“This experience of a whole race beginning to go to school for the first time, presents on of the most interesting studies that has ever occurred in connection with the development of any race. Few people who were not right in the midst of the scenes can form any exact idea of the intense desire which the people of my race showed for an education.”
This quotation, which appears in Chapter II after the first ever black teacher arrives in Malden, describes the historically novel experience of an entire race, people of all ages, seeking a formal education for the first time. Washington emphasizes the unprecedented nature of this enterprise both to draw attention to the deep desire that former slaves have for education and to describe the unique and improvisational methods of their education. Throughout Up From Slavery, Washington emphasizes that the education best suited for former slaves is not the same education best suited to people who were always free. Washington believes that former slaves must be taught not only academic subjects, but also practical skills to help them navigate society. This quotation also importantly situates Washington within that experience, which lends his opinion more weight and suggests to the readers that though they cannot “form any exact idea” themselves, they are reading the words of someone who directly experienced this phenomenon.