Making Bricks Without Straw: Booker T. Washington And The Politics Of The Disenfranchised

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This dissertation reconstructs the political thought of Booker T. Washington (1856- 1915). I argue that Washington envisioned a form of black politics-in the teeth of formidable Jim Crow brutalities and injustice-that would endure because it would be solidly anchored in autonomous institutions and practices. I show how his intellectual interventions and activism informed the everyday political strategies that AfroSoutherners employed in their struggle against white supremacy. Through archival evidence, historical documents, and primary texts I situate Washington's thought in a rich intellectual context. I recover his complex discursive dialogues with his contemporaries, especially W. E. B. Du Bois, and I elucidate Frederick Douglass's lasting intellectual influence on Washington's thought and politics. I then distill Washington's political vision from three predominant themes in his writings and activism. First, I ground Washington's politics in his realism and pragmatism. I show that Washington began with the disenfranchised and the concrete constraints on their political voice and agency. Second, I recover Washington's structural analysis of white supremacy, his argument that the economic, political, and social institutions and practices of white supremacy reinforce and strengthen one another, resulting in a system against which a frontal attack would prove fruitless. Third, I reinterpret Washington's uplift politics as the most feasible strategy for challenging Jim Crow and cultivating social and political agency under oppression. Washington's thought directly confronted the material and social foundations of white supremacy while enabling individual and communal empowerment and transformation. This revisionist approach to Washington aims to rehabilitate his thinking as a powerful resource for political theory, especially for those interested in the question of intellectual, social, and political agency under oppression.
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American Political Thought; Afro-American Political Theory; Politics of the Oppressed
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Smith, Anna Marie
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Frank, Jason
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Kramnick, Isaac
Bensel, Richard F
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Ph. D., Government
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Government Document
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dissertation or thesis
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