Barreling up I-85 in a northeast direction out of Montgomery, Alabama, you will find an exit sign welcoming visitors to the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University). One cannot describe adequately the heritage left to this essentially black university of more than 2,500 students by its founder, Booker T. Washington, and by its most famous professor, George Washington Carver. If these two professors did not elicit sufficient fame, the “Red Tails,” the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II who escorted bombers in the Mediterranean Theater in their P51 Mustangs, rendered irreplaceable service to America, contributed incredible service to the demise of the Third Reich, and helped achieve America’s victory.
Not too long ago, as my library became available again, imagine my delight in rediscovering a book that I had owned since its publication in 1999. I sadly confess that I had never read Unshakeable Faith by John Perry. Sensing the impoverishment of my intellectual, cultural, and patriotic development, I determined to read this dual biography of these two great Americans—Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver. With the reading of this volume now in my rearview mirror, let me observe that if you are a thinking evangelical, you cannot afford to allow another six months to pass without reading this book!
For thousands, this is the rags-to-riches story of two men born into slavery. Their indomitable spirits roused them to do for blacks and for whites the kindest and most eleemosynary deeds imaginable without the slightest resentment or hatred, which was sometimes still prevalent in the hearts of white people. In fact, the highlight of the book is presented early by Perry. Citing Booker T. Washington, he recalls the first president saying, “I would permit no man, no matter what his color might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him” (13). Would you read that line once more? I have never heard sentiment so captivating of the mind of Christ from an uninspired source—so much so that it is almost worthy to be placed alongside Holy Writ! Of course, as readers we cannot know whether or not Washington was inspired by God or His Word! Yet he and Carver capture the very heart of God, shout the reason for their success, and chart the way for the future of human relationships.
Washington, born into slavery in 1856 and then emancipated, as well as so many southern blacks, found that while he was free after May of 1865, life did not automatically become any more salubrious. The questions rolled: How do I make a living? Can I get an education when most colleges are still segregated, and those few that are not often are hostile to the idea of an educated black man? And how precisely can I even exist in a social order where blacks and others are second-class citizens?
Both Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver never saw a day when the sun did not rise on a permeating racism. Some of this was transmitted through the prejudices of the social order, and more was virulently cultivated by sinister hearts of evil, which harbored resentment against some of God’s blessed creation. This volume presents the miraculous story of how two faithful Christians coped with these problems and in so doing built a great educational institution. In fact, what these two former slaves knew, if disseminated in the hearts of all blacks and whites today, would spell a dramatic conclusion for the rebelliousness against God that produces racism in any realm.
First, both men took seriously the Word of God. Accordingly, both Carver and Washington believed in the existence of Satan, the malignant spirit of evil, which is why they could articulate a proposition like, “I will never allow another person to make me hate him.” They knew well that no two-year-old ever waddled into the kitchen and offered to his mother the advice that one should never trust blacks.
Racism is not inherent, but it is taught satanically to fallen minds. Further, the boundaries of America failed to provide for the contours of racism. Germany’s attitude toward the Jews was later contested by the Tuskegee Airmen in their “red tails,” working to defeat Hitler and his racism. Satan is the father of all lies. Washington and Carver knew the origin of Japanese-Chinese hatred, Arab-Jewish disdain, divisive tribalism in Africa, and all other forms of racism.
More important still, both men believed that redemption—forgiveness of sins and restoration of godly thinking is available in Christ. They themselves felt the power of God’s transformative grace. They never lived a day when there was not the painful reminder of their slave status during formative years and the attitudes that restricted their progress throughout their lives. But they also believed in a just God, who in His own time, made all things right. Both men were confident that clean living, hard work, and faithfulness to God would be rewarded.
Strangely, both men found a way to get along with just about everybody—except each other. This friction was not because there was substantial disagreement between them on any major issues. Rather they were two rams in the same pen, and they never saw how to get from point A to B administratively. Neither man was captivated by the love of money. They lived simply, and even in their administrative disagreements they found a way to honor Christ’s forgiveness and to recognize that each had a genius unsurpassed.
There is a way to heal the racism of America, whether its origin is in misguided thinking or in resentment over past wrongs. Never will it be healed by political artifice, religious pontification, dissonant conflict, raging riots, vitriolic protest, or coercion of any variety. The transforming love of Christ is the only vehicle effective in altering the evil thoughts of our hearts. As an introduction to how two remarkable men changed the face of history, read Unshakeable Faith by John Perry. Every evangelical who reads my words and cares about the witness of God’s people should read this book—immediately. Let American evangelicals show the world God’s way out of slavery!