It's Time We Focused on Having Our Own

Born into slavery to a plantation cook mother and an unknown white father, likely a nearby plantation owner, Booker T. Washington was an early crusader for access to higher education opportunities and schools for Black people. Today, he’s revered and well-known for founding the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, which today is an HBCU known as Tuskegee University.

Booker T. Washington was indeed a pioneer in developing opportunities for more Blacks to be educated. However, he was also a strong believer that we must have our own and cultivate our own wealth -- we must be owners and entrepreneurs. 

Mr. Washington gave donations and backed various Black causes throughout his career. He was diligent in his efforts to help his people, while also intelligent enough to thoroughly understand and respect the reality of the Jim Crow south.

Booker T. Washington was in a unique position. He had an unprecedented opportunity at the time, to be well respected amongst whites in positions of power. He used his power to campaign for work and ownership rights for Black people.

However, it wouldn’t be easy. He knew whites wouldn’t want to contribute to passing laws and/or giving favorable rights to Blacks if he was outwardly participating in radical Black causes and movements.

So, he played both sides. On the surface, he was a prominent pillar of the Black race that played nice with whites. But, to his people, he never stopped supporting and giving financially to the progressive Black movements and leaders. 

He used his position to push his agenda of the importance of ownership and entrepreneurship as he addressed a predominantly white audience in 1895 at the Cotton States and International Exposition. 

“Nearly sixteen millions of hands will aid you in pulling the load upward, or they will pull against you the load downward. We shall constitute one-third and more of the ignorance and crime of the South, or one-third of its intelligence and progress; we shall contribute one-third to the business and industrial prosperity of the South, or we shall prove a veritable body of death, stagnating, depressing, retarding every effort to advance the body politic.” --Booker T. Washington

This powerful and eloquently stated passage from what was later called the Atlanta Compromise, painted contrasting scenarios, should the growing population of Blacks in the south not be given adequate opportunities to build and cultivate their own.

Today, just as Booker T. Washington spoke of during his address in 1895, we as Black people, need to fight tooth and nail to be owners and entrepreneurs. We need to shift the narrative and the way that we approach financial opportunities and agreements. Now is the time that we have our own, spend with our own, uplift our own, and build the foundation for our people to stand on for generations to come.

~Ambitious & Black

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