Up from Slavery chronicles over forty years of Washington's life: from slave to schoolmaster to the face of southern race relations. In this text, Washington climbs the social ladder through hard, manual labor, a decent education, and relationships with great people. Throughout the text, he stresses the importance of education for the black population as a reasonable tactic to ease race relations in the South (particularly in the context of Reconstruction). He argues for combining the learning of a trade with more intellectual studies (a combination which is reminiscent of Ruskin's philosophy in Fors Clavigera).
The book is in essence Washington's traditional, non-confrontational message supported by the example of his life.