Liberation Through Commerce
Many newspapers I read in February published articles in honor of Black History Month. In contrast to those who now so stridently advocate more government (i.e., more coercion) as the "solution" to social problems facing blacks, one article about George Washington Carver stood out to me as a sharp contrast. His creative scientific efforts (including developing products from peanuts, sweet potatoes and pecans) benefited blacks as well as many others, without coercion.
With my interest piqued, I started researching Carver, whose efforts were critical to southern economic development. But that soon led me to his connection to Booker T. Washington and the Tuskegee Institute he founded and led (they are buried alongside each other on the Tuskegee campus). In Washington's equally inspirational life and his more extensive written work, I discovered a man with a far better understanding of the moral means to success—self-improvement that benefited others as well through voluntary arrangements—than statist proposals others pushed then, and even more push now.
Booker T. Washington, born a slave, was seven when the Emancipation Proclamation was announced. At 11, he got his first book and taught himself to read. He thought to "get into a schoolhouse and study . . . would be about the same as getting into paradise." At 16, he went to Hampton Institute in Virginia—500 miles away—with but $1.50 in his pocket, where he attended classes by day and worked nights to earn his room and board. After graduation, Hampton made him an instructor. In 1881, he founded and then led what is now the Tuskegee Institute for years as principal, emphasizing education and an unwavering work ethic.
Washington was a tireless
educator and advocate of black self-improvement. At Tuskegee, he
taught technical skills needed to provide the ability to earn a good
living. He pushed the values of individual responsibility, the dignity
of work, and the need for enduring moral character as the best means
for former slaves, who started with little but the shirts on their
backs, to succeed. He encouraged business, industry and
entrepreneurship, rather than political agitation, as the most
effective foundation for success. He formed the National Negro
Business League. He understood and modeled the spirit of capitalism,
recognizing that those who serve others best will benefit themselves
by doing so.
Washington recognized that for blacks to advance, starting with little but the legacy of government-enforced slavery, coercion on other fronts was not the answer. Instead, that could not be found except in self-improvement and voluntary arrangements. That is because, regardless of past injustices, only voluntary arrangements prevent additional injustices from being committed, and "No question is ever permanently settled until it is settled in the principles of the highest justice."
On the Inadequacy of Coercion
On Freedom and Voluntary Arrangements
In reading Booker T. Washington's words, I found someone who inspired me with both his actions and his character. His emphasis on rejecting coercion of others, and relying instead on self-improvement and voluntary arrangements is exactly what we, as parents, try teach our children today, regardless of race, as we prepare them to make the most of their lives. And despite the fact that it involves hard work and sacrifice (as does every real success), which makes it a message many do not want to hear, it is as true, and as valuable, today as it was during his life.
Statement of Policy.
Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.