Booker T. Washington? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: If you desire to improve your condition in life or lift yourself up then you should help someone else to achieve a better life. The famous educator and orator Booker T. Washington made this point eloquently. Would you please help me to find a citation?
Quote Investigator: In 1900 Booker T. Washington published “The Story of My Life and Work” which include the following. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1
I think I have learned that the best way to lift one’s self up is to help some one else.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Here is a longer excerpt from “The Story of My Life and Work” to show the context of Washington’s statement:
The white man who hates a Negro is usually little and narrow. Both races will grow strong, useful and generous in proportion as they learn to love each other instead of hating each other. The Negro race, of all races in the world, should be the last to cultivate the habit of hating an individual on account of his race. He will gain more by being generous than by being narrow. If I can do anything to assist a member of the white race I feel just as happy as if I had done something to assist a member of the Negro race. I think I have learned that the best way to lift one’s self up is to help some one else.
On December 20, 1908 Washington delivered a speech in New York to the Peace Society as reported in “The Friend: A Religious and Literary Journal”. He spoke about the adverse consequences of holding people down instead of lifting them up: 2
“When I was a boy,” said B. Washington, “I used to like to fight. I used to like to get a boy down in a ditch and hold him there. But as I got older I saw that I could not hold him down there without staying in the ditch myself. No nation can hold another down without staying down itself.” There was great applause at this remark, it is true.
In 2008 “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Great Quotes for All Occasions” included the following: 3
I think I have learned that the best way to lift one’s self up is to help someone else.
—Booker T. Washington, The Story of My Life and Work, vol. I, 1900
On June 9, 2019 quotation specialist Mardy Grothe included the remark in his email newsletter and pointed to his website which listed the statement together with a citation for Washington’s autobiography. 4
In conclusion, Booker T. Washington should receive credit for this quotation based on the 1900 citation.
Image Notes: Illustration of one person helping another to climb a hill. Image from sasint at Pixabay. Image has been cropped, resized, and retouched.
- 1900, The Story of My Life and Work by Booker T. Washington (Principal of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute), Chapter XV: Cuban Education and the Chicago Peace Jubilee Address, Quote Page 277, W. H. Ferguson Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. (HathiTrust Full View) link ↩
- 1909 January 9 (First Month 9, 1909), The Friend: A Religious and Literary Journal, Volume 82, Gathered Notes, Start Page 214, Quote Page 215, Column 3, Printed by Wm. H. Pile’s Sons, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 2008, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Great Quotes for All Occasions by Elaine Bernstein Partnow, Chapter 17: You Gotta Have Friends, Quote Page 135, Published by Alpha Books: Penguin Group, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- Website: Dr. Mardy’s Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations, Topic: Helpers & Helping, Website description: Information about the book of quotation specialist Mardy Grothe together with a large carefully categorized database of quotations. (Accessed drmardy.com on November 5, 2019) link ↩