Equality, acceptance, and superiority were terms of regular use by African American activists following the end of slavery and the beginning of the integration of the races. Fighting for these terms to be considered a reality was the typical approach of these activists. Booker T. Washington, however, refused to fight in a world where fighting was expected of his race. He, instead, wanted to change the expectations. This does not mean that he is not to be considered one of the greatest activist for African Americans in the history of America, but it does mean that his choice of actions was not based on hatred nor on blame, but rather on the gradual acceptance of his race through hard work and proving the value of the race as a whole in a world where their worth had long been in question. There were two primary ideas that Booker T. Washington used to establish this worth and base his own pursuits upon throughout his lifetime. These ideas were training to offer value and hygiene to show self-respect.
As far as offering value, Washington did not claim that the African Americans, as people, were not valuable. However, he did admit that they had little to no skills to offer as they had only been uneducated slaves for the majority of their lives. He knew that gaining the necessary education to compete in business was beyond the scope of most of their abilities given their background, not their capabilities. He also knew that, before a white community would accept them, they needed to learn something that the whites either could not or did not do. Therefore, he promoted learning trades as a means to offer value to the white communities. He had them to learn hands on at his institution which was built through these hands on lessons. By being able to see the weaknesses of his race, Washington was able to bring about opportunities for improvement. Many people would be better if they could view their own weaknesses rather than assuming their own worth and superiority.
In terms of hygiene, one of the most prominent ideas of the Tuskegee Institute was cleanliness. Considering that many of the students had previously been slaves with little or no concept of self-care, Washington sought to teach these individuals the value of self-respect through first taking care of themselves and secondly making themselves presentable to the community. This idea is often lost in the pursuit of bettering an entire group or race. However, personal care is critical when each member of the team is being looked upon as representing the whole. Washington knew that every time one African American was viewed as being unclean, the entire race was pushed back down again. Therefore, he gave each student the most critical piece of hygienic equipment that he could think of which was a toothbrush.
Washington could easily have used his own influence to fight his own way into the white society, but he chose to use his knowledge to bring up his race as a collective group. He focused on the most important elements of being accepted and taught others to do the same. Through learning a trade, the African Americans gained an open door into the white communities. By learning hygiene, the African Americans gained healthy habits, self-respect, and the acceptance of the white members of society. Although there was no way to guarantee that these antics would bring his race to achieve equality, Washington knew that these lessons would make the process of the pursuit much easier in the long run.