This post is part of our original series on Poetic Justice Warriors.
Poetic justice spontaneously rewards virtue and punishes vice. Social justice is capricious and requires force. This series of articles from Center for Individualism will feature some of the unsung heroes of Western Civilization. They are champions of reason and peaceful human progress, armed only with the power of their ideas applied to reality. Our motivation is gratitude. We stand on the shoulders of these giants in economics, science, business, politics, the arts, and education.
In the European Theater, during World War II, the 332nd Fighter Group flew 179 bomber escort missions, losing bomber aircraft on only seven of them. They experienced losses at about half the rate of the rest of the 15th Air Force. In fact, bomber groups specifically requested the 332nd to escort them because of their skill and daring. They also flew 1400 other combat missions over Italy and Germany. These airmen were awarded 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 14 bronze stars, 744 Air Medals, 8 Purple Hearts, and 1 Silver Star.
Obviously, the men of 332nd did more than their share to secure the promises of Western Civilization for future generations. So, who were these guys? What made them special? What common traits did they share? How did they acquire them?
They were all trained at Moton Field in Alabama and educated at Tuskegee University. Of course, we’re talking about the infamous Tuskegee Airmen, a segregated, mostly African-American unit of pilots, navigators and bombardiers recruited and trained in the Jim Crow south. And it is the ironclad, life fulfilling principles taught at Tuskegee that inspired their natural talents. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: these are the same principles that define the founder of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, and our latest Poetic Justice Warrior, Booker T. Washington.
Spontaneous Political Order
Poetic justice is a consequence of reality, a spontaneous force of nature. Poetic justice warriors understand this, they are peaceful and patient as they employ reason to forge human progress, or as Booker T. Washington states:
In my opinion, the time will come when the South will encourage all of its citizens to vote. It will see that it pays better, from every standpoint, to have healthy, vigorous life than to have that political stagnation which always results when one-half of the population has no share and no interest in the Government.
It is this philosophy that labeled Washington as being too accommodating to the politically dominant white supremacists of the south. One of his harshest critics was the famed civil rights activist W. E. B. DuBois. But in 1910, DuBois had to be convinced to join the founding board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as the only African-American. Regardless of race, all 22 of them with the addition of DuBois, were strident socialists with aspirations to create a communist utopia in America.
Washington, however, was an individualist and a principled capitalist. This difference between Booker and DuBois is stark. According to Burgess Owens in his book Liberalism,
Washington also secretly funded civil rights lawsuits. Note, however, that in Washington’s day, such lawsuits were a serious matter, and not the routinely frivolous exercises in extortion they have in recent years become.
DuBois, who loved the centralized, unlimited power of the totalitarian state, praised Hitler’s National Socialism in pre-war Germany, and embraced Stalin’s Soviet Union.
The Capitalist, Educator and Philanthropist
Like Frederick Douglass before him, Washington was born into slavery and was told that he wasn’t supposed to know how to read. Accordingly, he was determined to learn for himself what this awful reading thing was all about. He eventually worked his way through the Hampton Institute where he subsequently joined the faculty. At age 24 he was asked to create a teachers college in Macon County, Alabama. This was 1881, and the following year he was able to buy the burned out hulk of a nearby plantation house and its 100 acres.
In order to create school buildings and raise money, Washington and his students built a brick making operation from scratch, and the quality of their product was so superior that builders from all over the region were placing orders. Fortunately, the rail spur to Selma had been rebuilt the year before to accommodate the creation of the Tuskegee Institute.
Washington’s philosophy was one of personal achievement, education, self-reliance, and productive economic activity. Instead of educating students in the classics, as DuBois insisted, he was educating students to learn how to make a living, to apply reason to reality, or as he says himself:
Excellence is to do a common thing in an uncommon way. Success in life is founded upon attention to the small things. Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which one has overcome while trying to succeed.
Not only did Tuskegee University become the most influential black institution of higher education in America, Booker was also able to create an impressive network of wealthy white philanthropists, including Andrew Carnegie, and funnel money to countless black schools throughout the south.
The Political Economics Philosopher
Instead of confronting racists and their politically sponsored terror wing directly, Booker rejected the collectivism of the social justice warriors of his time. He did it in the same way and for the same reasons that Frederick Douglass did, by dealing with the reality of the place in which he lived with a clear vision for a better future. This was necessary in order to secure the inevitable rewards of free markets protected by the US Constitution.
Instead of the forced integration being pushed by his contemporaries, Washington believed that integration would occur naturally as African-Americans developed new skills; and through entrepreneurship, become more prosperous. In other words, integration would be a spontaneous force of nature, aka poetic justice.
Booker was integral (and became black America’s unofficial leader) in the building of self-sufficient black communities and institutions throughout the country. According to historian C. Vann Woodward, Washington was “The businessman’s gospel of free enterprise, competition, and laissez faire. They never had a more loyal exponent.” While DuBois was consorting with his totalitarian wannabes in 1910, Booker was doing something productive, as Burgess Owens explains:
This entrepreneurial spirit was highlighted at America’s first business network convention, hosted by the Negro Business League in 1910. Booker T. Washington founded the Negro Business League in 1900 with the support of Andrew Carnegie, spotlighting many self-made millionaires.
Poetic Justice Served
Booker T. Washington died in 1915, and DuBois survived him by many years. As a result, Booker’s legacy has been largely ignored by state monopoly education, in no small part because John Dewey, a founding member of the NAACP, is also the father of America’s public school system. According to Owens, “since DuBois’ followers control the writing of history textbooks, and the media’s coverage of black affairs, we get a sanitized version of his place in American history, and often as not, no version at all of Washington’s.”
But this travesty is being corrected, thanks to the movies and books that have been produced about the Tuskegee Airmen, and because of new biographies such as Robert Norrell’s Up From History. And now, we are recognizing Booker T. Washington’s contributions to Western Civilization by honoring him as the prolific Poetic Justice Warrior who inspired former slaves and their extended families to enterpreneurship, as did Anders Chydenius for peasant farmers in Sweden a century earlier.