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Notes on Three Books: "Up from Slavery", "Cry, the Beloved Country", and "Our Town"

Here I will share some comments and excerpts related to three books which I would recommend as both practical and profound in the areas of education, understanding the value of compassion, and finding meaning in even the most commonplace circumstances of our daily lives. The three books are “Up from Slavery” (1901) by Booker T. Washington; “Cry, the Beloved Country” (1948) by Alan Paton; and “Our Town” (1938) by Thornton Wilder.

This journal entry is an effort to share resources that I know about, to suggest lines of exploration, and to invite discussion. The practical and profound messages in these books are relevant to my work of building the Interfaith Peacebuilding and Community Revitalization (IPCR) Initiative. I try to share resources which will help people sort out what is valuable and important, and help people create more meaningful experiences in the future. It is sometimes difficult to know how such sharing might lead to an increase in constructive responses to the challenges of our times; it is also sometimes difficult to know how this kind of sharing might open up new areas of learning for me. However, since I am most interested in both of those kind of outcomes, I am willing to experiment, and see what happens.

Here are comments and excerpts:

1) “Up from Slavery” (1901) by Booker T. Washington (Excerpts are from a University of Virginia online source at )

“At the end of my first year with the Indians there came another opening for me at Hampton, which, as I look back over my life now, seems to have come providentially, to help to prepare me for my work at Tuskegee later. General Armstrong had found out that there was quite a number of young coloured men and women who were intensely in earnest in wishing to get an education, but who were prevented from entering Hampton Institute because they were too poor to be able to pay any portion of the cost of their board, or even to supply themselves with books. He conceived the idea of starting a night-school in connection with the Institute, into which a limited number of the most promising of these young men and women would be received, on condition that they were to work for ten hours during the day, and attend school for two hours at night. They were to be paid something above the cost of their board for their work. The greater part of their earnings was to be reserved in the school's treasury as a fund to be drawn on to pay their board when they had become students in the day-school, after they had spent one or two years in the night-school. In this way they would obtain a start in their books and a knowledge of some trade or industry, in addition to the other far-reaching benefits of the institution.” (From Chapter VI “Black Race and Red Race”)

“Nearly all the work of getting the new location ready for school purposes was done by the students after school was over in the afternoon. As soon as we got the cabins in condition to be used, I determined to clear up some land so that we could plant a crop. When I explained my plan to the young men, I noticed that they did not seem to take to it very kindly. It was hard for them to see the connection between clearing land and an education. Besides, many of them had been school-teachers, and they questioned whether or not clearing land would be in keeping with their dignity. In order to relieve them from any embarrassment, each afternoon after school I took my axe and led the way to the woods. When they saw that I was not afraid or ashamed to work, they began to assist with more enthusiasm. We kept at the work each afternoon, until we had cleared about twenty acres and had planted a crop.” (From Chapter VIII “Teaching School in a Stable and a Hen House”)

“From the very beginning, at Tuskegee, I was determined to have the students do not only the agricultural and domestic work, but to have them erect their own buildings. My plan was to have them, while performing this service, taught the latest and best methods of labour, so that the school would not only get the benefit of their efforts, but the students themselves would be taught to see not only utility in labour, but beauty and dignity; would be taught, in fact, how to lift labour up from mere drudgery and toil, and would learn to love work for its own sake. My plan was not to teach them to work in the old way, but to show them how to make the forces of nature--air, water, steam, electricity, horse-power--assist them in their labour.” (From Chapter X “A Harder Task Than Making Bricks Without Straw”)

“At first many advised against the experiment of having the buildings erected by the labour of the students, but I was determined to stick to it. I told those who doubted the wisdom of the plan that I knew that our first buildings would not be so comfortable or so complete in their finish as buildings erected by the experienced hands of outside workmen, but that in the teaching of civilization, self-help, and self-reliance, the erection of buildings by the students themselves would more than compensate for any lack of comfort or fine finish.” (From Chapter X “A Harder Task Than Making Bricks Without Straw”)

“I further told those who doubted the wisdom of this plan, that the majority of our students came to us in poverty, from the cabins of the cotton, sugar, and rice plantations of the South, and that while I knew it would please the students very much to place them at once in finely constructed buildings, I felt that it would be following out a more natural process of development to teach them how to construct their own buildings. Mistakes I knew would be made, but these mistakes would teach us valuable lessons for the future.” (From Chapter X “A Harder Task Than Making Bricks Without Straw”)

“During the now nineteen years' existence of the Tuskegee school, the plan of having the buildings erected by student labour has been adhered to. In this time forty buildings, counting small and large, have been built, and all except four are almost wholly the product of student labour. As an additional result, hundreds of men are now scattered throughout the South who received their knowledge of mechanics while being taught how to erect these buildings. Skill and knowledge are now handed down from one set of students to another in this way, until at the present time a building of any description or size can be constructed wholly by our instructors and students, from the drawing of the plans to the putting in of the electric fixtures, without going off the grounds for a single workman.” (From Chapter X “A Harder Task Than Making Bricks Without Straw”)

“The same principle of industrial education has been carried out in the building of our own wagons, carts, and buggies, from the first. We now own and use on our farm and about the school dozens of these vehicles, and every one of them has been built by the hands of the students. Aside from this, we help supply the local market with these vehicles. The supplying of them to the people in the community has had the same effect as the supplying of bricks, and the man who learns at Tuskegee to build and repair wagons and carts is regarded as a benefactor by both races in the community where he goes. The people with whom he lives and works are going to think twice before they part with such a man.” (From Chapter X “A Harder Task Than Making Bricks Without Straw”)

Biographical Notes (from “Booker T. Washington” at Wikipedia)

“Washington's philosophy and tireless work on education issues helped him enlist both the moral and substantial financial support of many major white philanthropists. He became friends with such self-made men as Standard Oil magnate Henry Huttleston Rogers; Sears, Roebuck and Company President Julius Rosenwald; and George Eastman, inventor and founder of Kodak. These individuals and many other wealthy men and women funded his causes, such as supporting Hampton and Tuskegee institutes. Each school was originally founded to produce teachers. However, graduates had often gone back to their local communities only to find precious few schools and educational resources to work with in the largely impoverished South.

“To address those needs, Washington enlisted his philanthropic network in matching funds programs to stimulate construction of numerous rural public schools for black children in the South. Together, these efforts eventually established and operated over 5,000 schools and supporting resources for the betterment of blacks throughout the South in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The local schools were a source of much community pride and were of priceless value to African-American families when poverty and segregation limited their children's chances.”

2) “Cry, the Beloved Country” (1948) by Alan Paton

Notes from the Scribner Classic/ Collier Edition, 1986 (from the back cover):

“First published in 1948, “Cry, the Beloved Country” stands as the single most important novel in twentieth-century South African literature. A work of searing beauty, it is the deeply moving story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son Absalom, set against the background of a land and a people riven by racial injustice… unforgettable for character and incident, “Cry, the Beloved Country” is a classic work of love and hope, courage and endurance….”

A few excerpts:

“His son had gone astray in a great city, where so many others had gone astray before him, and where many others would go astray after him, until there was found some great secret that as yet no man had discovered.”

“I see only one hope for our country, and that is when white men and black men, desiring neither power nor money, but desiring only the good of their country, come together to work for it. He was grave and silent, and then he said somberly, I have one great fear in my heart; that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find we are turned to hating.”

“Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear.”

3) “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder (1938)

On the back cover of the “Bard Books” edition, the author describes the book as “an attempt to find a value above all price for the smallest events in our daily life”. This play, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1938, “may be the most frequently staged American play of the twentieth century. It is continually in production at regional, community, and college theaters….”

“The play Our Town tells the story of two simple families, the Gibbs and the Webbs, living in the town of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire. In three acts, Wider journeys through… the the great milestones in life… such as new life, first love, long lasting love and the effect of death. The last act holds a special significance….”

I hope this sharing has been helpful to someone, in some way.

With Kindness and Faith,

Stefan Pasti

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