American Cultures and Traditions Essay Sample: "Up From Slavery" and "Twenty Years at Hull House"

Published: 2022-06-07
American Cultures and Traditions Essay Sample: "Up From Slavery" and "Twenty Years at Hull House"
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  American history American culture
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1793 words
15 min read

The American history is heavily dotted with a myriad of social and economic issues whose roots and developments are the foundations in which the nation is built. Tracing the economic development through its characteristics and importance in America from the colonial periods to the present day, history suggests that slavery was a significant component. Owning slaves and slave labor was central to the national institution. Caught in the middle of slavery were the blacks who were subjected to hard work in a manner led them to believe that it was punishment obliviously; arguably it was. The existence of the slaves, slave owners and those who control various means of production resulted in the rise of social classes (Clarke). The lower, middle and the upper courses sprung up giving rise to social issues which included racism, degradation, poverty, lack of education, lack of decent job, housing and slavery among many others. The existence of these social issues in return demanded that specific solutions were to be found, however far-fetched some would appear to attempt to achieve some social equilibrium. These solutions, from personal, institutional to the societal level, have formed a considerable amount of historical, social and economic literature. Many authors, academic scholars, and researchers have written extensively on these topics in a bid to provide solutions and answers to the social problems that America faced in the old days, the present-day challenges and even those in the future (Clarke). Amidst the many sources available, Booker T. Washington's "Up From Slavery" and Jane Addams' "Twenty years at Hull-House" provide specific ways through social and economic problems could be solved in the American past. This paper compares the roles and values promoted by certain individuals and social institutions to enhance social and economic issues in the two books.

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In the book "Up From Slavery," Washington tackles a significant issue, forced labor, which is also the most dominant theme so relevant to the slave generation of the early 80s. Forced labor through all its aspects, had enough challenges to the black population that they obliviously accepted it as a punishment. Typically, the institution of slavery was not complicated; instead, it ensured that slaves had no personal labor return or investment and this promoted a negative attitude by the slaves in their labor duties. Washington observes that the laborers failed to complete their work with the aim to improve the output while the whites could not achieve self-sufficiency as they were deprived of significant labor. As a result, both the whites and the blacks developed a conscious mentality or personality to escape work at the time consciously. He narrates that both "races on the slave plantation sought to escape" work (Washington 19). Washington strongly asserts how labor forms a crucial part of economic development that favors the individual, as well as the society at large and a negative attitude towards work, is an injustice to self and societal development. Through this assertion, Washington demystifies the negative perception that people develop by escaping work. To lay more emphasis on the need to work, the book presents the constant means through which Washington searches for work tirelessly until he finds it. Again, he shows that finding job is not enough, but doing it to the best of one's ability and aiming to improve the outcome of whatever piece of labor to which an individual is assigned. This diligence towards work and attacking of laziness present Washington's personal attempts to bring a solution to the problem of dependence and poverty in the society especially among the black Americans.

Education comes out as a powerful tool in Washington's autobiography. Education is stressed as one of the core values that can help alleviate the poverty of self and one's community. Poverty has been described by some scholars as a problem of the mind. Ideologies, brilliant ideas, open-mindedness and solutions to societal problems are some of the ways through which education can and practical learning can benefit a community. In "Up From Slavery," Washington's life presents a typical example of how finding education was a huge problem for the black American slaves. As a young man, he was denied the right to education as this was a tool that would untangle ideas and promote revolution, something the slave owners would not desire. Fortunately, his burning desire to attain knowledge enabled him to walk long distances seeking for intellectual freedom through education, and he found it. On the flipside, pursuing education and avoiding of physical work or other manual labor is something that Washington is entirely against. He holds implores people to realize that there exists much "dignity in tilling a field as there is in writing a poem (Washington 137)". Notably, the most valid form of education according to him was getting involved in hard labor. With this perspective, Washington becomes exceptionally critical of the individuals who only pursue formal education as a means of circumventing physical labor. It is of great significance to notice that scholastic pursuits and book learning are meaningless without a dedicated purpose. Through pinning his points on education tied to labor as well as independence, Washington attempts to close the racial bridge while maintaining the American ideals and social traditions such as individuality and capitalism. To borrow some philosophical ideas from Henry Thoreau and Ralph Emerson, Washington argues that the American social tradition is founded on independence and individuality which are all promoted by education. Through reference to these transcendentalists, he appeals to everyone across the racial borders that the nation should attach more value to dignified labor while making education an integral part of it all.

Social institutions should all have a part to play in providing solutions to problems that the society face. Schools, churches, and higher learning institutions ought to play a role in changing certain aspects of every society from employment to prepare for future possibilities. Learning centers should be at the forefront of promoting both intellectual and practical skills. In "Up From Poverty," as a teacher Washington ensures that the Tuskegee institute remains core to promoting foundational social ethos as well as propagating practical skills embodied in creativity. As a requirement, he demands that every student at the Tuskegee institute must pursue not only academic areas of interests but also additional trades from other industries. His theory of learning, as well as racial uplift, manifest through the works of students from the institute whereby most the institution's furniture, buildings, wagons as well as materials are products of the students' work. He says that they wanted the students "to study actual things instead of mere books alone (Washington 59)." This manifestation indicates the role of social institutions bringing solutions to challenges that the American society faces. The insistence on work and teaching of practical skills brings economic development while insights on oneness regardless of race promoted social cohesion and understanding among the Americans of all colors.

Even though Washington's theory was criticized by various critics citing that he was encouraging African Americans to remain in the manual labor sector, he defended his position saying that vocational training was key in promoting labor skills, uplifting his students, citizens as well as pulling America out of the economic squalor. Other scholars such as W.E.D Du Bois claimed that Washington's ideas branded the black Americans as the always laboring class while treating white Americans as innocent of racism.

In "Twenty years at Hull's House" Jane Addams presents various accounts of social problems that affected the poor black people in Chicago. Such social and economic problems included racial prejudice, poverty, drinking problems, politics, long labor hours even for women, the monopoly of companies that propagated capitalism and problems with the segregated education system (Johnson 159-159). Through Addams' efforts in conjunction with the progressive movement that was driven mostly by women of change, the winds of change were imminent. Progressivism ideology, whose agenda was driven by the Progressive Party, enjoyed much success and conducted many joint activities of the great course with the intention to bring social change and make America a better place. Coming from a middle-class family in a socially stratified America of the early 1900s, Addams came into contact with the poor people made of immigrants. Her Hull house in Chicago provided the platform on which she set her social change agendas (Lundblad 661-669).

Christianity and faith were rooted in America even before the turn of the century. The adherence to Christian teachings and beliefs was of great importance for the believers. One of the problems that Addams and her team of progressivists realized was that the poor neighborhood around which the Hull's house was built was alcoholism. Alcohol or irresponsible drinking is known to be the reason behind a lot of profligacy and violence in many areas. Because of the consequences of irresponsible drinking, Addams and her team raised awareness against drinking in the process cementing the position of the 18th amendment of the American constitution which prohibited drinking. From a historical context the constitution, between 1920 and 1933, declared it illegal to sell, import, or manufacture alcohol anywhere in America which it termed as intoxicating beverages. These included wine, hard liquor or beer of any kind. Aided by the period of religious revival and the teachings about the effects of alcohol, Progressivism Party, evangelical Christians and social reformers ensured that declared alcoholism as a public health problem which would not be tolerated. To aid in this process, the women who had grown tired of their husbands' habits of drinking their earnings away stood up against alcohol. Addams was in the center of this awakening using the party and her writing to influence change against drinking (Lipset 69-105).

Addams' efforts to effect social change in the old American society were through politics at a time when the political arena was dominated by men. There was a movement staged to ensure that the votes were won by women who were believed to be more ethical than their male counterparts (Johnson 159-159). Being an activist, Addams' involvement in the advocacy for women rights brought talks about divorce reforms, women owning property, and having better educational opportunities among many more feminist topics. This was on the way through which Addams promoted social and economic values to impact change.

Social injustices were so rampant that Addams took to her writings to create awareness through her social work, education, and travels. On the issues of degradation and unfairness, she contributed by observing that people have a responsibility in minimizing the "ebb and flow of injustice and oppression" (Johnson 159-159). She asserts that people pose the capacity to hear the cries of other human beings and act and do something that can minimize the pains of others. Hers was advocacy, a voice shouting for people to come together, bring change and influence common good.

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