Washington consistently emphasizes how far he and his institute have come since their humble beginnings. To this end, he uses imagery to help the reader visualize what Tuskegee's dining hall looks like now, after describing its origins in a dark basement: "When our old students return to Tuskegee now, as they often do, and go into our large, beautiful, well-ventilated, and well-lighted dining room, and see tempting, well-cooked food - largely grown by the students themselves - and see tables, neat tablecloths and napkins, and vases of flowers upon the tables, and hear singing birds, and note that each meal is served exactly upon the minute, with no disorder, and with almost no complaint coming from the hundreds that now fill our dining room, they, too, often say to me that they are glad that we started as we did, and built ourselves up year by year, by a slow and natural process of growth" (61).
Reminiscing about Molasses
In another juxtaposition of his origins and his current success, Washington reminisces about the food he most enjoyed as a child, giving details to help the reader visualize his boyhood memory: "Our usual diet on the plantation was corn bread and pork, but on Sunday morning my mother was permitted to bring down a little molasses from the "big house" for her three children, and when it was received how I did wish that every day was Sunday! I would get my tin plate and hold it up for the sweet morsel, but I would always shut my eyes while the molasses was being poured out into the plate, with the hope that when I opened them I would be surprised to see how much I had got. When I opened my eyes I would tip the plate in one direction and another, so as to make the molasses spread all over it, in the full belief that there would be more of it and that it would last longer if spread out in this way." (94) He ironically notes that he would choose this treat over a 14-course dinner any day, if the dinner preceded an address he was to give.
Some of the most detailed imagery describes the days and hours before Washington's famous Atlanta Exposition address. The unusual level of detail suggests the importance of the event in Washington's life. For example:
"Atlanta was literally packed, at the time, with people from all parts of the country, and with representatives of foreign governments, as well as with military and civic organizations. The afternoon papers had forecasts of the next day's proceedings in flaring headlines. All this tended to add to my burden. I did not sleep much that night. The next morning, before day, I went carefully over what I planned to say. I also kneeled down and asked God's blessing upon my effort....
"Early in the morning a committee called to escort me to my place in the procession which was to march to the Exposition grounds... The procession was about three hours in reaching the Exposition grounds, and during all of this time the sun was shining down upon us disagreeably hot. When we reached the grounds, the heat, together with my nervous anxiety, made me feel as if I were about ready to collapse, and to feel that my address was not going to be a success. When I entered the audience-room, I found it packed with humanity from bottom to top, and there were thousands outside who could not get in" (82).
The Atlanta Exposition
A reporter writing about Washington's Atlanta Exposition speech paints a picture with rich visual and auditory imagery, highlighting the importance of the event: "As Professor Washington strode to the edge of the stage, the low, descending sun shot fiery rays through the windows into his face. A great shout greeted him. He turned his head to avoid the blinding light, and moved about the platform for relief. Then he turned his wonderful countenance to the sun without a blink of the eyelids, and began to talk" (91). After a rich description of Washington himself, he shows the audience's reaction: "Within ten minutes the multitude was in an uproar of enthusiasm - handkerchiefs were waved, canes were flourished, hats were tossed in the air. The fairest women of Georgia stood up and cheered. It was as if the orator had bewitched them" (91).
Up From Slavery Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Up From Slavery is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Washington also shares some of his impressions of European culture. It is ironic that Washington, a former slave himself, writes of how he was impressed by the deference shown by servants to their masters and mistresses.
General Armstrong was the leader of the Hampton Institute and one of Washington's most important mentors. He was a northern white man, but he dedicated his life to helping students of both races in the south. Armstrong was well loved and respected...