Booker T. Washington's statements on racial amity have been either praised as exemplary bootstrap pragmatism or, particularly by the current generation of blacks, damned as the fountainhead of ""separate but equal"" laws. Most popular biographies have polarized (and, in the process, lost) the Tuskegee founder's personality along these lines, glorifying him as Negro example or condemning him as Uncle Tom. This life of the early years clearly belongs in the former category. Bontemps, a prolific researcher of American Negro history, reviews the pre- and post-liberation days of Washington's boyhood and youth -- the grinding hard work and the cruelties, his arrival at Hampton Institute, and then deprivation and triumphs against crushing obstacles and finally the establishment of Tuskegee. Predictably the bulk of the book deals with his travels and administration of the struggling school but there are excerpts from his lectures including the famous (or infamous, according to the viewpoint) speech at the Atlanta Exposition. As for Booker T. Washington, the private personality, this offers the blandest of chronological detail. Perhaps the forthcoming biography by Louis Harlan, whose collection of Washington papers will be published simultaneously in October, will answer the need for a clear-eyed view of one of the major forces in American black history.