Of my ancestry I know almost nothing. In the slave quarters, and even later, I heard
whispered conversations among the colored people of the tortures which the slaves,
including, no doubt, my ancestors on my mother's side, suffered in the middle passage
of the slave ship while being conveyed from Africa to America. I have been unsuccessful
in securing any information that would throw any accurate light upon the history of my
family beyond my mother. She, I remember, had a half-brother and a half-sister. In the days
of slavery not very much attention was given to family history and family records - that is,
black family records. My mother, I suppose, attracted the attention of a purchaser who was
afterward my owner and hers. Her addition to the slave family attracted about as much
attention as the purchase of a new horse or cow. Of my father I know even less than of my
mother. I do not even know his name. I have heard reports to the effect that he was a white man
who lived on one of the near-by plantations. Whoever he was, I never heard of his taking the least
interest in me or providing in any way for my rearing. But I do not find especial fault with him.
He was simply another unfortunate victim of the institution which the Nation unhappily had
engrafted upon it at that time.
-Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery
One would like to think that it is impossible to read the above paragraph without being ashamed of White America. Booker T. Washington was a man of such expansive good will and generous spirit, that he could write, on the one hand, about his mother being purchased like a barnyard animal and, on the other hand, could forgive the...