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Literature Study GuidesRagtimePart 3 Chapter 37 Summary

Ragtime | Study Guide

E. L. Doctorow

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Ragtime | Part 3, Chapter 37 | Summary



Booker T. Washington arrives outside Morgan's gallery and stands calmly in the street asking to be let in. He calls until the door cracks open and he can slip inside. Younger Brother, dressed in shocking blackface, leans over a booby trap ready to blow up the entire house should Washington make a wrong move. One of Coalhouse's men shows Washington into the library where Coalhouse sits calmly. Immediately, Washington begins berating Coalhouse for bringing down every young black man who is working hard to better society's view of their race. "A thousand honest industrious black men cannot undo the harm of one like you." Washington asks Coalhouse to step aside for the sake of his young son, for the sake of all the young black sons who will be mistreated because of his actions. Coalhouse is resolute, arguing, "We might both be servants of our color who insist on the truth of our manhood and the respect it demands." Yet his demands soften. He simply says if his car is returned to him in its original condition, he will turn himself in. Washington doesn't recognize the change in demands and deems the discussion a failure.


When Washington enters the library, Doctorow is given the opportunity to present two opposing views on how black society should agitate for equality. Washington firmly believes black people should live subservient, peaceful lives building a reputation of reliability, education, and hard work. Through this, he believes, white society will eventually treat them with respect. This view was very popular in his time. Many black Americans, however, saw Washington as a sell-out who rose to fame while supporting white supremacy. These dissenters believed white Americans would never willingly treat black Americans equally, and if black Americans wanted respect, they had to demand it. This falls closer in line with the beliefs of Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X. The conversation between Washington and Coalhouse truly demonstrates the divide between black American views of how the Civil Rights Movement should be managed. Both sides, just like both characters, believed their views represented the best way to advance the cause for their race; "We may both be servants of our color who insist on the truth of our manhood and the respect it demands."

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