When Langston Hughes wrote "The Ballad of Booker T," what did he see as Booker T. Washington's lesson for the next generation of blacks in America?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that one of the primary lessons that Hughes wishes to impart from his poem is the idea that Booker T. Washington served a vital role in the construction of Black consciousness in America.  Hughes understood how the teachings of Washington could serve people of color well.  At a time when so many might have felt that Washington "sold out" or capitulated to what White society wished, Hughes wishes to evoke how Washington was radical for his time, for all time:

Sometimes he had
Compromise in his talk
For a man must crawl
Before he can walk

And in Alabama in '85
A joker was lucky
To be alive.

For Hughes, the idea of "lucky to be alive" is a powerful reminder as to what Booker T. Washington actually meant to people of color, specifically African- Americans.  Langston Hughes hopes that efforts of Washington and others like him will not be forgotten by a younger generation who stands on the shoulders of giants like Booker T.


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