Lifting the Veil of Ignorance Monument: A Tribute to Booker T. Washington

Lifting the Veil of Ignorance: Booker T. Washington Monument

The Lifting the Veil of Ignorance Monument is located on the campus of Tuskegee University (Tuskegee, Alabama – Macon County) and was unveiled and dedicated on April 15, 1922. During the ceremony, over 100,000 people attended and paid tribute to the founder of Tuskegee University, Booker T. Washington. Created by sculptor Charles Keck, the bronze monument portrays Booker T. Washington lifting the veil of ignorance off his people, symbolized by a terrified slave, and pointing the way to progress and a better life through education and industry. The slave holds a book which represents education and crouches on a plow and anvil, the tools of agriculture and industry which were the fields that Booker T. Washington chose to educate his fellow African-Americans.

There are many inscriptions on the monument and its surrounding structures that read as noted below:

“He lifted the veil of ignorance from his people and pointed the way to progress through education and industry.”

“We will prosper in proportion as we learn to dignify and glorify labor and put brain and skill into the common occupations of life.”

“This monument was erected by contributions from negroes in the United States as a loving tribute to the memory of their great leader & benefactor.”

“There is no defense or security for any of us except in the highest intelligence and development of all.”

“I will let no man drag me down so low as to make me hate him.”

This monument appears to have had an impact on the lives of many people since it was unveiled. For some, it was clearly a positive impact. An example of this would be Lee H. Walker. Mr. Walker was formerly the president of the New Coalition of Economic and Social Change. In addition he was a member of Sigma Pi Phi, the National Association of Black Journalists, the Black United Fund of Illinois, the Illinois State Board of Higher Education, and he spent 33 years as an executive of Sears, Roebuck and Company. Below you will find an excerpt that speak on the effect the Booker T. Washington monument had on his life:

A field trip changed my life more than Brown did. When I was in the ninth grade, the boys went on a field trip to visit the campus of Tuskegee University, where there is a statue of Booker T. Washington. I was mesmerized when I saw that statue. I had never seen a life-size–let alone a giant-size–statue of a black man. All giant-sized statues I had seen until then were white males, like Robert E. Lee. But here was a giant-sized black man, dressed up in fine clothes, with one hand pointing out to the future and the other “lifting the veil of ignorance” from a black boy in raggedy clothes.

When I saw that statue, I said, “I’m in good shape now. I don’t have to prove anything. Booker has already taken care of it for me.” He was born a slave but he became world-famous as an educator, entrepreneur, and black leader. He became my personal hero, like a black Horatio Alger. Horatio Alger was an excellent inspirational story for poor white boys to be somebody. If you were black, you understood the story but you knew you couldn’t do what the white boy could.

Normally, all the black heroes were killed for standing up against a white man. But here was a man who had the respect of white Southerners and white Northerners as well as blacks. He had made it. His book, Up from Slavery, became a guide for me. I said, “If Booker could leave home to better himself, I could leave home to better myself, too.” If he had done it, I could.

However, the monument also was a little controversial to those that didn’t agree with Booker T. Washington’s ideas and philosophies. The author Ralph Ellison stated the following about the Booker T. Washington Monument in his classic book “Invisible Man”:

“I am standing puzzled,” his narration begins, “unable to decide whether the veil is really being lifted, or lowered more firmly in place; whether I am witnessing a revelation or a more efficient blinding.”

Personally, I feel as if Booker T. Washington’s vision and intentions were good and that he had an overall positive impact on the people of African descent in the United States of America. There are some areas where I may disagree with some aspects of his vision but overall I think the world and African-Americans benefitted from his work, books, ideas and philosophies. Please leave a comment and let us know what you think about Booker T. Washington.

Lifting the Veil of Ignorance: Booker T. Washington Monument

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