Ask the Editor – A question about Booker T. Washington

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Today is Friday, February 7th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Megan Basham.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.  

First thing, Megan, let’s talk about WJI.

BASHAM: WORLD Journalism Institute!

REICHARD: Yes. You know, that’s how I got started with WORLD. Same for Sarah Schweinsburg, Anna Johansen, Kristen Flavin, Onize Ohikere, and J.C. Derrick. Intensive, focused training in journalism.

And our next WJI offering is another amazing opportunity for college age people.

BASHAM: It is! This is where budding writers get trained by top minds in Biblical worldview journalism. The instructors are people you hear on this program: people like Nick Eicher, Marvin and Susan Olasky, Mindy Belz, to name a few.

REICHARD: And you’ll work really hard, I can tell you that! And so worth the effort. W-J-I graduates are working at some of the biggest media outfits in the country, including The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post

That can only be a good thing, spreading this kind of journalism.  If you’re interested, the deadline to apply is coming up: March 17. You can apply online. Just go to for more information. The course is the latter half of May, the 15th through the 30th at Dordt University in Sioux Center, Iowa. Just a beautiful location.

BASHAM: Okay, once again: That’s to sign

OK, next up: it’s time again for Ask the Editor with WORLD Editor-in-Chief Marvin Olasky. You can ask Marvin a question about why or how we do what we do at WORLD. 

Just send us an email to [email protected]. Or record your question and send us the audio file. That’s our favorite way.

Today, Marvin answers a question about Booker T. Washington and how certain media portrayed him during Black History Month.

MARVIN OLASKY, EDITOR IN CHIEF: Here’s a Black History Month request from one WORLD reader. He wrote, “I watched a PBS documentary that looked at how former slaves and their descendents were educated. The program demonized Booker T. Washington. It said he emphasized industrial education instead of going to college, so he harmed African Americans. Could you set the record straight?” 

I’ll try, because I’ve read a lot by and about Booker T. Washington, including his great memoir, Up From Slavery. He describes how he was 25 years old in 1881. He received an invitation to head a new school in Alabama, the Tuskegee Institute. 

Washington visited some homes in the area. He encountered a young black man who had some education and was studying a French grammar book. Great – but the man was sitting in dirty clothes. The floor of the shack had garbage all over it. 

That crystallized Washington’s thinking: First things first, food before French grammar. He lined up the students and led them in a “chopping bee.” He and they cleared the undergrowth, trees, and shrubs off land that would then be used for planting food crops. 

Was that demeaning? Washington knew that change sometimes takes two or three generations. John Adams famously wrote that he had to study politics and war so his sons could study commerce and agriculture, and their children could study painting, poetry, and music. Booker T Washington thought some ex-slaves should farm or become mechanics so their children could study French grammar and their children painting, poetry, and music. 

Some of Washington’s students protested. They said manual labor was slave work. Washington, though, swung his ax vigorously. He showed “there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.” 

Dignity, Washington taught, comes from glorifying God wherever he has put us. We then work to improve our situation. He advised moving on up “by putting business methods into your farming, by getting a good teacher and a good preacher, by building a good school and church, by letting your wife be partners in all you do, by keeping out of debt, by cultivating friendly relations with your neighbors both white and black.”

Such thinking is unfashionable at PBS—but those who followed it helped their children and their descendants.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Marvin Olasky.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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