Some illustrations have been moved so as not to break up the flow of the text.
BOOKER T. WASHINGTON
Builder of a Civilization
EMMETT J. SCOTT and LYMAN BEECHER STOWE
With a Preface by Theodore Roosevelt
Illustrated from Photographs
Garden City New York Doubleday, Page & Company 1918
Copyright, 1916, by Doubleday, Page & Company All rights reserved, including that of translation into foreign languages, including the Scandinavian
Copyright, 1916, by the Outlook Publishing Co.
In the passing of a character so unique as Dr. Booker T. Washington, many of us, his friends, were anxious that his biography should be written by those best qualified to do so. It is therefore a source of gratification to us of his own race to have an account of Dr. Washington's career set forth in a form at once accurate and readable, such as will inspire unborn generations of Negroes and others to love and appreciate all mankind of whatever race or color. It is especially gratifying that this biography has been prepared by the two people in all America best fitted, by antecedents and by intimate acquaintance and association with Dr. Washington, to undertake it. Mr. Lyman Beecher Stowe is the grandson of Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose "Uncle Tom's Cabin" had a very direct influence on the abolition of slavery, and Mr. Emmett J. Scott was Dr. Washington's loyal and trusted secretary for eighteen years.
ROBERT R. MOTON. Principal Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute.
Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, August 1, 1916.
This is not a biography in the ordinary sense. The exhaustive "Life and Letters of Booker T. Washington" remains still to be compiled. In this more modest work we have simply sought to present and interpret the chief phases of the life of this man who rose from a slave boy to be the leader of ten millions of people and to take his place for all time among America's great men. In fact, we have not even touched upon his childhood, early training, and education, because we felt the story of those early struggles and privations had been ultimately well told in his own words in "Up from Slavery." This autobiography, however, published as it was fifteen years before his death, brings the story of his life only to the threshold of his greatest achievements. In this book we seek to give the full fruition of his life's work. Each chapter is complete in itself. Each presents a complete, although by no means exhaustive, picture of some phase of his life.
We take no small satisfaction in the fact that we were personally selected by Booker Washington himself for this task. He considered us qualified to produce what he wanted: namely, a record of his struggles and achievements at once accurate and readable, put in permanent form for the information of the public. He believed that such a record could best be furnished by his confidential associate, working in collaboration with a trained and experienced writer, sympathetically interested in the welfare of the Negro race. This, then, is what we have tried to do and the way we have tried to do it.
We completed the first four chapters before Mr. Washington's death, but he never read them. In fact, it was our wish, to which he agreed, that he should not read what we had written until its publication in book form.
EMMETT J. SCOTT, LYMAN BEECHER STOWE.
It is not hyperbole to say that Booker T. Washington was a great American. For twenty years before his death he had been the most useful, as well as the most distinguished, member of his race in the world, and one of the most useful, as well as one of the most distinguished, of American citizens of any race.
Eminent though his services were to the people of his own color, the white men of our Republic were almost as much indebted to him, both directly and indirectly. They were indebted to him directly, because of the work he did on behalf of industrial education for the Negro, thus giving impetus to the work for the industrial education of the White Man, which is, at least, as necessary; and, moreover, every successful effort to turn the thoughts of the natural leaders of the Negro race into the fields of business endeavor, of agricultural effort, of every species of success in private life, is not only to their advantage, but to the advantage of the White Man, as tending to remove the friction and trouble that inevitably come throughout the South at this time in any Negro district where the Negroes turn for their advancement primarily to political life.
The indirect indebtedness of the White Race to Booker T. Washington is due to the simple fact that here in America we are all in the end going up or down together; and therefore, in the long run, the man who makes a substantial contribution toward uplifting any part of the community has helped to uplift all of the community. Wherever in our land the Negro remains uneducated, and liable to criminal suggestion, it is absolutely certain that the whites will themselves tend to tread the paths of barbarism; and wherever we find the colored people as a whole engaged in successful work to better themselves, and respecting both themselves and others, there we shall also find the tone of the white community high.
The patriotic white man with an interest in the welfare of this country is almost as heavily indebted to Booker T. Washington as the colored men themselves.
If there is any lesson, more essential than any other, for this country to learn, it is the lesson that the enjoyment of rights should be made conditional upon the performance of duty. For one failure in the history of our country which is due to the people not asserting their rights, there are hundreds due to their not performing their duties. This is just as true of the White Man as it is of the Colored Man. But it is a lesson even more important to be taught the Colored Man, because the Negro starts at the bottom of the ladder and will never develop the strength to climb even a single rung if he follow the lead of those who dwell only upon their rights and not upon their duties. He has a hard road to travel anyhow. He is certain to be treated with much injustice, and although he will encounter among white men a number who wish to help him upward and onward, he will encounter only too many who, if they do him no bodily harm, yet show a brutal lack of consideration for him. Nevertheless his one safety lies in steadily keeping in view that the law of service is the great law of life, above all in this Republic, and that no man of color can benefit either himself or the rest of his race, unless he proves by his life his adherence to this law. Such a life is not easy for the White Man, and it is very much less easy for the Black Man; but it is even more important for the Black Man, and for the Black Man's people, that he should lead it.
As nearly as any man I have ever met, Booker T. Washington lived up to Micah's verse, "What more doth the Lord require of thee than to do Justice and love Mercy and walk humbly with thy God." He did justice to every man. He did justice to those to whom it was a hard thing to do justice. He showed mercy; and this meant that he showed mercy not only to the poor, and to those beneath him, but that he showed mercy by an understanding of the shortcomings of those who failed to do him justice, and failed to do his race justice. He always understood and acted upon the belief that the Black Man could not rise if he so acted as to incur the enmity and hatred of the White Man; that it was of prime importance to the well-being of the Black Man to earn the good will of his white neighbor, and that the bulk of the Black Men who dwell in the Southern States must realize that the White Men who are their immediate physical neighbors are beyond all others those whose good will and respect it is of vital consequence that the Black Men of the South should secure.
He was never led away, as the educated Negro so often is led away, into the pursuit of fantastic visions; into the drawing up of plans fit only for a world of two dimensions. He kept his high ideals, always; but he never forgot for a moment that he was living in an actual world of three dimensions, in a world of unpleasant facts, where those unpleasant facts have to be faced; and he made the best possible out of a bad situation from which there was no ideal best to be obtained. And he walked humbly with his God.
To a very extraordinary degree he combined humility and dignity; and I think that the explanation of this extraordinary degree of success in a very difficult combination was due to the fact that at the bottom his humility was really the outward expression, not of a servile attitude toward any man, but of the spiritual fact that in very truth he walked humbly with his God.
Nowhere was Booker T. Washington's wisdom shown better than in the mixture of moderation and firmness with which he took precisely the right position as to the part the Black Man should try to take in politics. He put the whole case in a nutshell in the following sentences:
"In my opinion it is a fatal mistake to teach the young black man and the young white man that the dominance of the white race in the South rests upon any other basis than absolute justice to the weaker man. It is a mistake to cultivate in the mind of any individual or group of individuals the feeling and belief that their happiness rests upon the misery of some one else, or their wealth upon the poverty of some one else. I do not advocate that the Negro make politics or the holding of office an important thing in his life. I do urge, in the interests of fair play for everybody, that a Negro who prepares himself in property, in intelligence, and in character to cast a ballot, and desires to do so, should have the opportunity."
In other words, while he did not believe that political activity should play an important part among Negroes as a whole, he did believe that in the interests of the White, as well as in the interests of the Colored race, the upright, honest, intelligent Black Man or Colored Man should be given the right to cast a ballot if he possessed the qualities which, if possessed by a White Man, would make that White Man a valuable addition to the suffrage-exercising class.
No man, White or Black, was more keenly alive than Booker T. Washington to the threat of the South, and to the whole country, and especially to the Black Man himself, contained in the mass of ignorant, propertyless, semi-vicious Black voters, wholly lacking in the character which alone fits a race for self-government, who nevertheless have been given the ballot in certain Southern States.
In my many conversations and consultations with him it is, I believe, not an exaggeration to say that one-half the time we were discussing methods for keeping out of office, and out of all political power, the ignorant, semi-criminal, shiftless Black Man who, when manipulated by the able and unscrupulous politician, Black or White, is so dreadful a menace to our political institutions. But he felt very strongly, and I felt no less strongly, that one of the most efficient ways of warring against this evil type was to show the Negro that, if he turned his back on that type, and fitted himself to be a self-respecting citizen, doing his part in sustaining the common burdens of good citizenship, he would be freely accorded by his White neighbors the privileges and rights of good citizenship. Surely there can be no objection to this. Surely there can be no serious objection thus to keep open the door of hope for the thoroughly decent, upright, self-respecting man, no matter what his color.
In the same way, while Booker T. Washington firmly believed that the attention of the Colored race should be riveted, not on political life, but on success sought in the fields of honest business endeavor, he also felt, and I agreed with him, that it was to the interest of both races that there should be appointments to office of Black Men whose characters and abilities were such that if they were White Men their appointments would be hailed as being well above the average, and creditable from every standpoint. He also felt, and I agreed with him, that it was essential that these appointments should be made relatively most numerous in the North—for it is worse than useless to preach virtue to others, unless the preachers themselves practise it; which means that the Northern communities, which pride themselves on possessing the proper attitude toward the Negro, should show this attitude by their own acts within their own borders.
I profited very much by my association with Booker T. Washington. I owed him much along many different lines. I valued greatly his friendship and respect; and when he died I mourned his loss as a patriot and an American.
Sagamore Hill, August 28, 1916.
FOREWORD BY ROBERT R. MOTON v
AUTHORS' PREFACE vii
PREFACE BY THEODORE ROOSEVELT ix
I. THE MAN AND HIS SCHOOL IN THE MAKING 3
II. LEADER OF HIS RACE 19
III. WASHINGTON: THE EDUCATOR 57
IV. THE RIGHTS OF THE NEGRO 82
V. MEETING RACE PREJUDICE 107
VI. GETTING CLOSE TO THE PEOPLE 135
VII. BOOKER WASHINGTON AND THE NEGRO FARMER 164
VIII. BOOKER WASHINGTON AND THE NEGRO BUSINESS MAN 185
IX. BOOKER WASHINGTON AMONG HIS STUDENTS 222
X. RAISING HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS A YEAR 248
XI. MANAGING A GREAT INSTITUTION 272
XII. WASHINGTON: THE MAN 300
Booker T. Washington Frontispiece
Tuskegee in the making. Nothing delighted Mr. Washington more than to see his students doing the actual work of erecting the Tuskegee Institute buildings 12
Tuskegee Institute students laying the foundation for one of the four Emery buildings 14
"His influence, like that of his school, was at first community wide, then county wide, then State wide, and finally nation wide" 16
A study in black. Note the tensity of expression with which the group is following his each and every word 32
Showing some of the teams of farmers attending the Annual Tuskegee Negro Conference 58
An academic class. A problem in brick masonry 62
Mr. Washington in characteristic pose addressing an audience 136
Mr. Washington silhouetted against the crowd upon one of his educational tours 136
Mr. Washington in typical pose speaking to an audience 136
A party of friends who accompanied Dr. Washington on one of his educational tours 138
This old woman was a regular attendant at the Tuskegee Negro Conference 170
The cosmopolitan character of the Tuskegee student body is shown by the fact that during the past year students have come from the foreign countries or colonies of foreign countries indicated by the various flags shown in this picture 238
In 1906 the Tuskegee Institute celebrated its 25th Anniversary. A group of well-known American characters attended 248
Some of Mr. Washington's humble friends 274
Soil analysis. The students are required to work out in the laboratory the problems of the field and the shop 274
Mr. Washington was a great believer in the sweet potato 280
Mr. Washington had this picture especially posed to show off to the best advantage a part of the Tuskegee dairy herd 290
Mr. Washington feeding his chickens with green stuffs raised in his own garden 306
Mr. Washington in his onion patch 306
Mr. Washington sorting in his lettuce bed 306
BOOKER T. WASHINGTON
BUILDER OF A CIVILIZATION
THE MAN AND HIS SCHOOL IN THE MAKING
It came about that in the year 1880, in Macon County, Alabama, a certain ex-Confederate colonel conceived the idea that if he could secure the Negro vote he could beat his rival and win the seat he coveted in the State Legislature. Accordingly, the colonel went to the leading Negro in the town of Tuskegee and asked him what he could do to secure the Negro vote, for Negroes then voted in Alabama without restriction. This man, Lewis Adams by name, himself an ex-slave, promptly replied that what his race most wanted was education and what they most needed was industrial education, and that if he (the colonel) would agree to work for the passage of a bill appropriating money for the maintenance of an industrial school for Negroes, he (Adams) would help to get for him the Negro vote and the election. This bargain between an ex-slaveholder and an ex-slave was made and faithfully observed on both sides, with the result that the following year the Legislature of Alabama appropriated $2,000 a year for the establishment of a normal and industrial school for Negroes in the town of Tuskegee. On the recommendation of General Armstrong of Hampton Institute a young colored man, Booker T. Washington, a recent graduate of and teacher at the Institute, was called from there to take charge of this landless, buildingless, teacherless, and studentless institution of learning.
This move turned out to be a fatal mistake in the political career of the colonel. The appellation of "nigger lover" kept him ever after firmly wedged in his political grave. Thus, by the same stroke, was the career of an ex-slaveholder wrecked and that of an ex-slave made. This political blunder of a local office-seeker gave to education one of its great formative institutions, to the Negro race its greatest leader, and to America one of its greatest citizens.
One is tempted to feel that Booker T. Washington was always popular and successful. On the contrary, for many years he had to fight his way inch by inch against the bitterest opposition, not only of the whites, but of his own race. At that time there was scarcely a Negro leader of any prominence who was not either a politician or a preacher. In the introduction to "Up from Slavery," Mr. Walter H. Page says of his first experience many years ago with Booker Washington: "I had occasion to write to him, and I addressed him as 'The Rev. Booker T. Washington.' In his reply there was no mention of my addressing him as a clergyman. But when I had occasion to write to him again, and persisted in making him a preacher, his second letter brought a postscript: 'I have no claim to Rev.' I knew most of the colored men who at that time had become prominent as leaders of their race, but I had not then known one who was neither a politician nor a preacher; and I had not heard of the head of an important colored school who was not a preacher. 'A new kind of man in the colored world,' I said to myself—'a new kind of man surely if he looks upon his task as an economic one instead of a theological one."
And just because Booker Washington did look "upon his task as an economic one instead of a theological one" he was at first regarded with suspicion by most of the preachers of his race and by some openly denounced as irreligious and the founder of an irreligious school. Like so many men of greater opportunity in all ages and places, many of these Negro ministers confounded theology and religion. Finding no theology about Booker Washington or his school, they assumed there was no religion. Some of them even went so far as to warn their congregations from the pulpit to keep away from this Godless man and his Godless school. To this formidable and at first almost universal opposition from the leaders among his own people was added the more natural opposition of the neighboring white men who assumed that he was "spoiling the niggers" by education. A youth with a high collar, loud necktie, checked suit, and patent-leather shoes, dangling a cane, smoking a cigarette, and loitering impudently on a street corner was their mental picture of an educated Negro.
Among the original group of thirty students with whom Mr. Washington started Tuskegee Institute on an old plantation equipped with a kitchen, a stable, and a hen-house, was a now elderly man who to-day has charge of the spacious and beautiful grounds of the Institute. He was approaching middle age when he entered this original Tuskegee class. The following is a paraphrase of his account of the early days of the school: "After we'd been out on the plantation three or four weeks Mr. Washington came into the schoolroom and said: 'To-morrow we're going to have a chopping bee. All of you that have an axe, or can borrow one, must bring it. I will try and provide those of you who cannot furnish an axe. We will dismiss school early to-morrow afternoon and start for the chopping bee.' So we came to school next day with the axes, all of us that could get them; we were all excited and eager for that chopping bee, and we were all discussing what it would be like, because we had never been to one before. So in the afternoon Mr. Washington said it was time for that chopping bee, so he put his axe over his shoulder and led us to the woods and put us to work cutting the trees and clearing the land. He went right in and worked harder and faster and handled his axe better than any of us. After a while we found that a chopping bee, as he called it, was no different from just plain cutting down trees and clearing the land. There wasn't anything new about that—we all had had all we wanted of it. Some of the boys said they didn't come to school to cut down trees and clear land, but they couldn't say they were too good for that kind of work when Mr. Washington himself was at it harder than any of them. So he kept with us for some days till everybody had his idea. Then he went off to do something more important.
"Now, in those days he used to go off every Saturday morning and he wouldn't come back till Monday morning. He'd travel all round the country drumming up students for the school and telling the people to send their children. And on Sunday he'd get the preachers to let him get up in their pulpits and tell the people about the school after they had finished preaching. And the preachers would warn their people against him and his school, because they said it wasn't Methodist, and it wasn't Baptist, and it wasn't Presbyterian, and it wasn't Episcopalian, and it wasn't Christian. And they told the people to keep their children away from that Godless man and his school. But when he came along and asked to speak to the people they had to leave him, just as everybody always did—let him do just what he wanted to do. And when they heard him, the people, they didn't pay no attention to the preachers, they just sent their children as fast as ever they could contrive it.
"Now, in those days Mr. Washington didn't have a horse, nor a mule, nor a wagon, and he wanted to cover more country on those trips than he could afoot, so he'd just go out in the middle of the road and when some old black man would come along driving his mule wagon he'd stop him and talk with him, and tell him about the school and what it was going to do for the black folks, and then he'd say: 'Now, Uncle, you can help by bringing your wagon and mule round at nine o'clock Saturday morning for me to go off round the country telling the people about the school. Now, remember, Uncle Jake, please be here promptly at nine,' and the old man would say, 'Yes, boss, I sure will be here!' That was how he did it—when he needed anything he'd go out and put his hand on it. First, he could put his hand on anything he wanted round the town; then, he could put his hand on anything he wanted all over the county; then he could put his hand on anything he wanted all over the State; and then finally they do tell me he could put his hand on anything he wanted away up to New York.
"In those days, after we came to live here on the 'plantation,' I used to take the wheelbarrow and go round to the office when Mr. Washington opened up the mail in the morning, and if there was money in the mail then I could go along to the town with the wheelbarrow and get provisions, and if there was no money then there was no occasion to go to town, and we'd just eat what we had left. Most of the white storekeepers wouldn't give us credit, and they didn't want a 'nigger school' here anyhow. Times have changed. Now those storekeepers get a large proportion of their trade here at the Institute, and if there should be any talk of moving, they'd just get up and fight to the last to keep us here and keep our trade.
"And in those days the Negro preachers, or the most of them, and the white folks, or the most of them, were always trying to dispute with Mr. Washington and quarrel with him, but he just kept his mouth shut and went ahead. He kept pleasant and he wouldn't dispute with them, nor argue with them, nor quarrel with them. When the white folks would come round and tell him he was 'spoiling good niggers by education,' he would just ask them to wait patiently and give him time to show them what the right kind of education would do. And when the colored preachers would come round and tell him he was no Christian, and his school had no religion, he would ask them to just wait and see if the boys and girls were any less Christian because of the education they were getting. But whoever came along and whatever happened Mr. Washington just kept his mouth shut and went ahead.
"After two years of school I went out and rented some land and planted cotton, and just about time to harvest my crop Mr. Washington sent for me one Saturday and said: 'I need you. I want you to come back and work for the school on the farm. I want you to start in Monday morning.' When I told him about my cotton crop just ready to be picked he said: 'Can't help that, we need you. You'll have to arrange with your neighbors to harvest your crop for you.'"
To the inquiry, "Well, did you come?" the old man replied, "Of course I did. When Mr. Washington said come I came same as everybody did what he told them. I got a neighbor to harvest my crop and I lost money on it, but I came to work that Monday morning more than thirty years ago, and I've been here ever since."
The idea of not doing what Mr. Washington wanted him to do, or even arguing the matter, was evidently inconceivable to this old man. He had always obeyed Mr. Washington just as he had obeyed the laws of nature by sleeping and eating. That is the kind of control which Booker Washington always exercised over his fellow-workers. He accepted their implicit obedience as naturally and simply as they gave it.
As Mr. Page also points out in the introduction to "Up from Slavery," however humble Mr. Washington's origin may have been, what might be termed his intellectual pedigree was of the highest and finest. He may be called, in fact, the spiritual grandson of the great Dr. Mark Hopkins of Williams College. Just as Samuel Armstrong was perhaps the most receptive of Mark Hopkins' pupils, so Booker Washington became the most receptive pupil of Samuel Armstrong. As says Mr. Page: "To the formation of Mr. Washington's character, then, went the missionary zeal of New England, influenced by one of the strongest personalities in modern education, and the wide-reaching moral earnestness of General Armstrong himself." In his autobiography Mr. Washington thus describes General Armstrong's influence and the impression he made upon him: "It has been my fortune to meet personally many of what are called great characters, both in Europe and America, but I do not hesitate to say that I never met any man who, in my estimation, was the equal of General Armstrong. Fresh from the degrading influences of the slave plantation and the coal mines, it was a rare privilege for me to be permitted to come into direct contact with such a character as General Armstrong. I shall always remember that the first time I went into his presence he made the impression upon me of being a perfect man; I was made to feel that there was something about him that was superhuman. It was my privilege to know the General personally from the time I entered Hampton till he died, and the more I saw of him the greater he grew in my estimation. One might have removed from Hampton all the buildings, classrooms, teachers, and industries, and given the men and women there the opportunity of coming into daily contact with General Armstrong, and that alone would have been a liberal education. (This recalls President Garfield's definition of a university when he said, 'my idea of a university is a log with Mark Hopkins on one end and a boy on the other.') The older I grow, the more I am convinced that there is no education which one can get from books and costly apparatus that is equal to that which can be gotten from contact with great men and women. Instead of studying books so constantly, how I wish that our schools and colleges might learn to study men and things!"
When the young man imbued with these ideas and fresh from these influences found himself responsible for the destinies of a studentless, teacherless, buildingless, and landless school it is significant how he went to work to supply these manifold deficiencies. First, he found a place in which to open the school—a dilapidated shanty church, the A.M.E. Zion Church for Negroes, in the town of Tuskegee. Next he went about the surrounding countryside, found out exactly under what conditions the people were living and what their needs were, and advertised the school among the class of people whom he wanted to have attend it. After returning from these experiences he said: "I saw more clearly than ever the wisdom of the system which General Armstrong had inaugurated at Hampton. To take the children of such people as I had been among for a month, and each day give them a few hours of mere book education, I felt would be almost a waste of time."
Six weeks after the school was opened, on July 4, 1881, in the shanty Methodist Church with thirty students, Miss Olivia A. Davidson entered the school, the enrollment of which had already grown to fifty, as assistant teacher. She subsequently became Mrs. Washington. The school then had students, a teacher, and a building such as it was, but it had no land. It was succeeding in so far as teaching these eager and knowledge hungry young people what could be learned from books, but little more. Mr. Washington found that about 85 per cent. of the Negroes of the Gulf States lived on the land and were dependent upon agriculture for their livelihood. Hence, he reasoned that it was of supreme importance to teach them how to live on the land to the best advantage. In order to teach the students how to live on the land the school itself must have land. About this time an old plantation near the town of Tuskegee came upon the market. The school had no money. Mr. Washington had no money, and the $2,000 a year from the State Treasury could be used only for the payment of teachers. Accordingly Mr. Washington personally borrowed the $250, from a personal friend, necessary to secure title to the land, and moved the school from the shanty church to the comparative comfort of four aged cabins formerly used as the dining-room, kitchen, stable, and hen-house of the plantation.
And as soon as they were established in their new quarters he organized the "chopping bee" already described and cleared some of the land so that it could be used for crops. He did not clear and plant this land to give his students agricultural training. He did it for the purpose that all land was originally cleared and planted—to get food. He, of course, realized that the educational content of this work was great—greater than any possible textbook exercises in the classroom. He then and there began the long and difficult task of teaching his people that physical work, and particularly farm work, if rightly done was education, and that education was work. To secure the acceptance of this truth by a race only recently emancipated from over two hundred years of unrequited toil—a race that had always regarded freedom from the necessity for work as an indication of superiority—was not a hopeful task. To them education was the antithesis of work. It was the magic elixir which emancipated all those fortunate enough to drink of it from the necessity for work.
He also began to emphasize at this time his familiar dictum that learning to do the common things of life in an uncommon way was an essential part of real education. Probably the reverse of this dictum, namely, learning to do the uncommon things of life in a common way—would have more nearly corresponded to the popular conception of education among most Negroes and many whites.
Mr. Washington later developed a brickyard where, after a series of failures sufficient to convince any ordinary man of the hopelessness of the enterprise, they finally succeeded in baking creditable bricks which were used by the students in the construction of buildings for the school. He did not start this brickyard for the purpose of vocational training any more than he started the farm for agricultural training. He started it because they needed bricks with which to build buildings in which to live, just as he started the farm to raise food upon which to live. He saw to it, however, that the brickyard was used as an instrument of education and was never allowed to degenerate into a mere brickyard and nothing more, just as he saw to it that the farm was used as a means of education and was not allowed to degenerate into a mere farm and nothing more. It was even more difficult to persuade the students that the hard, heavy, dirty work of the brickyard was education than it had been to persuade them that farm work was education. Mr. Washington wasted no time in arguing this point, however, but merely insisted that without bricks they could not put up proper buildings, and that without buildings they could not have such a school as they must have not only for themselves but for their race.
So this originally landless, buildingless, studentless, and teacherless school came eventually to have all four of these obvious requisites, but it still lacked a fundamental requirement for the effective fulfillment of its purpose. It lacked a boarding department where the students might learn to live. In his tours among the people Mr. Washington had found the great majority in the plantation districts living on fat pork and corn bread, and sleeping in one-room cabins. They planted nothing but cotton, bought their food at the nearest village or town market instead of raising it, and lived under conditions where the fundamental laws of hygiene and decent social intercourse were both unknown and impossible of application. The young men and women from such homes must be taught how to live in houses with more than one room, how to keep their persons and their surroundings clean, how to sleep in a bed between sheets, how not only to raise but to prepare, serve, and eat a healthful variety of proper food at regular and stated intervals, to say nothing of a trade by which to maintain themselves both during their course and after graduation as well as the usual book learning of the ordinary school. Obviously they could not be taught these things unless they lived day and night on the school grounds instead of boarding about with people whose standards of living were very little if at all higher than those of their homes. Accordingly volunteers were called for, and the students made an excavation under their new brick building which was made into a basement kitchen and dining-room. As Mr. Washington says in "Up from Slavery," "We had nothing but the students and their appetites with which to begin a boarding department." As soon as this boarding department was established it became possible to influence directly the lives of the students during the entire twenty-four hours of the day. From then on each student was required to have and to use a toothbrush. Mr. Washington has since remarked that, in his opinion, the toothbrush is the most potent single instrument of civilization. Then, too, it was possible for him to begin to enforce this injunction taken from one of his now well-known Sunday night talks, "Make a study of the preparation of food. See to it that a certain ceremony, a certain importance, be attached to the partaking of the food——" This exhortation sounds so commonplace as to be scarcely noticed by the average reader, but just put yourself in the place of one of these boys or girls who came from a one-room cabin and realize what a profoundly revolutionary, even sensational, injunction it is! To the boy or girl who had snatched a morsel of food here, there, or anywhere when prompted by the gnawings of hunger, who had never sat down to a regular meal, who had never partaken of a meal placed upon a table with or without ceremony—imagine what it meant to such a boy or girl "to see to it that a certain ceremony, a certain importance, be attached to the partaking of the food"—not on special occasions but at each one of the three meals of each day!
Finally it came about that this school which had started with a paltry $2,000 a year, a great need, and the invincible determination of one man, came to have land, buildings, teachers, students, and even a boarding department. But in Mr. Washington's view there was still a great fundamental lack in their work. They were doing nothing directly to help those less fortunate than themselves—those about them who could not come and enjoy the advantages of the school. Mr. Washington held that as soon as an individual got hold of anything as useful and desirable as education he should take immediate means to hand it on to the greatest possible number of those who needed it. He had no patience with those persons who would climb the tree of knowledge and then pull the ladder up after them.
He and his teachers then began to go out on Sundays and give the people homely talks on how to improve their living conditions. They encouraged the farmers to come to the school farm and learn how to grow a variety of crops to supplement the cotton crop which was their sole reliance. They relieved the distress of individual families. Mrs. Washington gathered together in an old loft the farmers' wives and daughters who were in the habit of loafing about the village of Tuskegee on Saturday afternoons and formed them into a woman's club for the improvement of the living conditions in their homes and communities. Mr. Washington and his teachers went right on to the farms and into the homes, and into the churches and the schools, and everywhere showed, for the most part by concrete object-lessons, how they could make their farms more productive, their homes more comfortable, their schools more useful, and their church services more inspiring. All this was done not with an idea of starting an extension department or a social service department, but merely because these people needed help, and Mr. Washington knew that both teachers and students would help themselves in helping them. Finally, chiefly through the efforts of Mrs. Washington, a model country school was established in the district adjoining the Institute's property. This school is a farm home where the young teacher and his wife, both graduates of Tuskegee, teach the boys and girls who come to them each day how to live on a farm—teach them by practice and object-lesson as well as by precept. They follow the ordinary country school curriculum, but that is a small and relatively unimportant part of what this school gives its pupils. Then, too, the teachers of Tuskegee early started campaigns looking to the extending of the school terms throughout Macon County and the adjoining counties from three to five months, as was customary, to nine months.
And this work of Tuskegee beyond its own borders grew as constantly in volume and extent as the work within its borders, so that Tuskegee soon became the vital force—the yeast that was raising the level of life and well-being throughout, first, the town and neighborhood of Tuskegee, then the County of Macon, then the surrounding counties and the State of Alabama; and finally, in conjunction with its mother, Hampton, and its children situated at strategic points throughout the South, the entire Negro people of the South, and indirectly the whole nation.
And as the school grew, so grew the man whose life was its embodiment. It is impossible to think of Booker Washington and Tuskegee separately. Just as he typified Tuskegee, so Tuskegee typified him. Just as he made the school, so the school made him. His influence, like that of his school, was at first community wide, then county wide, then State wide, and finally nation wide.
LEADER OF HIS RACE
In 1895, fourteen years after the founding of Tuskegee Institute, Booker T. Washington was selected to represent his race at the opening of the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia. On this occasion he mounted the platform, to make the first address which any member of his race had ever made before any representative body of Southern men and women, as an obscure but worthy young colored man who had commended himself to a few thinking persons by building up an excellent industrial school for his people. He came off that platform amid scenes of almost hysterical enthusiasm and was thenceforth proclaimed as the leader of his race, the Moses of his people, and one of America's great men.
In this epoch-making speech Booker Washington had presented a solution of an apparently insoluble problem. He had offered a platform upon which, as Clark Howell said in the Atlanta Constitution, "both races, blacks and whites, could stand with full justice to each." In the course of the speech he told this story: "A ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel. From the mast of the unfortunate vessel was seen a signal: 'Water, water; we die of thirst!' The answer from the friendly vessel at once came back: 'Cast down your bucket where you are.' A second time the signal, 'Water, water, send us water!' ran up from the distressed vessel, and was answered: 'Cast down your bucket where you are.' And a third and fourth signal for water was answered, 'Cast down your bucket where you are.' The captain of the distressed vessel, at last heeding the injunction, cast down his bucket, and it came up full of fresh, sparkling water from the mouth of the Amazon River." He then appealed to his own people to "cast down their buckets where they were" by making friends with their white neighbors in every manly way, by training themselves where they were in agriculture, in mechanics, in commerce, instead of trying to better their condition by migration. And finally to the Southern white people he appealed "to cast down their buckets where they were" by using and training the Negroes whom they knew rather than seeking to import foreign laborers whom they did not know.
When he reached the crux and climax of the speech—the delicate matter of the relations between the races, socially—he held up his right hand with his fingers outstretched and said: "In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress." At this remark the audience went wild! Ladies stood on their chairs and waved their handkerchiefs, while men threw up their hats, danced, and catcalled. An old ante-bellum Negro, who had been sitting crosslegged in one of the aisles, wept tears of pride and joy as he swayed from side to side. By this statement, with what had led up to it, Booker Washington captured the allegiance of all really representative Southern whites, and by consistently adhering to this position he, in an ever-increasing degree, won and held their allegiance till the end.
Frederick Douglass, the great leader of his race during the closing days of slavery, during the War and the Reconstruction period, had died only a few months before. Everywhere, by leading whites, as well as blacks, Washington was acclaimed as the successor of Douglass—the new leader of the Negro race. One of the first colored men so to acclaim him was Emmett J. Scott, who was then editing a Negro newspaper in Houston, Texas, and little realized that he was to become the most intimate associate of the new leader. In an editorial Mr. Scott said of this address: "Without resort to exaggeration, it is but simple justice to call the address great. It was great! Great, in that it exhibited the speaker's qualities of head and heart; great in that he could and did discriminately recognize conditions as they affect his people, and greater still in the absolute modesty, self-respect, and dignity with which he presented a platform upon which, as Clark Howell, of the Atlanta Constitution says: 'both races, blacks and whites, can stand with full justice to each.'" Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Booker Washington's leadership was that from that time on he never deviated one hair's breadth in word or deed from the platform laid down in this brief address.
It was not to be expected, however, that such a radically new note in Negro leadership could be struck without some discord. As was perfectly natural, some more or less prominent Negroes, whose mental processes followed the lines of cleavage between the races engendered by the embittering experiences of the Reconstruction period, looked with suspicion upon a Negro leader who had won the approbation of the South, of leading white citizens, press, and public. In the days of slavery it was a frequent custom on large plantations to use one of the slaves as a kind of stool pigeon to spy upon the others and report their misdeeds. Naturally such persons were hated and despised and looked upon as traitors to their race. Hence, it came about that the praise of a white man was apt to throw suspicion upon the racial loyalty of a black man. This habit of mind, like all mental habits, long survived the system and circumstances which occasioned it. Therefore, it was inevitable that the fact that the white press throughout the South rang with his praises for days and weeks after the sensationally enthusiastic reception of his speech at the exposition should not be accepted as a desirable endorsement of the new leader by at least a few of his own people.
A more or less conspicuous colored preacher summed up this slight undertow of dissent when he said: "I want to pay my respects next to a colored man. He is a great man, too, but he isn't our Moses, as the white people are pleased to call him. I allude to Booker T. Washington. He has been with the white people so long that he has learned to throw sop with the rest. He made a speech at Atlanta the other day, and the newspapers of all the large cities praised it and called it the greatest speech ever delivered by a colored man. When I heard that, I said: 'There must be something wrong with it, or the white people would not be praising it so.' I got the speech and read it. Then I said, 'Ah, here it is,' and I read his words, 'the colored people do not want social equality.' (This man's interpretation of this sentence in the speech, "The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly, and that progress in the enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing.") I tell you that is a lie. We do want social equality. Why, don't you want your manhood recognized? Then Mr. Washington said that our emancipation and enfranchisement were untimely and a mistake; that we were not ready for it. (Naturally, Mr. Washington said no such thing.) What did he say that for but to tickle the palates of the white people? Oh, yes, he was shrewd. He will get many hundreds of dollars for his school by it."
Let it not be thought that this attitude represented any large or important body of opinion among the Negroes. The great majority both of the leaders and the rank and file enthusiastically accepted both the new leader and his new kind of leadership. The small minority, however, holding the view of the preacher quoted, continued to cause Booker Washington some annoyance, which, although continuously lessening, persisted in some degree throughout his life. This numerically small and individually unimportant element of the Negroes in America would hardly warrant even passing mention except that the always carping and sometimes bitter criticisms of these persons are apt to confuse the well-wishers of the race who do not understand the situation.
The Negroes holding this point of view are sometimes pleased to refer to themselves as the Talented Tenth. They are largely city dwellers who have had more or less of what they term "higher education"—Latin, Greek, Theology, and the like. A number of these persons make all or a part of their living by publicly bewailing the wrongs and injustices of their race and demanding their redress by immediate means. Mr. Washington's emphasis upon the advantages of Negroes in America and the debt of gratitude which they owe to the whites, who have helped them to make more progress in fifty years than any other race ever made in a like period, is naturally very annoying to this type of person. In spite of their constant abuse of him Mr. Washington some years ago agreed to confer with the leaders of this faction to see if a program could not be devised through which all could work together instead of at cross purposes. In spite of the fact that the chief exponent of this group opened the first meeting with a bitter attack upon Mr. Washington, such a program was adopted, to which, before the conferences were over, all duly and amicably agreed to adhere. Some of the more restless spirits among the leaders of the Talented Tenth soon, however, broke their pledges, repudiated the whole arrangement, and started in as before to denounce Mr. Washington and those who thought and acted with him.
After the Atlanta speech Mr. Washington's task was a dual one. While the active head of his great and rapidly growing institution, he was also the generally accepted leader of his race. It is with his leadership of his race that we are concerned in this chapter. His duties in this capacity were vast and ill defined, and his responsibility exceedingly heavy. He said, himself, that when he first came to be talked of as the leader of his race he was somewhat at a loss to know what was expected of him in that capacity. His tasks in this direction, however, were thrust upon him so thick and fast that he had not long to remain in this state of mind. After the Atlanta speech he was in almost daily contact with what was befalling his people in all parts of the country and to some extent all over the world. Through his press clipping service, supplemented by myriads of letters and personal reports, practically every event of any significance to his race came to his notice. When he heard of rioting, lynching, or serious trouble in any community he sent a message of advice, encouragement, or warning to the leading Negroes of the locality and sometimes to the whites whom he knew to be interested in the welfare of the Negroes. When the trouble was sufficiently serious to warrant it he went in person to the scene. When he heard of a Negro winning a prize at a county fair, or being placed in some position of unusual trust and distinction, he wrote him a letter of congratulation and learned the circumstances so that he might cite the incident by way of encouragement to others.
After the riots in Atlanta, Georgia, some years ago, when infuriated white mobs foiled in their efforts to lynch a Negro murderer, burned, killed, and laid waste right and left in the Negro section of the town, Mr. Washington, who was in the North at the time, boarded the first train for the city, arrived just after the bloody scenes, gathered together his frightened people amid the smoking ruins of their homes, soothed, calmed, and cheered them. He then went to the leading city officials, secured from them a promise of succor for the stricken people and protection against further attack. Next he went to the Governor of the State, secured his sympathy and cooperation, and with him organized a conference of leading State and city officials and other representative men who there and then mapped out a program tending to prevent the recurrence of such race riots—a program which up to the present time has successfully fulfilled its purpose. It is characteristic of Mr. Washington's methods that he turned this disaster into an ultimate blessing for the very community that was afflicted.
Mr. Washington was the kind of leader who kept very close to the plain people. He knew their every-day lives, their weaknesses, their temptations. To use a slang phrase, he knew exactly what they "were up against" whether they lived in country or city. Within a comparatively short period before his death he addressed two audiences as widely separated by distance and environment as the farmers gathered together for the first Negro Fair of southwestern Georgia at Albany, Georgia, and five thousand Negro residents of New York City assembled in the Harlem Casino. He told those Georgia farmers how much land they owned and to what extent it was mortgaged, how much land they leased, how much cotton they raised, and how much of other crops they raised, or, rather, did not raise; how many mules and hogs they owned, and how they could with profit increase their ownership in mules and hogs; he told them how many drug stores, grocery stores, and banks in the State and county were owned by Negroes; and then, switching from the general to the particular, he described the daily life of the ordinary, easy-going tenant farmer of the locality. He pictured what he saw when he came out of his unpainted house in the morning: that gate off the hinges, that broken window-pane with an old coat stuck into it, that cotton planted right up to the doors with no room left for a garden, and no garden; and, worse than all, the uncomfortable knowledge of debts concealed from the hard-working wife and mother. Then he pictured what that same man's place might be and should become.
It was once said of a certain eminent preacher that his logic was on fire. It might be said of Booker Washington that his statistics were on fire. He marshalled them in such a way that they were dynamic and stirring instead of static and paralyzing, as we all know them to our sorrow. It so happened that Mr. Washington had never before been in southwestern Georgia. After his speech one old farmer was heard to say as he shook his head: "I don't understan' it! Booker T. Washington he ain't never ben here befo', yit he knows mo' 'bout dese parts an' mo' 'bout us den what eny of us knows ourselves." This old man did not know that one of Mr. Washington's most painstaking and efficient assistants, Mr. Monroe N. Work, the editor of the Negro Year Book, devoted much of his time to keeping his chief provided with this startlingly accurate information about his people in every section of the United States.
On this occasion there were on the platform with Mr. Washington and the officials of the fair the Mayor of Albany and members of the City Council, while in the audience were several hundred whites on one side of the centre aisle and twice as many blacks on the other. And Mr. Washington would alternately address himself to his white and black audience. He would, for instance, turn to the white men and tell them that he had never known a particularly successful black man who could not trace his original success to the aid or encouragement he had received in one form or another from a white friend. He would tell them that without their assistance his race could never have made more progress in the last fifty years in this country than any similar group of people had ever made in a like period of time. After he had raised the white section of his audience to a high degree of self-congratulatory complaisance he would suddenly shift the tenor of his remarks and ask them why they should mar this splendid record by discriminating against the weaker race in matters of education, by destroying their confidence in the justice of the courts through mob violence, and by the numerous small, mean ways in which race prejudice shows itself and retards and discourages the upward struggle of a weaker people. As he proceeded along these lines one could see the self-congratulatory expression fade from the faces of his white listeners.
He would next turn to his own people and tell them of their phenomenal progress since emancipation and of the great and essential part they had played in the upbuilding of the South—left prostrate by the Civil War. One could see their eager, upturned faces glow with pride and self-satisfaction. But suddenly he would shift the tone of his comments and tell them how sadly those of them who were indolent and shiftless and unreliable and vicious were retarding the upward struggles of the industrious and self-respecting majority and how they were perpetuating the prejudice against the whole race. And as he pictured this seamy side of the situation one could see the glow of pride gradually wilt from the myriads of swarthy upturned faces.
Hardly less successful than his use of statistics was his use of the much-abused funny story. He never told a story, however good, for its own sake. He told it only when it would most effectively drive home whatever point he happened to be making. In this same speech he was saying that a Negro who is lazy and unreliable and does nothing to accumulate property or improve his earning capacity deserves no consideration from whites or blacks and has no right to say that the color line is drawn against him. By way of illustration he told this story: "A shiftless Southern poor white asked a self-respecting old black man for three cents with which to pay his ferry fare across a river. The old black man replied: I's sorry not to commerdate yer, boss, but der fac' is dat a man what ain't got three cents is jest as bad off on one side ob der ribber as der udder.'"
At another point in this speech he was telling his people not to be discouraged because their race has less to point to than other races in the way of past achievements. He said that after all it was the future that was of vital concern and not the past, and that the future was theirs to a peculiar degree because they were a young race. And to illustrate their situation he told of meeting old Aunt Caroline one evening striding along with a basket on her head. He said, "Where are you going, Aunt Caroline?" And she replied: "Lor' bless yer, Mister Washin'ton, I dun bin where I's er goin'." "And so," he concluded, "some of the races of the earth have dun bin where dey was er goin'!" but fortunately the Negro race was not among them.
In making the point that, in spite of race prejudice, the handicaps to which his people were subjected in the South were after all superficial and did not interfere with their chance to work and earn a living, he told the experience of an old Negro who was accompanying him on one of his Southern educational tours. At a certain city they were obliged to wait several hours between trains, so this old man took advantage of the opportunity to stroll about and see the sights of the place. After a while he pulled out his watch and found he had barely time to get back to the station before the train was due to leave. Accordingly he rushed to a hack stand and called out to the first driver he came to, who happened to be a white man: "Hurry up an' take me to the station, I's gotta get the 4:32 train!" To which the white hack driver replied: "I ain't never drove a nigger in my hack yit an' I ain't goin' ter begin now. You can git a nigger driver ter take ye down!"
To this the old colored man replied with perfect good nature: "All right, my frien', we won't have no misunderstanding or trouble; I'll tell you how we'll settle it: you jest hop in on der back seat an' do der ridin' and I'll set in front an' do der drivin'." In this way they reached the station amicably and the old man caught his train. Like this old Negro, Mr. Washington always devoted his energies to catching the train, and it made little difference to him whether he sat on the front or the back seat.
A few months later, to the five thousand people of his own race in the Harlem Casino in New York City, he described their daily lives, their problems, perplexities, and temptations in terms as homely, as picturesque, and as vivid as he used in talking to the Georgia farmers. He urged them, just as he did the farmers, to stop moving about and to settle down—"to stop staying here and there and everywhere and begin to live somewhere." He urged them to leave the little mechanical job of window washing, or what not, and go into business for themselves, even if they could only afford a few newspapers or peanuts to start with. He told of a certain New York street where he had found all the people on one side of a row of push carts were selling something, while all the people on the other side were buying something. Those that were selling were white people, while those that were buying were colored people. That, he said, was a color line they had drawn themselves. He reminded them of the high cost of living, and by way of example he commented upon the expense of having to buy so many shoes. He said: "Up here you not only have to have good, expensive shoes, but you have to wear them all the time." And then he reminded them how back in the country down South, before they came to the city, they would buy a pair of shoes at Christmas and after Christmas put them away in the "chist" and not take them out again until "big meeting day," and then wear them only in the meeting and not walking to and from the church. And as he concluded with the words, "Under those conditions shoes last a long time," people all over the audience were chuckling and nudging and winking at one another as people will when characteristic incidents in their past lives are graphically recalled to them.
Then he described the almost innumerable temptations to spend money which the city offers. Some of the store windows are so enticing that, as he said, "the dollars almost jump out of your pockets as you go by on the sidewalk." "Then you men working for rich men here in the city smell the smoke of so many twenty-five-cent cigars that after a while you feel as though you must smoke twenty-five-cent cigars. You don't stop to think that when the grandfathers of those very men first came from the country a hundred years ago they smoked two-for-five cigars." Then he told of a family he had found living on the tenth story of an electric-lighted, steam-heated apartment house with elevator service, and this very family only two years before was living in a two-room cabin in the Yazoo Valley on the Mississippi bottoms. And he commented: "Now, that family's in danger. No people can change as much and as fast as that without great danger!"
Next he touched on the high rents and said: "You mothers know that sooner or later you have to take in roomers to help pay that rent, and after a while you take in Tom, Dick, or Harry, or anybody who's got the money regardless of who or what they are, and you mothers know the danger that spells for your daughters." (At this point he was interrupted by a chorus of "amens" from women all over the great hall.) He continued: "Now, you take the 'old man' aside an' tell him straight, you're not going to have any more roomers hanging round your house—that he's got to hustle for a better job or go into some little business for himself, or move out into some little cottage in the country, or do something to get rid of those Tom, Dick, and Harry roomers."
In short, in this speech Mr. Washington showed that he knew just as intimately the lives of his people in the flats of Greater New York as on the farms of southwestern Georgia.
In spite of his grasp of details Mr. Washington never became so immersed in them as to lose sight of his ultimate goal, and conversely he never became so blinded by the vision of his ultimate goal as to overlook details. The solution of the so-called Negro problem in America, he felt, is to be found along these lines: As his people have more and more opportunity for training and become better and better trained they become more and more self-sufficient. They are developing their own carpenters, masons, blacksmiths, farmers, merchants, and bankers as well as lawyers, teachers, preachers, and physicians. These trained people naturally, for the most part, serve their own race, and to them the members of the race naturally turn for the service that each is equipped to render. As they acquire wealth, education, and cultivation, the persons possessing these advantages naturally intermingle socially and build up a society from which the rough, ignorant, and uncouth of their own race are as inevitably excluded as are such persons from all polite social intercourse of whatever people. These Negroes of education and cultivation no more desire to force themselves into the society of the other race than do any persons of real education and cultivation desire to go where they are not wanted. As the race increases in wealth and culture it becomes more and more easy and natural for its successful members to satisfy their social desires and ambitions in their own society. Already in the centres of Negro prosperity and culture it would be almost, if not quite, as impossible for a white man to be received into the best Negro society as it would for a Negro to be received into the best white society. This growing independence and self-sufficiency in the trades, the professions, and social intercourse leads inevitably, as he pointed out, to a form of natural segregation based upon economic needs and social preferences, and in conformity to the laws of nature, which is a very different matter from the artificial and arbitrary segregation forced upon unwilling people by the laws of men. Under these conditions the disputes as to whether the best society of the blacks is inferior or superior to the best society of the whites becomes as academic and futile as would be similar contentions as to whether the best society of Constantinople is inferior or superior to that of Boston.
While Negroes are more and more drawing apart from the whites into their own section of the city, town, or county they nevertheless find it a source of strength to live near the whites in order that they may have the benefit of their aid in those matters in which the older and stronger race excels. Nor is this an entirely one-sided advantage, as there are not a few matters in which the Negroes have natural advantages over the whites and hence may render them useful service. Thus the two races, socially separated but economically interdependent, may to mutual advantage live side by side.
Some persons claim that any such plan of race adjustment, while theoretically plausible and ideally desirable, is nevertheless practically impossible. They contend that no so radically different races have ever lived side by side in harmony and each aiding the other. However that may be, there remains the fact that such a harmonious and mutually helpful relationship between the two races does already exist in the town of Tuskegee, throughout Macon County, and in many other of the more progressive localities throughout the South to-day. And at the same time, the lynchings and riots and other manifestations of racial conflict are continuously if slowly growing less frequent. Whatever may be the relative strength of the two theories, the facts are lining up in support of the Booker Washington prophecy at the Atlanta Exposition when he said: "In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress."
During the last twenty years of his life Mr. Washington came more and more to be regarded as the representative and spokesman of his race, and was invited to represent and speak for them at such national and international gatherings as the annual conventions of the National Negro Business League, of which he was the president and founder; the great meeting in honor of the brotherhood of man, held in Boston in 1897; the Presbyterian rally for Home Missions, at which President Grover Cleveland presided; the International Sunday-school Convention held in Chicago in 1914; the meeting of the National Educational Association in St. Louis in 1904; the Thanksgiving Peace Jubilee in the Chicago Auditorium at the close of the war with Spain in 1898, with President McKinley and his Cabinet in attendance; the Commencement exercises at Harvard in 1896, when President Eliot conferred upon him the degree of Master of Arts; the International Conference on the Negro, held at Tuskegee in 1912, with representatives present from Europe, Africa, the West Indies, and South America, as well as all sections of the United States. Dartmouth College conferred his Doctorate upon him in 1901.
At Harvard in 1896 President Eliot, with these words, conferred upon Mr. Washington the first honorary degree ever conferred by a great university upon an American Negro: "Teacher, wise helper of his race; good servant of God and country." In his speech delivered at the Alumni Dinner on the same day Mr. Washington brought this message to Harvard: "If through me, an humble representative, seven millions of my people in the South might be permitted to send a message to Harvard—Harvard that offered up on death's altar young Shaw, and Russell, and Lowell, and scores of others, that we might have a free and united country—that message would be: 'Tell them that the sacrifice was not in vain. Tell them that by the way of the shop, the field, the skilled hand, habits of thrift and economy, by way of industrial school and college, we are coming. We are crawling up, working up, yea, bursting up. Often through oppression, unjust discrimination, and prejudice, but through them all we are coming up, and with proper habits, intelligence, and property, there is no power on earth that can permanently stay our progress!'"
The next year at the great meeting in honor of the brotherhood of man held in Music Hall, Boston, which concluded with the unveiling of the monument of Robert Gould Shaw, Booker Washington in concluding his address turned to the one-armed color bearer of Colonel Shaw's regiment and said: "To you, to the scarred and scattered remnants of the Fifty-fourth, who with empty sleeve and wanting leg have honored this occasion with your presence—to you, your commander is not dead. Though Boston erected no monument, and history recorded no story, in you and the loyal race which you represent Robert Gould Shaw will have a monument which time cannot wear away."
In his speech at the Peace Jubilee exercises after the war with Spain, Mr. Washington said: "When you have gotten the full story of the heroic conduct of the Negro in the Spanish-American War—heard it from the lips of Northern soldiers and Southern soldiers, from ex-abolitionist and ex-master—then decide within yourselves whether a race that is thus willing to die for its country should not be given the highest opportunity to live for its country." And again in the same speech, after rehearsing the successes of American arms, he said: "We have succeeded in every conflict, except the effort to conquer ourselves in the blotting out of racial prejudices.... Until we thus conquer ourselves, I make no empty statement when I say that we shall have, especially in the Southern part of our country, a cancer gnawing at the heart of the Republic that shall one day prove as dangerous as an attack from an army without or within." Note this as the language of a man on a great national occasion who has been accused of a time-serving acquiescence in the injustices which his race suffers!
In his address before the National Educational Association in St. Louis, in 1904, he made the following remarks which are typical of points he sought to emphasize when addressing audiences of white people: "Let me free your minds, if I can, from possible fear and apprehension in two directions: the Negro in this country does not seek, as a race, to exercise political supremacy over the white man, nor is social intermingling with any race considered by the Negro to be one of the essentials to his progress. You may not know it, but my people are as proud of their racial identity as you are of yours, and in the degree that they become intelligent, racial pride increases. I was never prouder of the fact that I am classed as a Negro than I am to-day.... I can point you to groups of my people in nearly every part of our country that in intelligence and high and unselfish purpose of their school and church life, and in the purity and sweetness of their home life and social intercourse, will compare favorably with the races of the earth. You can never lift any large section of people by continually calling attention to their weak points. A race, like a child in school, needs encouragement as well as chastisement."
In his address before the annual session of 1914 of the National Negro Business League at Muskogee, Oklahoma, Mr. Washington made the following remarks which are typical of his points of chief emphasis in addressing his own people: "Let your success thoroughly eclipse your shortcomings. We must give the world so much to think and talk about that relates to our constructive work in the direction of progress that people will forget and overlook our failures and shortcomings.... One big, definite fact in the direction of achievement and construction will go farther in securing rights and removing prejudice than many printed pages of defense and explanation.... Let us in the future spend less time talking about the part of the city that we cannot live in, and more time in making that part of the city that we can live in beautiful and attractive."
It is characteristic of the kind of criticism to which Mr. Washington was subjected that a certain element of the Negro press violently denounced this comment as an indirect endorsement of the legal segregation of Negroes. Probably the last article written by Mr. Washington for any publication was the one published posthumously by the New Republic, New York City, December 4, 1915, entitled, "My View of Segregation Laws," in which he stated in no uncertain terms his views on the segregation laws which were being passed in the South. In concluding his article, he said:
"Summarizing the matter in the large, segregation is ill-advised because:
1. It is unjust.
2. It invites other unjust measures.
3. It will not be productive of good, because practically every thoughtful Negro resents its injustice and doubts its sincerity. Any race adjustment based on injustice finally defeats itself. The Civil War is the best illustration of what results where it is attempted to make wrong right or seem to be right.
4. It is unnecessary.
5. It is inconsistent. The Negro is segregated from his white neighbor, but white business men are not prevented from doing business in Negro neighborhoods.
6. There has been no case of segregation of Negroes in the United States that has not widened the breach between the two races. Wherever a form of segregation exists it will be found that it has been administered in such a way as to embitter the Negro and harm more or less the moral fibre of the white man. That the Negro does not express this constant sense of wrong is no proof that he does not feel it.
"It seems to me that the reasons given above, if carefully considered, should serve to prevent further passage of such segregation ordinances as have been adopted in Norfolk, Richmond, Louisville, Baltimore, and one or two cities in South Carolina.
"Finally, as I have said in another place, as white and black learn daily to adjust, in a spirit of justice and fair play, these interests which are individual and racial, and to see and feel the importance of those fundamental interests which are common, so will both races grow and prosper. In the long run, no individual and no race can succeed which sets itself at war against the common good; for in the gain or loss of one race all the rest have equal claim."
In concluding his Muskogee speech he said: "If there are those who are inclined to be discouraged concerning racial conditions in this country we have but to turn our minds in the direction of the deplorable conditions in Europe, growing largely out of racial bitterness and friction. When we contrast what has taken place there with the peaceful manner in which black people and white people are living together in this country, notwithstanding now and then there are evidences of injustice and friction, which should always be condemned, we have the greatest cause for thanksgiving. Perhaps nowhere else in the world can be found so many white people living side by side with so many of dark skin in so much of peace and harmony as in the United States."
This concluding observation was particularly characteristic of him. Somewhere, or somehow, he always turned to account all significant events for weal or woe from the most trivial personal happenings to the titanic world war.
Like all great leaders, Booker Washington did the bulk of his work quietly in his own office and not on dramatic historic occasions before great audiences. He received every day, for instance, a huge and varied mail which required not only industry to handle, but much judgment, patience, and tact to dispose of wisely and adequately. We will here mention and quote from a sheaf of letters taken at random from his files which partially illustrate the range of his interests and the variety of the calls which were constantly made upon him.
A railroad official in Colorado asked his opinion on the question of separate schools for white and black children apropos of a movement to amend the State constitution so as to make possible such separate schools. In his reply Mr. Washington said: "As a rule, colored people in the Northern States are very much opposed to any plans for separate schools, and I think their feelings in the matter deserve consideration. The real objection to separate schools, from their point of view, is that they do not like to feel that they are compelled to go to one school rather than the other. It seems as if it was taking away part of their freedom. This feeling is likely to be all the stronger where the matter is made a subject of public agitation. On the other hand, my experience is that if this matter is left to the discretion of the school officials it usually settles itself. As the colored people usually live pretty closely together, there will naturally be schools in which colored students are in the majority. In that case, the process of separation takes place naturally and without the necessity of changing the constitution. If you make it a constitutional question, the colored people are going to be opposed to it. If you leave it simply an administrative question, which it really is, the matter will very likely settle itself."
We next find a courteous reply to the letter of some poor crank who wanted to secure his backing for a preparation which he had concocted for taking the curl out of Negroes' hair. Then comes a letter to a man who wants to know whether it is true that the Negro race is dying out. To him Mr. Washington quoted the United States census figures for 1910, which indicate an increase of 11-3/10 per cent. in the Negro population for the decade.
Next, we come upon a letter written to a man who is interested in an effort of the Freedman's Aid Society to raise a half a million dollars for Negro schools in the South. Since this letter so well describes an important phase of Booker Washington's leadership we give it almost in full. It was written in 1913 and runs thus:
"I think the most interesting work that Tuskegee has done in recent years is its work in rural schools in the country surrounding the Institute. During the last five or six years forty-seven school buildings have been erected in Macon County by colored people themselves. At the same time the school term has been lengthened in every part of the county from five to eight months. This work has been done under the direction of a supervising teacher working in connection with the extension department of the Institute.
"Among other things that have been attempted to encourage the people to improve their schools has been a model country school started in a community called Rising Star, a few miles from the Institute. The school at Rising Star is an example of the rural school that Tuskegee is seeking to promote. It consists of a five-room frame house in which the teachers—a Tuskegee graduate and his wife—not only teach, but live. All the rooms are used by the school children. In the kitchen they are taught to cook, in the dining-room to serve a meal, in the bedroom to make the beds. In the garden they are taught how to raise vegetables, poultry, pigs, and cows. They recite in the sitting-room or on the veranda, and their lessons all deal with matters of their own every-day life.... Instead of figuring how long it will take an express train to reach the moon if it travelled at the rate of forty miles an hour, the pupils figure out how much corn can be raised on neighbor Smith's patch of land and how much farmer Jones' pig will bring when slaughtered.
"The pupils learn neatness and cleanliness by living in a decent home during their school hours. They carry the lesson home, and the result is seen in cleaner and better farmhouses. The model school has become the pattern on which the farmers and their wives are improving their homes...."
Then comes a letter from a poor woman who wants him in the course of his travels to look up her husband who abandoned her some years before. For purposes of identification she says: "This is the hith of him 5-6 light eyes dark hair unwave shave and a Suprano Voice his age 58 his name Steve...." Even though Mr. Washington did not agree to spend his spare time looking for a disloyal husband with a soprano voice, he sent the poor woman a kind reply and suggested some means of tracing her recreant spouse.
We come next upon a long letter written to a man who wishes to quote for publication in a magazine Booker Washington's opinion on the relation between crime and education. In the concluding paragraphs of his reply Mr. Washington says: "In nine cases out of ten the crimes which serve to unite and give an excuse for mob violence are committed by men who are without property, without homes, and without education except what they have picked up in the city slums, in prisons, or on the chain gang. The South is spending too much money in giving the Negro this kind of education that makes criminals and not enough on the kind of schools that turn out farmers, carpenters, and blacksmiths. Other things being equal, it is true not only in America, in the South, but throughout the world, that there is the least crime where there is the most education. This is true of the South and of the Negro, just the same as it is true of every other race. Particularly is it true that the individuals who commit crimes of violence and crimes that are due to lack of self-control are individuals who are, for the most part, ignorant. The decrease in lynching in the Southern States is an index of the steady growth of the South in wealth, in industry, in education, and in individual liberty."
Then comes a letter to an individual who desires to know what proportion of the American Negroes can read and write now, and what proportion could at the time of the Civil War. The reply again quotes the 1910 census to the effect that 69.5 per cent. can now read and write as compared with only 3 per cent. at the close of the war. The letter also points out that the rate of illiteracy among American Negroes is now lower than the rate for all the peoples of Russia, Portugal, Brazil, and Venezuela, and almost as low as that of Spain.
There follows a sheaf of correspondence in which Mr. Washington agreed to speak at the unveiling of a tablet in Auburn, New York, to the memory of "Aunt Harriet" Tubman Davis, the black woman, squat of stature and seamed of face, who piloted three or four hundred slaves from the land of bondage to the land of freedom. While there he also agreed to speak at Auburn prison in response to the special request of some of the prisoners.
Then we find a courteous but firmly negative reply to a long-winded bore who writes a six-page letter urging Mr. Washington to secure the acceptance by the Negro race of a flag which he has designed as their racial flag.
After this follows a group of letters which passed between him and the late Edgar Gardiner Murphy, author of "The Present South," "The Basis of Ascendency," and other important books. In one of these letters Mr. Washington agrees, as requested, to read the proofs of "The Basis of Ascendency," and in another he thus characteristically comments upon Mr. Murphy's fears that a pessimistic book on the status of the Negro written by a supposed authority (a colored man) would do wide-reaching harm: "Of course among a certain element it will have an influence for harm, but human nature, as I observe it, is so constructed that it does not take kindly to a description of a failure. It is hard to get up enthusiasm in connection with a funeral procession. No man, in my opinion, could write a history of the Southern Confederacy that would be read generally because it failed. I am not saying, of course, that the Negro race is a failure. Mr. —— writes largely from that point of view, hence there is no rallying point for the general reader."