It is ironic that Washington took his stepfather's first name (Washington) as his own surname, given the poor relationship between the two. While he asserts that a slave choosing his own name "was one of the first signs of freedom" (9), his stepfather curtailed his own freedom, forcing him to work rather than allowing him to attend school. It is also ironic, of course, that his stepfather shared a name with our first president, who was in a sense a symbol of freedom.
The Ku Klux Klan
Washington makes an unintentionally ironic statement when he declares, “I have referred to this unpleasant part of the history of the south, simply for the purpose of calling attention to the great change that has taken place since the days of the 'Ku Klux.' To-day there are no such organizations in the south, and the fact that such ever existed is almost forgotten by both races. There are few places in the South now where public sentiment would permit such organizations to exist” (30). It is unfortunate that Washington was so mistaken. Race relations have continued to be shaky to this day, and the KKK reconvened both in the 1920s and during the Civil Rights movement.
It is ironic that Washington explicitly states he has chosen not to enter politics, given the large amount of political advocacy in which he engages and the leadership role he eventually plays. "It appeared to me to be reasonably certain that I could succeed in political life," he states, "but I had a feeling that it would be a rather selfish kind of success - individual success at the cost of failing to do my duty in assisting in laying a foundation for the masses" (35). However, he ended up becoming politically powerful, cultivating close relationships with white leaders, maintaining a secret network of contacts with journalists and organizations, and even holding veto power over political appointments of other blacks.
Washington's delight at the deference shown by English servants is ironic, given the history of involuntary servitude in America and his own beginnings as a slave: "I was impressed... with the deference that the servants show to their "masters" and "mistresses," - terms which I suppose would not be tolerated in America. The English servant expects, as a rule, to be nothing but a servant, and so he perfects himself in the art to a degree that no class of servants in America has yet reached. In our country the servant expects to become, in a few years, a "master" himself. Which system is preferable? I will not venture an answer" (109).
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.
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...