In contrast to the other successful business people, Jake Simmons, Jr. had a powerful father, who was rather successful himself. Mr. Simmons, Sr. tried to get his sons to join him in farming, but he was unable to convince any one of them. Yet, he was a powerful role model. Jake’s father believed that you needed to have a certain amount of discipline, a certain amount of routine and a certain amount of stick-to-itiveness to succeed.
As with John Johnson, Booker T. Washington was a role model for Jake Simmons, Jr. However, he had much more of a chance to view Washington close-up, since he attended Tuskegee. Jake learned to love work for its own sake just as Booker T. Washington taught. He understood that a good appearance is crucial to success. He realized that few men would have succeeded without developing their argumentative abilities—selling, charming, motivating and altering people’s behavior and attitudes.
As with John Johnson and the others, Jake had white role models as well as Black. Some of the most powerful were supplied by Booker T. at Tuskegee. Julius Rosenwald, the Sears, Roebuck tycoon, was an example of this.
Jake and John had a strong interest in Black history. They both were proud to be Black. They both found African American dignity of utmost importance. When Jake got his first job as Pullman porter, he was called “boy” by a passenger. When he took exception to this term, the man told him that if he didn’t want to be called “boy” in life that he’d better not do “boy’s” work. He quit his job immediately and vowed never to do a “boy’s” work again.
Family was very important in both Johnson’s life and Simmons’s life. Both men were driven fighters who worked unceasingly to defy limitations and triumph over obstacles. Both refused to be victims of bigotry, to suffer from preconceptions others imposed over them. Simmons would tell his children, “You are equal to anyone, but if you think you’re not, you’re not.”
Both men developed their appearance, their speaking abilities to best present themselves to others. Both were respected for their fierce sense of racial pride. To both men, jobs were the key to the economic empowerment which far too many African Americans lacked. As they climbed the ladder of success, they never stopped looking back. Simmons said that it is a waste of life for a man to fail to achieve when he has the opportunity. He felt it was just as important to achieve so that you could help others as to achieve to help yourself. Both men fought for the rights of their people.
In studying the lives of Mary McLeod Bethune, Booker T. Washington, John H. Johnson, and Jake Simmons, Jr., we find that all four persons were in a struggle for knowledge. Each had to struggle to discover who and what he or she was. This was quite a chore, since the social order around them seemed deliberately designed to rub them out or stuff their heads with symbols of what it wanted or feared them to be. Black writers seem to live in two worlds: American and Black, public mask and private face. They have two equally important perspectives which must somehow be brought together into a single field of vision: the subjective awareness and the political message, tee unfolding sense of self and the absolute need to gain control over their history. Autobiography affords the greatest opportunities to combine the two perspectives because it develops like a village on the crossroads between the author’s subjective life and his social historical life.
The purpose of autobiography is by definition to express and create subjective awareness. Yet, it can never be considered apart from its context. It shapes and interprets material but does not invent situation or character. The author and speaking subject are one and the same. The main character, who is the source of perception inside the book, also has an objective existence outside of it. Whatever he says and does has an authenticity rarely possible to duplicate in a fictional construct. The “message” of necessity is simply an extension of his subjective awareness. Message becomes part of the impact of experience of the author.
In these four autobiographies, we find a combination of these two things. We learn to understand each separate individual. At the same time, we are introduced to their social-historical lives. We are introduced to the life of a freed slave in Booker T. Washington’s autobiography. We became acquainted with the life of a Black in the early 1900’s with Mary McLeod Bethune’s life. Then, we learned what life in the Southwest was for a Black person during the time of 1901 to 1981. Finally, we learned what life was in Chicago approximately 1918 to the present.
Each autobiography told us how the individuals handled the problems of each time. We certainly see that in all four cases, the individuals seemed to succeed with the same strengths: never giving up, ignoring failure, dealing with people of all races, having belief that they can succeed in anything that they do.