PORTIA by Ruth Ann Stewart


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The biography of Booker T. Washington's only daughter is an anecdotal portrait of an indefatigable witness whose pride in her ""heritage"" and its privileges, real and imagined, sustained her through life. Born in 1883, Portia was reared during the struggling years of the Tuskegee Institute. In 1895 her father made the ""Atlanta Speech"" of racial accommodation that catapulted him into fame and favor with wealthy whites. He shrewdly cultivated this to obtain funds for his school, and Portia's opportunities expanded also. When she had lunch at the White House in 1970, it was old hat: she'd been to see Theodore Roosevelt before Nixon was born. Portia's promise as a pianist was encouraged at New England schools and by study in Berlin. Europe was a release from the instinctive pressures she felt in America; her vivacious temperament flourished in the extravagant bohemian atmosphere. After her marriage to black architect William Pittman collapsed, she returned to Tuskegee in 1928. But change weakened her position there. She gave up teaching and devoted her time to memorial work in her father's name. Through Portia's eager memory--and a somewhat overreaching prose--Ruth Ann Stewart gives us glimpses of noted black figures and a kind of social history. Questions of civil rights strategies and politics are implicit but not developed. But then, Portia always loved the spotlight.

Pub Date: Dec. 2nd, 1977
Publisher: Anchor/Doubleday