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Booker T. Washington, My View of Segregation Laws, 1915

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Guiding Question: To what extent did Founding principles of liberty, equality, and justice become a reality for African Americans in the first half of the twentieth century?

  • I can interpret primary sources related to Founding principles of liberty, equality, and justice in the first half of the twentieth century.
  • I can explain how laws and policy, courts, and individuals and groups contributed to or pushed back against the quest for liberty, equality, and justice for African Americans.
  • I can create an argument using evidence from primary sources.
  • I can analyze issues in history to help find solutions to present-day challenges.

Building Context

Booker T. Washington focused on industrial education, hard work, character, and compromise in striving for Black equality. However, that does not mean he accepted the iniquities suffered by Black Americans. In this document, Washington strongly denounced the injustice of segregation.

Booker T. Washington, “My View of Segregation Laws”, 1915

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Summarizing the matter in the large, segregation is ill advised because


1. It is unjust.


2. It invites other unjust measures.


3. It will not be productive of good, because practically every thoughtful Negro resents its injustice and doubts its sincerity. . . .


4. It is unnecessary.


5. It is inconsistent. The Negro is segregated from his white neighbor, but white business men are not prevented from doing business in Negro neighborhoods.


6. There has been no case of segregation of Negroes in the United States that has not widened the breach between the two races. Wherever a form of segregation exists it will be found that it has been administered in such a way as to embitter the Negro and harm more or less the moral fiber of a white man. . . .


Finally, as I have said in another place, as white and black learn daily to adjust, in a spirit of justice and fair play, those interests which are individual and racial, and to see and feel the importance of those fundamental interests which are common, so will both races grow and prosper. In the long run no individual and no race can succeed which sets itself at war against the common good; for “in the gain or loss of one race, all the rest have equal claim.”

Comprehension and Analysis Questions

  1. How does Washington present his arguments against segregation? Do you believe his case is effective? Explain.
  2. How does Washington’s argument against segregation contradict the intended purpose of the residential segregation law enacted in Baltimore in 1910?
  3. How does Washington appeal to the common good in his conclusion?

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