Friday, December 28, 2012

Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington Review

Booker dreamed
of making friends with words,
setting free the secrets
that lived in books. 

Born into slavery, young Booker T. Washington could only dream of learning to read and write. After emancipation, Booker began a five-hundred-mile journey, mostly on foot, to Hampton Institute, taking his first of many steps towards a college degree. When he arrived, he had just fifty cents in his pocket and a dream about to come true. The young slave who once waited outside of the schoolhouse would one day become a legendary educator of freedmen. 

Award-winning artist Bryan Collier captures the hardship and the spirit of one of the most inspiring figures in American history, bringing to life Booker T. Washington's journey to learn, to read, and to realize a dream. 

My thoughts: Booker T. Washington was hungry for education and learning. He was born into slavery but was freed as child. Life was still hard but he continued to dream of going to school and attaining a proper education.

Why this book touched me so much: My dad was born into a poor, white Idaho farming community. They farmed sugar beets which is backbreaking work. One day he stood up and looked around him and said to himself, "I don't want to do this for the rest of my life. I'm going to college." He told his parents who told him it was a stupid idea. He did it, anyway.

While working on his doctorate degree, he and 30 other doctoral candidates were asked to come to Washington, D.C. They were ushered into a room at the White House where Lyndon B. Johnson pitched his idea to them and instructed them to carry it out. He wanted a pre-school to be offered to the very poor, concentrating on the black children in the South. The program was called Head Start. My dad was assigned to Mississippi. 

For those few years he spent working on Head Start, this small town Idaho boy was introduced to the face of racism and hatred. He was also introduced to the most beautiful, eager, and loving children he had ever met (besides his third child, of course). He had a gun pulled on him twice, marched in James Meredith March Against Fear (James Meredith was the first black man to attend Ole Miss against all societal conventions). He walked through the mall as Martin Luther King was giving his famous speech. Earlier, he was pulled over on the highway in Meridian County by one of the lawmen heavily involved in the execution of three civil rights workers in 1964. My dad was ordered out of the car and had his legs kicked out from under him then ordered to stand up and had his legs kicked out again. He was in the process of getting kicked while down when a respected and surprisingly wealthy black man who knew my dad and his work very well (and also knew the culpability of the other man from the sheriff's office), pulled over and asked why Mistah Tony was on the ground. The officer explained that Mistah Tony had fallen and he was just helping him up.

And my dad persevered, as did the other doctoral students. They loved their work and they loved the black communities where they worked. The people loved them and their children grew up to be today's leaders. 

Booker T. Washington was an early dreamer who saw his dreams come true. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed aloud and died for his dreams and trying to make those dreams come true. James Meredith was shot for dreaming of a college education at a university that had the program he wanted to study. But in the background are the unsung heroes - the support system that believed in providing all citizens with the same opportunities, regardless of gender, race, or skin color.

Well written book with a simple message of dreaming, working hard, and always hoping.

*I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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