Up From Slavery Study Guide


Franklin County, Virginia; Malden, West Virginia; Hampton, Virginia; Tuskegee, Alabama; various states in America and various countries in Europe 1858-1901

Character List
Main Characters

Booker T. Washington - Because this is his autobiography, his ideas and philosophies, dominate the narrative. He takes us from his birth to 1901 and shows us all the experiences he had in his journey out of slavery to dignity.

Booker's Mother - This character doesn’t actually speak much in the narrative, but she is a very strong presence because of her influence on her son’s life.

Mrs. Ruffner - Booker comes to work in her house and it’s from her that he learns the value of cleanliness. She becomes a great friend who gives him support whenever her needs it.

General Samuel C. Armstrong - He is the most dominant influence in Booker’s life. As the founder of the Hampton Institute, he provides many young Negroes the opportunity for an education, including Booker.

Miss Mary F. Mackie - She is the admission counselor when Booker seeks entrance to Hampton. She tests him through the value of cleanliness and work before she will admit him to the school.

Miss Olive A. Davidson - She is Booker’s second wife and has a very strong influence over Tuskegee in the eight years she is there.


The Protagonist is Booker T. Washington who spends his life trying to lift his people up from slavery. He perseveres in every endeavor he tries and eventually founds the Tuskegee Institute to promote education and industry


The Antagonists include: white people whom Booker must win over to his cause and whom he believes are basically decent and good; and his own people whose faith he must strive constantly to keep alive.


The climax comes with Booker’s address to the Atlanta Exposition. Here, for the first time, a Negro stands on the same platform as white speakers. It is in this speech where he uses the metaphor of “Cast your buckets down” and he is wildly congratulated for making the Negro’s position and advancement in America better known to the white race.


At the end of his autobiography in 1901, Booker believed that there was optimism for his race in America, and he predicted that the day would come when the races mixed freely and cooperatively. That feeling was the result of his speech in Richmond, Virginia in a building near where he had once been forced to sleep under a wooden sidewalk. He recognizes how far he has come.

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