaceful methods.

Washington did not over-correct by saying that blacks were better than whites. He was concerned about equality of all of the races. His ideas, advice, and guidance can be applied to anyone, no matter what their skin color is. Washington said, “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome”. This is just one of many quotes by him that exemplifies his desire for individual development to improve society as a whole.

Not only has Washington had a huge, personal effect on me through his contributions to the educational system in the United States, but he has also influenced me through photography. Booker T. Washington was a good friend of George Eastman, who was the inventor of roll film and the founder of Kodak.  Without Eastman, photography would not have become a commercial and easily accessible option for all economic classes.  I have loved photography since I was 11 years old and now it is my minor in college. 

Through Washington’s example of perseverance, he has shown me that I can make myself into whatever I want. He decided he wanted to become an educated man, and so he worked, saved, and travelled to achieve his goals. He was then able to go on to become a teacher and influence hundreds of students. If this was all he ever did, then he would be worthy of recognition, but he went further than that. Washington became a nationally known Civil Rights Leader, speaking out all across the south in his efforts to bring the minorities out of the shadows and into the light so they would be able to experience all of the same opportunities as the white Americans. 

Booker T. Washington believed that through each person pushing himself or herself to be the best person possible we could create the best possible nation. He was born into slavery, yet he became an advisor to several United States presidents, and he did this in 59 years. What will I be able to accomplish in the 80+ years I will have? I do not always know where I am going in life, but I do know that I will be able to get there, and that I could not have done it without the model and actions of Booker T. Washington.


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