In Booker T. Washington’s monumental book Up from Slavery, there are many memorable scenes which he paints. With his use of graphic language, he paints pictures of vital people, events, and distinct random memories. Some examples that stick in my mind were the potato-hole when he was a kid, Mrs. Ruffner, his college examination, and the widow’s gift to Tuskegee.
The first one was the potato hole. At the very beginning of the book, Washington starts with a recount of his life under age six – the random food, flax shirts, and a particular hole in the floor of his cabin. That hole was used to store potatoes and other crops like them; Washington wrote that in the process of putting the vegetables in or taking them out, he would get one or two. His humor in stating that he basically stole the potatoes makes this passage memorable.
Another prominent scene is much later in his life when he first procured an apprenticeship with a Mrs. Ruffner, wife of General Lewis Ruffner. She started him out with cleaning an old woodshed that hadn’t been cleaned in years. The story was not recounted in the book, but he describes the bare-bones tale in the book. This story in full was posted on the internet later, and it is still found here. It’s very descriptive, making it one of the more exciting and memorable stories.
Soon after he finished with Mrs. Ruffner, he left for Hampton University. Washington states in the book that he probably looked like a tramp when he walked in, but he was permitted to clean a room as a test. Thanks to Mrs. Ruffner’s focus on detail, he was able to clean the room satisfactorily, and he was accepted to the college as a janitor.
Long after that incident and the starting of Tuskegee, he paints a vivid picture concerning a certain woman in the community who gave all she had to the institute: a half-dozen eggs. The story starts with other donations, all of extraordinary value, and the community donations of a reasonable amount. Then it talks about this one; She hobbles in, wearing nothing but rags (though they were clean), and said to Washington: “”Mr. Washin’ton, God knows I spent de bes’ days of my life in slavery. God knows I’m ignorant an’ poor; but,” she added, “I knows what you an’ Miss Davidson is tryin’ to do. I know you are tryin’ to make better men an’ better women for de coloured race. I ain’t got no money, but I want you to take dese six eggs, what I’s been saving up, an’ I wants you to put dese six eggs into the eddication of dese boys an’ gals.”
Those four scenes are the ones that I remember most from Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery. The potato-hole, Mrs. Ruffner, his entrance exam, and the six eggs all stick in my memory as firmly as burrs. They represent major turning points in Washington’s life, and he paints four very colorful pictures representing them. For more information on the stories, check out Washington’s book.