It was today 162 years ago that one of our favorite subjects on this site was born: Booker T. Washington. Born a slave in Virginia, made free by the Civil War, and then a self-educated college graduate, Booker T. Washington is one of the most underrated of all the Civil Rights Activists, a man who in creating the Tuskegee Institute, helped personally change the lives of generations of his fellow African Americans.
It also happens that Washington was a fountain of what reads like Stoic wisdom. For instance, take these two quotes, which capture the essence of what Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus spent so much time talking about.
“Character, not circumstances, makes the man.”
“The world cares very little what you or I know, but it does care a great deal about what you or I do.”
In short: Character is fate and deeds, not words. It’s also clear that Washington lived these words. This was a man who walked nearly 500 miles to apply for college, and when he wasn’t accepted, he quietly cleaned the waiting room of the admissions office until they let him in. Character like that can’t be stopped. This was a man who instead of talking about the needs for better schools and opportunities for his people went out and created a institute that provided exactly that. Those are the deeds that matter.
Whether we’re in the first century AD or the early 20th century in Alabama or today in some far flung corner of the earth, that’s what Stoicism is supposed to be about. Let’s try to live up to his example.
P.S. This was originally sent on April 5th, 2018. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.