Up From Slavery Study Guide

Chapter 5 - The Reconstruction Period

Booker determined that the years 1867 to 1878 were the years of the Reconstruction. During this period, colored people were agitated by two things: learning Greek and Latin and holding office. They felt knowledge of one or both of these languages made them superior individuals. As a result, they often took up positions of teachers or preachers when most could do little more than write their names. They took up these professions, because they viewed them as an easy way to make a living. The ministry was the profession that suffered the most. The men who became preachers were often not only uneducated, but also immoral. Booker had high hopes, however, that in the coming years, these sorts of men would have eventually disappeared.

Another problem Booker noted during this period was the tendency of his people to rely too much on the Federal Government, somewhat like a child relies on its mother. To Booker, this was unnatural. The government gave them freedom, but failed in its duty to provide for their general education and prepare them for the duties of citizenship. As a result, he saw that his people needed to learn the skills to take care of themselves. The government never made a plan for Reconstruction that was realistic, mistakes were made, and the ignorance of his people was used to put white men into office. Furthermore, there was an element in the North that wanted to punish Southerners by pushing the Negro into political positions higher than white men. He was sure the Negro would be the one to suffer for this. his debt. The General told him he trusted him enough to pay him when he could.

Booker further observed that the allure of the political life hurt his race. It was not something he ever aspired to, but others of his race did and in many stances were ill prepared for the job. Some did well, but most were used by the Carpetbaggers to punish the South. As a result, Southerners began to feel that if Negroes held political office, the tyranny of the Reconstruction period would be repeated. His solution was to counsel his people to act in a manner that would not alienate his white neighbors and to make the law apply with absolute honesty.

In the fall of 1878, he spent several months in Washington D. C. in study at an institution there. He found the students in most cases had more money than ones he had known or they had their expenses paid for them. As a result, they seemed less independent than what he was used to. They didn’t want to begin at the bottom and work diligently towards the top. They seemed to know less about life and its conditions than the Hampton students did. He also saw that the city was crowded with colored people, because they were attracted to a life in political office. He even observed that the Washington schools for colored people than they were elsewhere, so he took a great interest in the lives of his people there. However, they were too dependent on the government and had little occupational training.


In this chapter, we see from the observation of a person who lived it, how the mistakes of the Federal Government after the Civil War helped contribute to problems black people face even today. The idea of entitlement passed through the generations and Booker’s concept of the dignity of labor was destroyed by the failure of the government to plan for the process of citizenship for black people and the inability of the black race to not switch their dependency from their masters to the government.

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