Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Up From Slavery: An Autobiography by Booker T. Washington

Part 1 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

This file is only slightly modified from the Internet Wiretap Etext.

Up From Slavery: An Autobiography

by Booker T. Washington

This volume is dedicated to my Wife
Margaret James Washington
And to my Brother John H. Washington
Whose patience, fidelity, and hard work have gone far to make the
work at Tuskegee successful.


This volume is the outgrowth of a series of articles, dealing
with incidents in my life, which were published consecutively in
the Outlook. While they were appearing in that magazine I was
constantly surprised at the number of requests which came to me
from all parts of the country, asking that the articles be
permanently preserved in book form. I am most grateful to the
Outlook for permission to gratify these requests.

I have tried to tell a simple, straightforward story, with no
attempt at embellishment. My regret is that what I have attempted
to do has been done so imperfectly. The greater part of my time
and strength is required for the executive work connected with
the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, and in securing the
money necessary for the support of the institution. Much of what
I have said has been written on board trains, or at hotels or
railroad stations while I have been waiting for trains, or during
the moments that I could spare from my work while at Tuskegee.
Without the painstaking and generous assistance of Mr. Max
Bennett Thrasher I could not have succeeded in any satisfactory


The details of Mr. Washington's early life, as frankly set down
in "Up from Slavery," do not give quite a whole view of his
education. He had the training that a coloured youth receives at
Hampton, which, indeed, the autobiography does explain. But the
reader does not get his intellectual pedigree, for Mr. Washington
himself, perhaps, does not as clearly understand it as another
man might. The truth is he had a training during the most
impressionable period of his life that was very extraordinary,
such a training as few men of his generation have had. To see its
full meaning one must start in the Hawaiian Islands half a
century or more ago.* There Samuel Armstrong, a youth of
missionary parents, earned enough money to pay his expenses at an
American college. Equipped with this small sum and the
earnestness that the undertaking implied, he came to Williams
College when Dr. Mark Hopkins was president. Williams College had
many good things for youth in that day, as it has in this, but
the greatest was the strong personality of its famous president.
Every student does not profit by a great teacher; but perhaps no
young man ever came under the influence of Dr. Hopkins, whose
whole nature was so ripe for profit by such an experience as
young Armstrong. He lived in the family of President Hopkins, and
thus had a training that was wholly out of the common; and this
training had much to do with the development of his own strong
character, whose originality and force we are only beginning to

* For this interesting view of Mr. Washington's education, I am
indebted to Robert C. Ogden, Esq., Chairman of the Board of
Trustees of Hampton Institute and the intimate friend of General
Armstrong during the whole period of his educational work.

In turn, Samuel Armstrong, the founder of Hampton Institute, took
up his work as a trainer of youth. He had very raw material, and
doubtless most of his pupils failed to get the greatest lessons
from him; but, as he had been a peculiarly receptive pupil of Dr.
Hopkins, so Booker Washington became a peculiarly receptive pupil
of his. 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
These influences are easily recognizable in Mr. Washington to-day
by men who knew Dr. Hopkins and General Armstrong.

I got the cue to Mr. Washington's character from a very simple
incident many years ago. I had never seen him, and I knew little
about him, except that he was the head of a school at Tuskegee,
Alabama. 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 coloured 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 coloured school who was not
a preacher. "A new kind of man in the coloured 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." I wrote him an
apology for mistaking him for a preacher.

The first time that I went to Tuskegee I was asked to make an
address to the school on Sunday evening. I sat upon the platform
of the large chapel and looked forth on a thousand coloured
faces, and the choir of a hundred or more behind me sang a
familiar religious melody, and the whole company joined in the
chorus with unction. I was the only white man under the roof, and
the scene and the songs made an impression on me that I shall
never forget. Mr. Washington arose and asked them to sing one
after another of the old melodies that I had heard all my life;
but I had never before heard them sung by a thousand voices nor
by the voices of educated Negroes. I had associated them with the
Negro of the past, not with the Negro who was struggling upward.
They brought to my mind the plantation, the cabin, the slave, not
the freedman in quest of education. But on the plantation and in
the cabin they had never been sung as these thousand students
sang them. I saw again all the old plantations that I had ever
seen; the whole history of the Negro ran through my mind; and the
inexpressible pathos of his life found expression in these songs
as I had never before felt it.

And the future? These were the ambitious youths of the race, at
work with an earnestness that put to shame the conventional
student life of most educational institutions. Another song
rolled up along the rafters. And as soon as silence came, I found
myself in front of this extraordinary mass of faces, thinking not
of them, but of that long and unhappy chapter in our country's
history which followed the one great structural mistake of the
Fathers of the Republic; thinking of the one continuous great
problem that generations of statesmen had wrangled over, and a
million men fought about, and that had so dwarfed the mass of
English men in the Southern States as to hold them back a hundred
years behind their fellows in every other part of the world--in
England, in Australia, and in the Northern and Western States; I
was thinking of this dark shadow that had oppressed every
large-minded statesman from Jefferson to Lincoln. These thousand
young men and women about me were victims of it. I, too, was an
innocent victim of it. The whole Republic was a victim of that
fundamental error of importing Africa into America. I held firmly
to the first article of my faith that the Republic must stand
fast by the principle of a fair ballot; but I recalled the
wretched mess that Reconstruction had made of it; I recalled the
low level of public life in all the "black" States. Every effort
of philanthropy seemed to have miscarried, every effort at
correcting abuses seemed of doubtful value, and the race friction
seemed to become severer. Here was the century-old problem in all
its pathos seated singing before me. Who were the more to be
pitied--these innocent victims of an ancient wrong, or I and men
like me, who had inherited the problem? I had long ago thrown
aside illusions and theories, and was willing to meet the facts
face to face, and to do whatever in God's name a man might do
towards saving the next generation from such a burden. But I felt
the weight of twenty well-nigh hopeless years of thought and
reading and observation; for the old difficulties remained and
new ones had sprung up. Then I saw clearly that the way out of a
century of blunders had been made by this man who stood beside me
and was introducing me to this audience. Before me was the
material he had used. All about me was the indisputable evidence
that he had found the natural line of development. He had shown
the way. Time and patience and encouragement and work would do
the rest.

It was then more clearly than ever before that I understood the
patriotic significance of Mr. Washington's work. It is this
conception of it and of him that I have ever since carried with
me. It is on this that his claim to our gratitude rests.

To teach the Negro to read, whether English, or Greek, or Hebrew,
butters no parsnips. To make the Negro work, that is what his
master did in one way and hunger has done in another; yet both
these left Southern life where they found it. But to teach the
Negro to do skilful work, as men of all the races that have risen
have worked,--responsible work, which IS education and character;
and most of all when Negroes so teach Negroes to do this that
they will teach others with a missionary zeal that puts all
ordinary philanthropic efforts to shame,--this is to change the
whole economic basis of life and the whole character of a people.

The plan itself is not a new one. It was worked out at Hampton
Institute, but it was done at Hampton by white men. The plan had,
in fact, been many times theoretically laid down by thoughtful
students of Southern life. Handicrafts were taught in the days of
slavery on most well-managed plantations. But Tuskegee is,
nevertheless, a brand-new chapter in the history of the Negro,
and in the history of the knottiest problem we have ever faced.
It not only makes "a carpenter of a man; it makes a man of a
carpenter." In one sense, therefore, it is of greater value than
any other institution for the training of men and women that we
have, from Cambridge to Palo Alto. It is almost the only one of
which it may be said that it points the way to a new epoch in a
large area of our national life.

To work out the plan on paper, or at a distance--that is one
thing. For a white man to work it out--that too, is an easy
thing. For a coloured man to work it out in the South, where, in
its constructive period, he was necessarily misunderstood by his
own people as well as by the whites, and where he had to adjust
it at every step to the strained race relations--that is so very
different and more difficult a thing that the man who did it put
the country under lasting obligations to him.

It was not and is not a mere educational task. Anybody could
teach boys trades and give them an elementary education. Such
tasks have been done since the beginning of civilization. But
this task had to be done with the rawest of raw material, done
within the civilization of the dominant race, and so done as not
to run across race lines and social lines that are the strongest
forces in the community. It had to be done for the benefit of the
whole community. It had to be done, moreover, without local help,
in the face of the direst poverty, done by begging, and done in
spite of the ignorance of one race and the prejudice of the

No man living had a harder task, and a task that called for more
wisdom to do it right. The true measure of Mr. Washington's
success is, then, not his teaching the pupils of Tuskegee, nor
even gaining the support of philanthropic persons at a distance,
but this--that every Southern white man of character and of
wisdom has been won to a cordial recognition of the value of the
work, even men who held and still hold to the conviction that a
mere book education for the Southern blacks under present
conditions is a positive evil. This is a demonstration of the
efficiency of the Hampton-Tuskegee idea that stands like the
demonstration of the value of democratic institutions
themselves--a demonstration made so clear in spite of the
greatest odds that it is no longer open to argument.

Consider the change that has come in twenty years in the
discussion of the Negro problem. Two or three decades ago social
philosophers and statisticians and well-meaning philanthropists
were still talking and writing about the deportation of the
Negroes, or about their settlement within some restricted area,
or about their settling in all parts of the Union, or about their
decline through their neglect of their children, or about their
rapid multiplication till they should expel the whites from the
South--of every sort of nonsense under heaven. All this has given
place to the simple plan of an indefinite extension among the
neglected classes of both races of the Hampton-Tuskegee system of
training. The "problem" in one sense has disappeared. The future
will have for the South swift or slow development of its masses
and of its soil in proportion to the swift or slow development of
this kind of training. This change of view is a true measure of
Mr. Washington's work.

The literature of the Negro in America is colossal, from
political oratory through abolitionism to "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and
"Cotton is King"--a vast mass of books which many men have read
to the waste of good years (and I among them); but the only books
that I have read a second time or ever care again to read in the
whole list (most of them by tiresome and unbalanced "reformers")
are "Uncle Remus" and "Up from Slavery"; for these are the great
literature of the subject. One has all the best of the past, the
other foreshadows a better future; and the men who wrote them are
the only men who have written of the subject with that perfect
frankness and perfect knowledge and perfect poise whose other
name is genius.

Mr. Washington has won a world-wide fame at an early age. His
story of his own life already has the distinction of translation
into more languages, I think, than any other American book; and I
suppose that he has as large a personal acquaintance among men of
influence as any private citizen now living.

His own teaching at Tuskegee is unique. He lectures to his
advanced students on the art of right living, not out of
text-books, but straight out of life. Then he sends them into the
country to visit Negro families. Such a student will come back
with a minute report of the way in which the family that he has
seen lives, what their earnings are, what they do well and what
they do ill; and he will explain how they might live better. He
constructs a definite plan for the betterment of that particular
family out of the resources that they have. Such a student, if he
be bright, will profit more by an experience like this than he
could profit by all the books on sociology and economics that
ever were written. I talked with a boy at Tuskegee who had made
such a study as this, and I could not keep from contrasting his
knowledge and enthusiasm with what I heard in a class room at a
Negro university in one of the Southern cities, which is
conducted on the idea that a college course will save the soul.
Here the class was reciting a lesson from an abstruse text-book
on economics, reciting it by rote, with so obvious a failure to
assimilate it that the waste of labour was pitiful.

I asked Mr. Washington years ago what he regarded as the most
important result of his work, and he replied:

"I do not know which to put first, the effect of Tuskegee's work
on the Negro, or the effect on the attitude of the white man to
the Negro."

The race divergence under the system of miseducation was fast
getting wider. Under the influence of the Hampton-Tuskegee idea
the races are coming into a closer sympathy and into an
honourable and helpful relation. As the Negro becomes
economically independent, he becomes a responsible part of the
Southern life; and the whites so recognize him. And this must be
so from the nature of things. There is nothing artificial about
it. It is development in a perfectly natural way. And the
Southern whites not only so recognize it, but they are imitating
it in the teaching of the neglected masses of their own race. It
has thus come about that the school is taking a more direct and
helpful hold on life in the South than anywhere else in the
country. Education is not a thing apart from life--not a
"system," nor a philosophy; it is direct teaching how to live and
how to work.

To say that Mr. Washington has won the gratitude of all
thoughtful Southern white men, is to say that he has worked with
the highest practical wisdom at a large constructive task; for no
plan for the up-building of the freedman could succeed that ran
counter to Southern opinion. To win the support of Southern
opinion and to shape it was a necessary part of the task; and in
this he has so well succeeded that the South has a sincere and
high regard for him. He once said to me that he recalled the day,
and remembered it thankfully, when he grew large enough to regard
a Southern white man as he regarded a Northern one. It is well
for our common country that the day is come when he and his work
are regarded as highly in the South as in any other part of the
Union. I think that no man of our generation has a more
noteworthy achievement to his credit than this; and it is an
achievement of moral earnestness of the strong character of a man
who has done a great national service.

Walter H. Page.


Chapter I. A Slave Among Slaves

I was born a slave on a plantation in Franklin County, Virginia.
I am not quite sure of the exact place or exact date of my birth,
but at any rate I suspect I must have been born somewhere and at
some time. As nearly as I have been able to learn, I was born
near a cross-roads post-office called Hale's Ford, and the year
was 1858 or 1859. I do not know the month or the day. The
earliest impressions I can now recall are of the plantation and
the slave quarters--the latter being the part of the plantation
where the slaves had their cabins.

My life had its beginning in the midst of the most miserable,
desolate, and discouraging surroundings. This was so, however,
not because my owners were especially cruel, for they were not,
as compared with many others. I was born in a typical log cabin,
about fourteen by sixteen feet square. In this cabin I lived with
my mother and a brother and sister till after the Civil War, when
we were all declared free.

Of my ancestry I know almost nothing. In the slave quarters, and
even later, I heard whispered conversations among the coloured
people of the tortures which the slaves, including, no doubt, my
ancestors on my mother's side, suffered in the middle passage of
the slave ship while being conveyed from Africa to America. I
have been unsuccessful in securing any information that would
throw any accurate light upon the history of my family beyond my
mother. She, I remember, had a half-brother and a half-sister. In
the days of slavery not very much attention was given to family
history and family records--that is, black family records. My
mother, I suppose, attracted the attention of a purchaser who was
afterward my owner and hers. Her addition to the slave family
attracted about as much attention as the purchase of a new horse
or cow. Of my father I know even less than of my mother. I do not
even know his name. I have heard reports to the effect that he
was a white man who lived on one of the near-by plantations.
Whoever he was, I never heard of his taking the least interest in
me or providing in any way for my rearing. But I do not find
especial fault with him. He was simply another unfortunate victim
of the institution which the Nation unhappily had engrafted upon
it at that time.

The cabin was not only our living-place, but was also used as the
kitchen for the plantation. My mother was the plantation cook.
The cabin was without glass windows; it had only openings in the
side which let in the light, and also the cold, chilly air of
winter. There was a door to the cabin--that is, something that
was called a door--but the uncertain hinges by which it was hung,
and the large cracks in it, to say nothing of the fact that it
was too small, made the room a very uncomfortable one. In
addition to these openings there was, in the lower right-hand
corner of the room, the "cat-hole," --a contrivance which almost
every mansion or cabin in Virginia possessed during the
ante-bellum period. The "cat-hole" was a square opening, about
seven by eight inches, provided for the purpose of letting the
cat pass in and out of the house at will during the night. In the
case of our particular cabin I could never understand the
necessity for this convenience, since there were at least a
half-dozen other places in the cabin that would have accommodated
the cats. There was no wooden floor in our cabin, the naked earth
being used as a floor. In the centre of the earthen floor there
was a large, deep opening covered with boards, which was used as
a place in which to store sweet potatoes during the winter. An
impression of this potato-hole is very distinctly engraved upon
my memory, because I recall that during the process of putting
the potatoes in or taking them out I would often come into
possession of one or two, which I roasted and thoroughly enjoyed.
There was no cooking-stove on our plantation, and all the cooking
for the whites and slaves my mother had to do over an open
fireplace, mostly in pots and "skillets." While the poorly built
cabin caused us to suffer with cold in the winter, the heat from
the open fireplace in summer was equally trying.

The early years of my life, which were spent in the little cabin,
were not very different from those of thousands of other slaves.
My mother, of course, had little time in which to give attention
to the training of her children during the day. She snatched a
few moments for our care in the early morning before her work
began, and at night after the day's work was done. One of my
earliest recollections is that of my mother cooking a chicken
late at night, and awakening her children for the purpose of
feeding them. How or where she got it I do not know. I presume,
however, it was procured from our owner's farm. Some people may
call this theft. If such a thing were to happen now, I should
condemn it as theft myself. But taking place at the time it did,
and for the reason that it did, no one could ever make me believe
that my mother was guilty of thieving. She was simply a victim of
the system of slavery. I cannot remember having slept in a bed
until after our family was declared free by the Emancipation
Proclamation. Three children--John, my older brother, Amanda, my
sister, and myself--had a pallet on the dirt floor, or, to be
more correct, we slept in and on a bundle of filthy rags laid
upon the dirt floor.

I was asked not long ago to tell something about the sports and
pastimes that I engaged in during my youth. Until that question
was asked it had never occurred to me that there was no period of
my life that was devoted to play. From the time that I can
remember anything, almost every day of my life had been occupied
in some kind of labour; though I think I would now be a more
useful man if I had had time for sports. During the period that I
spent in slavery I was not large enough to be of much service,
still I was occupied most of the time in cleaning the yards,
carrying water to the men in the fields, or going to the mill to
which I used to take the corn, once a week, to be ground. The
mill was about three miles from the plantation. This work I
always dreaded. The heavy bag of corn would be thrown across the
back of the horse, and the corn divided about evenly on each
side; but in some way, almost without exception, on these trips,
the corn would so shift as to become unbalanced and would fall
off the horse, and often I would fall with it. As I was not
strong enough to reload the corn upon the horse, I would have to
wait, sometimes for many hours, till a chance passer-by came
along who would help me out of my trouble. The hours while
waiting for some one were usually spent in crying. The time
consumed in this way made me late in reaching the mill, and by
the time I got my corn ground and reached home it would be far
into the night. The road was a lonely one, and often led through
dense forests. I was always frightened. The woods were said to be
full of soldiers who had deserted from the army, and I had been
told that the first thing a deserter did to a Negro boy when he
found him alone was to cut off his ears. Besides, when I was late
in getting home I knew I would always get a severe scolding or a

I had no schooling whatever while I was a slave, though I
remember on several occasions I went as far as the schoolhouse
door with one of my young mistresses to carry her books. The
picture of several dozen boys and girls in a schoolroom engaged
in study made a deep impression upon me, and I had the feeling
that to get into a schoolhouse and study in this way would be
about the same as getting into paradise.

So far as I can now recall, the first knowledge that I got of the
fact that we were slaves, and that freedom of the slaves was
being discussed, was early one morning before day, when I was
awakened by my mother kneeling over her children and fervently
praying that Lincoln and his armies might be successful, and that
one day she and her children might be free. In this connection I
have never been able to understand how the slaves throughout the
South, completely ignorant as were the masses so far as books or
newspapers were concerned, were able to keep themselves so
accurately and completely informed about the great National
questions that were agitating the country. From the time that
Garrison, Lovejoy, and others began to agitate for freedom, the
slaves throughout the South kept in close touch with the progress
of the movement. Though I was a mere child during the preparation
for the Civil War and during the war itself, I now recall the
many late-at-night whispered discussions that I heard my mother
and the other slaves on the plantation indulge in. These
discussions showed that they understood the situation, and that
they kept themselves informed of events by what was termed the
"grape-vine" telegraph.

During the campaign when Lincoln was first a candidate for the
Presidency, the slaves on our far-off plantation, miles from any
railroad or large city or daily newspaper, knew what the issues
involved were. When war was begun between the North and the
South, every slave on our plantation felt and knew that, though
other issues were discussed, the primal one was that of slavery.
Even the most ignorant members of my race on the remote
plantations felt in their hearts, with a certainty that admitted
of no doubt, that the freedom of the slaves would be the one
great result of the war, if the northern armies conquered. Every
success of the Federal armies and every defeat of the Confederate
forces was watched with the keenest and most intense interest.
Often the slaves got knowledge of the results of great battles
before the white people received it. This news was usually gotten
from the coloured man who was sent to the post-office for the
mail. In our case the post-office was about three miles from the
plantation, and the mail came once or twice a week. The man who
was sent to the office would linger about the place long enough
to get the drift of the conversation from the group of white
people who naturally congregated there, after receiving their
mail, to discuss the latest news. The mail-carrier on his way
back to our master's house would as naturally retail the news
that he had secured among the slaves, and in this way they often
heard of important events before the white people at the "big
house," as the master's house was called.

I cannot remember a single instance during my childhood or early
boyhood when our entire family sat down to the table together,
and God's blessing was asked, and the family ate a meal in a
civilized manner. On the plantation in Virginia, and even later,
meals were gotten by the children very much as dumb animals get
theirs. It was a piece of bread here and a scrap of meat there.
It was a cup of milk at one time and some potatoes at another.
Sometimes a portion of our family would eat out of the skillet or
pot, while some one else would eat from a tin plate held on the
knees, and often using nothing but the hands with which to hold
the food. When I had grown to sufficient size, I was required to
go to the "big house" at meal-times to fan the flies from the
table by means of a large set of paper fans operated by a pulley.
Naturally much of the conversation of the white people turned
upon the subject of freedom and the war, and I absorbed a good
deal of it. I remember that at one time I saw two of my young
mistresses and some lady visitors eating ginger-cakes, in the
yard. At that time those cakes seemed to me to be absolutely the
most tempting and desirable things that I had ever seen; and I
then and there resolved that, if I ever got free, the height of
my ambition would be reached if I could get to the point where I
could secure and eat ginger-cakes in the way that I saw those
ladies doing.

Of course as the war was prolonged the white people, in many
cases, often found it difficult to secure food for themselves. I
think the slaves felt the deprivation less than the whites,
because the usual diet for slaves was corn bread and pork, and
these could be raised on the plantation; but coffee, tea, sugar,
and other articles which the whites had been accustomed to use
could not be raised on the plantation, and the conditions brought
about by the war frequently made it impossible to secure these
things. The whites were often in great straits. Parched corn was
used for coffee, and a kind of black molasses was used instead of
sugar. Many times nothing was used to sweeten the so-called tea
and coffee.

The first pair of shoes that I recall wearing were wooden ones.
They had rough leather on the top, but the bottoms, which were
about an inch thick, were of wood. When I walked they made a
fearful noise, and besides this they were very inconvenient,
since there was no yielding to the natural pressure of the foot.
In wearing them one presented and exceedingly awkward appearance.
The most trying ordeal that I was forced to endure as a slave
boy, however, was the wearing of a flax shirt. In the portion of
Virginia where I lived it was common to use flax as part of the
clothing for the slaves. That part of the flax from which our
clothing was made was largely the refuse, which of course was the
cheapest and roughest part. I can scarcely imagine any torture,
except, perhaps, the pulling of a tooth, that is equal to that
caused by putting on a new flax shirt for the first time. It is
almost equal to the feeling that one would experience if he had a
dozen or more chestnut burrs, or a hundred small pin-points, in
contact with his flesh. Even to this day I can recall accurately
the tortures that I underwent when putting on one of these
garments. The fact that my flesh was soft and tender added to the
pain. But I had no choice. I had to wear the flax shirt or none;
and had it been left to me to choose, I should have chosen to
wear no covering. In connection with the flax shirt, my brother
John, who is several years older than I am, performed one of the
most generous acts that I ever heard of one slave relative doing
for another. On several occasions when I was being forced to wear
a new flax shirt, he generously agreed to put it on in my stead
and wear it for several days, till it was "broken in." Until I
had grown to be quite a youth this single garment was all that I

One may get the idea, from what I have said, that there was
bitter feeling toward the white people on the part of my race,
because of the fact that most of the white population was away
fighting in a war which would result in keeping the Negro in
slavery if the South was successful. In the case of the slaves on
our place this was not true, and it was not true of any large
portion of the slave population in the South where the Negro was
treated with anything like decency. During the Civil War one of
my young masters was killed, and two were severely wounded. I
recall the feeling of sorrow which existed among the slaves when
they heard of the death of "Mars' Billy." It was no sham sorrow,
but real. Some of the slaves had nursed "Mars' Billy"; others had
played with him when he was a child. "Mars' Billy" had begged for
mercy in the case of others when the overseer or master was
thrashing them. The sorrow in the slave quarter was only second
to that in the "big house." When the two young masters were
brought home wounded, the sympathy of the slaves was shown in
many ways. They were just as anxious to assist in the nursing as
the family relatives of the wounded. Some of the slaves would
even beg for the privilege of sitting up at night to nurse their
wounded masters. This tenderness and sympathy on the part of
those held in bondage was a result of their kindly and generous
nature. In order to defend and protect the women and children who
were left on the plantations when the white males went to war,
the slaves would have laid down their lives. The slave who was
selected to sleep in the "big house" during the absence of the
males was considered to have the place of honour. Any one
attempting to harm "young Mistress" or "old Mistress" during the
night would have had to cross the dead body of the slave to do
so. I do not know how many have noticed it, but I think that it
will be found to be true that there are few instances, either in
slavery or freedom, in which a member of my race has been known
to betray a specific trust.

As a rule, not only did the members of my race entertain no
feelings of bitterness against the whites before and during the
war, but there are many instances of Negroes tenderly carrying
for their former masters and mistresses who for some reason have
become poor and dependent since the war. I know of instances
where the former masters of slaves have for years been supplied
with money by their former slaves to keep them from suffering. I
have known of still other cases in which the former slaves have
assisted in the education of the descendants of their former
owners. I know of a case on a large plantation in the South in
which a young white man, the son of the former owner of the
estate, has become so reduced in purse and self-control by reason
of drink that he is a pitiable creature; and yet, notwithstanding
the poverty of the coloured people themselves on this plantation,
they have for years supplied this young white man with the
necessities of life. One sends him a little coffee or sugar,
another a little meat, and so on. Nothing that the coloured
people possess is too good for the son of "old Mars' Tom," who
will perhaps never be permitted to suffer while any remain on the
place who knew directly or indirectly of "old Mars' Tom."

I have said that there are few instances of a member of my race
betraying a specific trust. One of the best illustrations of this
which I know of is in the case of an ex-slave from Virginia whom
I met not long ago in a little town in the state of Ohio. I found
that this man had made a contract with his master, two or three
years previous to the Emancipation Proclamation, to the effect
that the slave was to be permitted to buy himself, by paying so
much per year for his body; and while he was paying for himself,
he was to be permitted to labour where and for whom he pleased.
Finding that he could secure better wages in Ohio, he went there.
When freedom came, he was still in debt to his master some three
hundred dollars. Notwithstanding that the Emancipation
Proclamation freed him from any obligation to his master, this
black man walked the greater portion of the distance back to
where his old master lived in Virginia, and placed the last
dollar, with interest, in his hands. In talking to me about this,
the man told me that he knew that he did not have to pay the
debt, but that he had given his word to the master, and his word
he had never broken. He felt that he could not enjoy his freedom
till he had fulfilled his promise.

From some things that I have said one may get the idea that some
of the slaves did not want freedom. This is not true. I have
never seen one who did not want to be free, or one who would
return to slavery.

I pity from the bottom of my heart any nation or body of people
that is so unfortunate as to get entangled in the net of slavery.
I have long since ceased to cherish any spirit of bitterness
against the Southern white people on account of the enslavement
of my race. No one section of our country was wholly responsible
for its introduction, and, besides, it was recognized and
protected for years by the General Government. Having once got
its tentacles fastened on to the economic and social life of the
Republic, it was no easy matter for the country to relieve itself
of the institution. Then, when we rid ourselves of prejudice, or
racial feeling, and look facts in the face, we must acknowledge
that, notwithstanding the cruelty and moral wrong of slavery, the
ten million Negroes inhabiting this country, who themselves or
whose ancestors went through the school of American slavery, are
in a stronger and more hopeful condition, materially,
intellectually, morally, and religiously, than is true of an
equal number of black people in any other portion of the globe.
This is so to such an extend that Negroes in this country, who
themselves or whose forefathers went through the school of
slavery, are constantly returning to Africa as missionaries to
enlighten those who remained in the fatherland. This I say, not
to justify slavery--on the other hand, I condemn it as an
institution, as we all know that in America it was established
for selfish and financial reasons, and not from a missionary
motive--but to call attention to a fact, and to show how
Providence so often uses men and institutions to accomplish a
purpose. When persons ask me in these days how, in the midst of
what sometimes seem hopelessly discouraging conditions, I can
have such faith in the future of my race in this country, I
remind them of the wilderness through which and out of which, a
good Providence has already led us.

Ever since I have been old enough to think for myself, I have
entertained the idea that, notwithstanding the cruel wrongs
inflicted upon us, the black man got nearly as much out of
slavery as the white man did. The hurtful influences of the
institution were not by any means confined to the Negro. This was
fully illustrated by the life upon our own plantation. The whole
machinery of slavery was so constructed as to cause labour, as a
rule, to be looked upon as a badge of degradation, of
inferiority. Hence labour was something that both races on the
slave plantation sought to escape. The slave system on our place,
in a large measure, took the spirit of self-reliance and
self-help out of the white people. My old master had many boys
and girls, but not one, so far as I know, ever mastered a single
trade or special line of productive industry. The girls were not
taught to cook, sew, or to take care of the house. All of this
was left to the slaves. The slaves, of course, had little
personal interest in the life of the plantation, and their
ignorance prevented them from learning how to do things in the
most improved and thorough manner. As a result of the system,
fences were out of repair, gates were hanging half off the
hinges, doors creaked, window-panes were out, plastering had
fallen but was not replaced, weeds grew in the yard. As a rule,
there was food for whites and blacks, but inside the house, and
on the dining-room table, there was wanting that delicacy and
refinement of touch and finish which can make a home the most
convenient, comfortable, and attractive place in the world.
Withal there was a waste of food and other materials which was
sad. When freedom came, the slaves were almost as well fitted to
begin life anew as the master, except in the matter of
book-learning and ownership of property. The slave owner and his
sons had mastered no special industry. They unconsciously had
imbibed the feeling that manual labour was not the proper thing
for them. On the other hand, the slaves, in many cases, had
mastered some handicraft, and none were ashamed, and few
unwilling, to labour.

Finally the war closed, and the day of freedom came. It was a
momentous and eventful day to all upon our plantation. We had
been expecting it. Freedom was in the air, and had been for
months. Deserting soldiers returning to their homes were to be
seen every day. Others who had been discharged, or whose
regiments had been paroled, were constantly passing near our
place. The "grape-vine telegraph" was kept busy night and day.
The news and mutterings of great events were swiftly carried from
one plantation to another. In the fear of "Yankee" invasions, the
silverware and other valuables were taken from the "big house,"
buried in the woods, and guarded by trusted slaves. Woe be to any
one who would have attempted to disturb the buried treasure. The
slaves would give the Yankee soldiers food, drink,
clothing--anything but that which had been specifically intrusted
to their care and honour. As the great day drew nearer, there was
more singing in the slave quarters than usual. It was bolder, had
more ring, and lasted later into the night. Most of the verses of
the plantation songs had some reference to freedom. True, they
had sung those same verses before, but they had been careful to
explain that the "freedom" in these songs referred to the next
world, and had no connection with life in this world. Now they
gradually threw off the mask, and were not afraid to let it be
known that the "freedom" in their songs meant freedom of the body
in this world. The night before the eventful day, word was sent
to the slave quarters to the effect that something unusual was
going to take place at the "big house" the next morning. There
was little, if any, sleep that night. All as excitement and
expectancy. Early the next morning word was sent to all the
slaves, old and young, to gather at the house. In company with my
mother, brother, and sister, and a large number of other slaves,
I went to the master's house. All of our master's family were
either standing or seated on the veranda of the house, where they
could see what was to take place and hear what was said. There
was a feeling of deep interest, or perhaps sadness, on their
faces, but not bitterness. As I now recall the impression they
made upon me, they did not at the moment seem to be sad because
of the loss of property, but rather because of parting with those
whom they had reared and who were in many ways very close to
them. The most distinct thing that I now recall in connection
with the scene was that some man who seemed to be a stranger (a
United States officer, I presume) made a little speech and then
read a rather long paper--the Emancipation Proclamation, I think.
After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could
go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my
side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran
down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this
was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing
that she would never live to see.

For some minutes there was great rejoicing, and thanksgiving, and
wild scenes of ecstasy. But there was no feeling of bitterness.
In fact, there was pity among the slaves for our former owners.
The wild rejoicing on the part of the emancipated coloured people
lasted but for a brief period, for I noticed that by the time
they returned to their cabins there was a change in their
feelings. The great responsibility of being free, of having
charge of themselves, of having to think and plan for themselves
and their children, seemed to take possession of them. It was
very much like suddenly turning a youth of ten or twelve years
out into the world to provide for himself. In a few hours the
great questions with which the Anglo-Saxon race had been
grappling for centuries had been thrown upon these people to be
solved. These were the questions of a home, a living, the rearing
of children, education, citizenship, and the establishment and
support of churches. Was it any wonder that within a few hours
the wild rejoicing ceased and a feeling of deep gloom seemed to
pervade the slave quarters? To some it seemed that, now that they
were in actual possession of it, freedom was a more serious thing
than they had expected to find it. Some of the slaves were
seventy or eighty years old; their best days were gone. They had
no strength with which to earn a living in a strange place and
among strange people, even if they had been sure where to find a
new place of abode. To this class the problem seemed especially
hard. Besides, deep down in their hearts there was a strange and
peculiar attachment to "old Marster" and "old Missus," and to
their children, which they found it hard to think of breaking
off. With these they had spent in some cases nearly a
half-century, and it was no light thing to think of parting.
Gradually, one by one, stealthily at first, the older slaves
began to wander from the slave quarters back to the "big house"
to have a whispered conversation with their former owners as to
the future.

Chapter II. Boyhood Days

After the coming of freedom there were two points upon which
practically all the people on our place were agreed, and I found
that this was generally true throughout the South: that they must
change their names, and that they must leave the old plantation
for at least a few days or weeks in order that they might really
feel sure that they were free.

In some way a feeling got among the coloured people that it was
far from proper for them to bear the surname of their former
owners, and a great many of them took other surnames. This was
one of the first signs of freedom. When they were slaves, a
coloured person was simply called "John" or "Susan." There was
seldom occasion for more than the use of the one name. If "John"
or "Susan" belonged to a white man by the name of "Hatcher,"
sometimes he was called "John Hatcher," or as often "Hatcher's
John." But there was a feeling that "John Hatcher" or "Hatcher's
John" was not the proper title by which to denote a freeman; and
so in many cases "John Hatcher" was changed to "John S. Lincoln"
or "John S. Sherman," the initial "S" standing for no name, it
being simply a part of what the coloured man proudly called his

As I have stated, most of the coloured people left the old
plantation for a short while at least, so as to be sure, it
seemed, that they could leave and try their freedom on to see how
it felt. After they had remained away for a while, many of the
older slaves, especially, returned to their old homes and made
some kind of contract with their former owners by which they
remained on the estate.

My mother's husband, who was the stepfather of my brother John
and myself, did not belong to the same owners as did my mother.
In fact, he seldom came to our plantation. I remember seeing his
there perhaps once a year, that being about Christmas time. In
some way, during the war, by running away and following the
Federal soldiers, it seems, he found his way into the new state
of West Virginia. As soon as freedom was declared, he sent for my
mother to come to the Kanawha Valley, in West Virginia. At that
time a journey from Virginia over the mountains to West Virginia
was rather a tedious and in some cases a painful undertaking.
What little clothing and few household goods we had were placed
in a cart, but the children walked the greater portion of the
distance, which was several hundred miles.

I do not think any of us ever had been very far from the
plantation, and the taking of a long journey into another state
was quite an event. The parting from our former owners and the
members of our own race on the plantation was a serious occasion.
From the time of our parting till their death we kept up a
correspondence with the older members of the family, and in later
years we have kept in touch with those who were the younger
members. We were several weeks making the trip, and most of the
time we slept in the open air and did our cooking over a log fire
out-of-doors. One night I recall that we camped near an abandoned
log cabin, and my mother decided to build a fire in that for
cooking, and afterward to make a "pallet" on the floor for our
sleeping. Just as the fire had gotten well started a large black
snake fully a yard and a half long dropped down the chimney and
ran out on the floor. Of course we at once abandoned that cabin.
Finally we reached our destination--a little town called Malden,
which is about five miles from Charleston, the present capital of
the state.

At that time salt-mining was the great industry in that part of
West Virginia, and the little town of Malden was right in the
midst of the salt-furnaces. My stepfather had already secured a
job at a salt-furnace, and he had also secured a little cabin for
us to live in. Our new house was no better than the one we had
left on the old plantation in Virginia. In fact, in one respect
it was worse. Notwithstanding the poor condition of our
plantation cabin, we were at all times sure of pure air. Our new
home was in the midst of a cluster of cabins crowded closely
together, and as there were no sanitary regulations, the filth
about the cabins was often intolerable. Some of our neighbours
were coloured people, and some were the poorest and most ignorant
and degraded white people. It was a motley mixture. Drinking,
gambling, quarrels, fights, and shockingly immoral practices were
frequent. All who lived in the little town were in one way or
another connected with the salt business. Though I was a mere
child, my stepfather put me and my brother at work in one of the
furnaces. Often I began work as early as four o'clock in the

The first thing I ever learned in the way of book knowledge was
while working in this salt-furnace. Each salt-packer had his
barrels marked with a certain number. The number allotted to my
stepfather was "18." At the close of the day's work the boss of
the packers would come around and put "18" on each of our
barrels, and I soon learned to recognize that figure wherever I
saw it, and after a while got to the point where I could make
that figure, though I knew nothing about any other figures or

From the time that I can remember having any thoughts about
anything, I recall that I had an intense longing to learn to
read. I determined, when quite a small child, that, if I
accomplished nothing else in life, I would in some way get enough
education to enable me to read common books and newspapers. Soon
after we got settled in some manner in our new cabin in West
Virginia, I induced my mother to get hold of a book for me. How
or where she got it I do not know, but in some way she procured
an old copy of Webster's "blue-back" spelling-book, which
contained the alphabet, followed by such meaningless words as
"ab," "ba," "ca," "da." I began at once to devour this book, and
I think that it was the first one I ever had in my hands. I had
learned from somebody that the way to begin to read was to learn
the alphabet, so I tried in all the ways I could think of to
learn it,--all of course without a teacher, for I could find no
one to teach me. At that time there was not a single member of my
race anywhere near us who could read, and I was too timid to
approach any of the white people. In some way, within a few
weeks, I mastered the greater portion of the alphabet. In all my
efforts to learn to read my mother shared fully my ambition, and
sympathized with me and aided me in every way that she could.
Though she was totally ignorant, she had high ambitions for her
children, and a large fund of good, hard, common sense, which
seemed to enable her to meet and master every situation. If I
have done anything in life worth attention, I feel sure that I
inherited the disposition from my mother.

In the midst of my struggles and longing for an education, a
young coloured boy who had learned to read in the state of Ohio
came to Malden. As soon as the coloured people found out that he
could read, a newspaper was secured, and at the close of nearly
every day's work this young man would be surrounded by a group of
men and women who were anxious to hear him read the news
contained in the papers. How I used to envy this man! He seemed
to me to be the one young man in all the world who ought to be
satisfied with his attainments.

About this time the question of having some kind of a school
opened for the coloured children in the village began to be
discussed by members of the race. As it would be the first school
for Negro children that had ever been opened in that part of
Virginia, it was, of course, to be a great event, and the
discussion excited the wildest interest. The most perplexing
question was where to find a teacher. The young man from Ohio who
had learned to read the papers was considered, but his age was
against him. In the midst of the discussion about a teacher,
another young coloured man from Ohio, who had been a soldier, in
some way found his way into town. It was soon learned that he
possessed considerable education, and he was engaged by the
coloured people to teach their first school. As yet no free
schools had been started for coloured people in that section,
hence each family agreed to pay a certain amount per month, with
the understanding that the teacher was to "board 'round"--that
is, spend a day with each family. This was not bad for the
teacher, for each family tried to provide the very best on the
day the teacher was to be its guest. I recall that I looked
forward with an anxious appetite to the "teacher's day" at our
little cabin.

This experience of a whole race beginning to go to school for the
first time, presents one of the most interesting studies that has
ever occurred in connection with the development of any race. Few
people who were not right in the midst of the scenes can form any
exact idea of the intense desire which the people of my race
showed for an education. As I have stated, it was a whole race
trying to go to school. Few were too young, and none too old, to
make the attempt to learn. As fast as any kind of teachers could
be secured, not only were day-schools filled, but night-schools
as well. The great ambition of the older people was to try to
learn to read the Bible before they died. With this end in view
men and women who were fifty or seventy-five years old would
often be found in the night-school. Some day-schools were formed
soon after freedom, but the principal book studied in the
Sunday-school was the spelling-book. Day-school, night-school,
Sunday-school, were always crowded, and often many had to be
turned away for want of room.

The opening of the school in the Kanawha Valley, however, brought
to me one of the keenest disappointments that I ever experienced.
I had been working in a salt-furnace for several months, and my
stepfather had discovered that I had a financial value, and so,
when the school opened, he decided that he could not spare me
from my work. This decision seemed to cloud my every ambition.
The disappointment was made all the more severe by reason of the
fact that my place of work was where I could see the happy
children passing to and from school mornings and afternoons.
Despite this disappointment, however, I determined that I would
learn something, anyway. I applied myself with greater
earnestness than ever to the mastering of what was in the
"blue-back" speller.

My mother sympathized with me in my disappointment, and sought to
comfort me in all the ways she could, and to help me find a way
to learn. After a while I succeeded in making arrangements with
the teacher to give me some lessons at night, after the day's
work was done. These night lessons were so welcome that I think I
learned more at night than the other children did during the day.
My own experiences in the night-school gave me faith in the
night-school idea, with which, in after years, I had to do both
at Hampton and Tuskegee. But my boyish heart was still set upon
going to the day-school, and I let no opportunity slip to push my
case. Finally I won, and was permitted to go to the school in the
day for a few months, with the understanding that I was to rise
early in the morning and work in the furnace till nine o'clock,
and return immediately after school closed in the afternoon for
at least two more hours of work.

The schoolhouse was some distance from the furnace, and as I had
to work till nine o'clock, and the school opened at nine, I found
myself in a difficulty. School would always be begun before I
reached it, and sometimes my class had recited. To get around
this difficulty I yielded to a temptation for which most people,
I suppose, will condemn me; but since it is a fact, I might as
well state it. I have great faith in the power and influence of
facts. It is seldom that anything is permanently gained by
holding back a fact. There was a large clock in a little office
in the furnace. This clock, of course, all the hundred or more
workmen depended upon to regulate their hours of beginning and
ending the day's work. I got the idea that the way for me to
reach school on time was to move the clock hands from half-past
eight up to the nine o'clock mark. This I found myself doing
morning after morning, till the furnace "boss" discovered that
something was wrong, and locked the clock in a case. I did not
mean to inconvenience anybody. I simply meant to reach that
schoolhouse in time.

When, however, I found myself at the school for the first time, I
also found myself confronted with two other difficulties. In the
first place, I found that all the other children wore hats or
caps on their heads, and I had neither hat nor cap. In fact, I do
not remember that up to the time of going to school I had ever
worn any kind of covering upon my head, nor do I recall that
either I or anybody else had even thought anything about the need
of covering for my head. But, of course, when I saw how all the
other boys were dressed, I began to feel quite uncomfortable. As
usual, I put the case before my mother, and she explained to me
that she had no money with which to buy a "store hat," which was
a rather new institution at that time among the members of my
race and was considered quite the thing for young and old to own,
but that she would find a way to help me out of the difficulty.
She accordingly got two pieces of "homespun" (jeans) and sewed
them together, and I was soon the proud possessor of my first

The lesson that my mother taught me in this has always remained
with me, and I have tried as best as I could to teach it to
others. I have always felt proud, whenever I think of the
incident, that my mother had strength of character enough not to
be led into the temptation of seeming to be that which she was
not--of trying to impress my schoolmates and others with the fact
that she was able to buy me a "store hat" when she was not. I
have always felt proud that she refused to go into debt for that
which she did not have the money to pay for. Since that time I
have owned many kinds of caps and hats, but never one of which I
have felt so proud as of the cap made of the two pieces of cloth
sewed together by my mother. I have noted the fact, but without
satisfaction, I need not add, that several of the boys who began
their careers with "store hats" and who were my schoolmates and
used to join in the sport that was made of me because I had only
a "homespun" cap, have ended their careers in the penitentiary,
while others are not able now to buy any kind of hat.

My second difficulty was with regard to my name, or rather A
name. From the time when I could remember anything, I had been
called simply "Booker." Before going to school it had never
occurred to me that it was needful or appropriate to have an
additional name. When I heard the schoolroll called, I noticed
that all of the children had at least two names, and some of them
indulged in what seemed to me the extravagance of having three. I
was in deep perplexity, because I knew that the teacher would
demand of me at least two names, and I had only one. By the time
the occasion came for the enrolling of my name, an idea occurred
to me which I thought would make me equal to the situation; and
so, when the teacher asked me what my full name was, I calmly
told him "Booker Washington," as if I had been called by that
name all my life; and by that name I have since been known. Later
in my life I found that my mother had given me the name of
"Booker Taliaferro" soon after I was born, but in some way that
part of my name seemed to disappear and for a long while was
forgotten, but as soon as I found out about it I revived it, and
made my full name "Booker Taliaferro Washington." I think there
are not many men in our country who have had the privilege of
naming themselves in the way that I have.

More than once I have tried to picture myself in the position of
a boy or man with an honoured and distinguished ancestry which I
could trace back through a period of hundreds of years, and who
had not only inherited a name, but fortune and a proud family
homestead; and yet I have sometimes had the feeling that if I had
inherited these, and had been a member of a more popular race, I
should have been inclined to yield to the temptation of depending
upon my ancestry and my colour to do that for me which I should
do for myself. Years ago I resolved that because I had no
ancestry myself I would leave a record of which my children would
be proud, and which might encourage them to still higher effort.

The world should not pass judgment upon the Negro, and especially
the Negro youth, too quickly or too harshly. The Negro boy has
obstacles, discouragements, and temptations to battle with that
are little know to those not situated as he is. When a white boy
undertakes a task, it is taken for granted that he will succeed.
On the other hand, people are usually surprised if the Negro boy
does not fail. In a word, the Negro youth starts out with the
presumption against him.

The influence of ancestry, however, is important in helping
forward any individual or race, if too much reliance is not
placed upon it. Those who constantly direct attention to the
Negro youth's moral weaknesses, and compare his advancement with
that of white youths, do not consider the influence of the
memories which cling about the old family homesteads. I have no
idea, as I have stated elsewhere, who my grandmother was. I have,
or have had, uncles and aunts and cousins, but I have no
knowledge as to where most of them are. My case will illustrate
that of hundreds of thousands of black people in every part of
our country. The very fact that the white boy is conscious that,
if he fails in life, he will disgrace the whole family record,
extending back through many generations, is of tremendous value
in helping him to resist temptations. The fact that the
individual has behind and surrounding him proud family history
and connection serves as a stimulus to help him to overcome
obstacles when striving for success.

The time that I was permitted to attend school during the day was
short, and my attendance was irregular. It was not long before I
had to stop attending day-school altogether, and devote all of my
time again to work. I resorted to the night-school again. In
fact, the greater part of the education I secured in my boyhood
was gathered through the night-school after my day's work was
done. I had difficulty often in securing a satisfactory teacher.
Sometimes, after I had secured some one to teach me at night, I
would find, much to my disappointment, that the teacher knew but
little more than I did. Often I would have to walk several miles
at night in order to recite my night-school lessons. There was
never a time in my youth, no matter how dark and discouraging the
days might be, when one resolve did not continually remain with
me, and that was a determination to secure an education at any

Soon after we moved to West Virginia, my mother adopted into our
family, notwithstanding our poverty, an orphan boy, to whom
afterward we gave the name of James B. Washington. He has ever
since remained a member of the family.

After I had worked in the salt-furnace for some time, work was
secured for me in a coal-mine which was operated mainly for the
purpose of securing fuel for the salt-furnace. Work in the
coal-mine I always dreaded. One reason for this was that any one
who worked in a coal-mine was always unclean, at least while at
work, and it was a very hard job to get one's skin clean after
the day's work was over. Then it was fully a mile from the
opening of the coal-mine to the face of the coal, and all, of
course, was in the blackest darkness. I do not believe that one
ever experiences anywhere else such darkness as he does in a
coal-mine. The mine was divided into a large number of different
"rooms" or departments, and, as I never was able to learn the
location of all these "rooms," I many times found myself lost in
the mine. To add to the horror of being lost, sometimes my light
would go out, and then, if I did not happen to have a match, I
would wander about in the darkness until by chance I found some
one to give me a light. The work was not only hard, but it was
dangerous. There was always the danger of being blown to pieces
by a premature explosion of powder, or of being crushed by
falling slate. Accidents from one or the other of these causes
were frequently occurring, and this kept me in constant fear.
Many children of the tenderest years were compelled then, as is
now true I fear, in most coal-mining districts, to spend a large
part of their lives in these coal-mines, with little opportunity
to get an education; and, what is worse, I have often noted that,
as a rule, young boys who begin life in a coal-mine are often
physically and mentally dwarfed. They soon lose ambition to do
anything else than to continue as a coal-miner.

In those days, and later as a young man, I used to try to picture
in my imagination the feelings and ambitions of a white boy with
absolutely no limit placed upon his aspirations and activities. I
used to envy the white boy who had no obstacles placed in the way
of his becoming a Congressman, Governor, Bishop, or President by
reason of the accident of his birth or race. I used to picture
the way that I would act under such circumstances; how I would
begin at the bottom and keep rising until I reached the highest
round of success.

In later years, I confess that I do not envy the white boy as I
once did. I have learned that success is to be measured not so
much by the position that one has reached in life as by the
obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed. Looked
at from this standpoint, I almost reached the conclusion that
often the Negro boy's birth and connection with an unpopular race
is an advantage, so far as real life is concerned. With few
exceptions, the Negro youth must work harder and must perform his
tasks even better than a white youth in order to secure
recognition. But out of the hard and unusual struggle through
which he is compelled to pass, he gets a strength, a confidence,
that one misses whose pathway is comparatively smooth by reason
of birth and race.

From any point of view, I had rather be what I am, a member of
the Negro race, than be able to claim membership with the most
favoured of any other race. I have always been made sad when I
have heard members of any race claiming rights or privileges, or
certain badges of distinction, on the ground simply that they
were members of this or that race, regardless of their own
individual worth or attainments. I have been made to feel sad for
such persons because I am conscious of the fact that mere
connection with what is known as a superior race will not
permanently carry an individual forward unless he has individual
worth, and mere connection with what is regarded as an inferior
race will not finally hold an individual back if he possesses
intrinsic, individual merit. Every persecuted individual and race
should get much consolation out of the great human law, which is
universal and eternal, that merit, no matter under what skin
found, is, in the long run, recognized and rewarded. This I have
said here, not to call attention to myself as an individual, but
to the race to which I am proud to belong.

Chapter III. The Struggle For An Education

One day, while at work in the coal-mine, I happened to overhear
two miners talking about a great school for coloured people
somewhere in Virginia. This was the first time that I had ever
heard anything about any kind of school or college that was more
pretentious than the little coloured school in our town.

In the darkness of the mine I noiselessly crept as close as I
could to the two men who were talking. I heard one tell the other
that not only was the school established for the members of any
race, but the opportunities that it provided by which poor but
worthy students could work out all or a part of the cost of a
board, and at the same time be taught some trade or industry.

As they went on describing the school, it seemed to me that it
must be the greatest place on earth, and not even Heaven
presented more attractions for me at that time than did the
Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia, about
which these men were talking. I resolved at once to go to that
school, although I had no idea where it was, or how many miles
away, or how I was going to reach it; I remembered only that I
was on fire constantly with one ambition, and that was to go to
Hampton. This thought was with me day and night.

After hearing of the Hampton Institute, I continued to work for a
few months longer in the coal-mine. While at work there, I heard
of a vacant position in the household of General Lewis Ruffner,
the owner of the salt-furnace and coal-mine. Mrs. Viola Ruffner,
the wife of General Ruffner, was a "Yankee" woman from Vermont.
Mrs. Ruffner had a reputation all through the vicinity for being
very strict with her servants, and especially with the boys who
tried to serve her. Few of them remained with her more than two
or three weeks. They all left with the same excuse: she was too
strict. I decided, however, that I would rather try Mrs.
Ruffner's house than remain in the coal-mine, and so my mother
applied to her for the vacant position. I was hired at a salary
of $5 per month.

I had heard so much about Mrs. Ruffner's severity that I was
almost afraid to see her, and trembled when I went into her
presence. I had not lived with her many weeks, however, before I
began to understand her. I soon began to learn that, first of
all, she wanted everything kept clean about her, that she wanted
things done promptly and systematically, and that at the bottom
of everything she wanted absolute honesty and frankness. Nothing
must be sloven or slipshod; every door, every fence, must be kept
in repair.

I cannot now recall how long I lived with Mrs. Ruffner before
going to Hampton, but I think it must have been a year and a
half. At any rate, I here repeat what I have said more than once
before, that the lessons that I learned in the home of Mrs.
Ruffner were as valuable to me as any education I have ever
gotten anywhere else. Even to this day I never see bits of paper
scattered around a house or in the street that I do not want to
pick them up at once. I never see a filthy yard that I do not
want to clean it, a paling off of a fence that I do not want to
put it on, an unpainted or unwhitewashed house that I do not want
to pain or whitewash it, or a button off one's clothes, or a
grease-spot on them or on a floor, that I do not want to call
attention to it.

From fearing Mrs. Ruffner I soon learned to look upon her as one
of my best friends. When she found that she could trust me she
did so implicitly. During the one or two winters that I was with
her she gave me an opportunity to go to school for an hour in the
day during a portion of the winter months, but most of my
studying was done at night, sometimes alone, sometimes under some
one whom I could hire to teach me. Mrs. Ruffner always encouraged
and sympathized with me in all my efforts to get an education. It
was while living with her that I began to get together my first
library. I secured a dry-goods box, knocked out one side of it,
put some shelves in it, and began putting into it every kind of
book that I could get my hands upon, and called it my "library."

Notwithstanding my success at Mrs. Ruffner's I did not give up
the idea of going to the Hampton Institute. In the fall of 1872 I
determined to make an effort to get there, although, as I have
stated, I had no definite idea of the direction in which Hampton
was, or of what it would cost to go there. I do not think that
any one thoroughly sympathized with me in my ambition to go to
Hampton unless it was my mother, and she was troubled with a
grave fear that I was starting out on a "wild-goose chase." At
any rate, I got only a half-hearted consent from her that I might
start. The small amount of money that I had earned had been
consumed by my stepfather and the remainder of the family, with
the exception of a very few dollars, and so I had very little
with which to buy clothes and pay my travelling expenses. My
brother John helped me all that he could, but of course that was
not a great deal, for his work was in the coal-mine, where he did
not earn much, and most of what he did earn went in the direction
of paying the household expenses.

Perhaps the thing that touched and pleased me most in connection
with my starting for Hampton was the interest that many of the
older coloured people took in the matter. They had spent the best
days of their lives in slavery, and hardly expected to live to
see the time when they would see a member of their race leave
home to attend a boarding-school. Some of these older people
would give me a nickel, others a quarter, or a handkerchief.

Finally the great day came, and I started for Hampton. I had only
a small, cheap satchel that contained a few articles of clothing
I could get. My mother at the time was rather weak and broken in
health. I hardly expected to see her again, and thus our parting
was all the more sad. She, however, was very brave through it
all. At that time there were no through trains connecting that
part of West Virginia with eastern Virginia. Trains ran only a
portion of the way, and the remainder of the distance was
travelled by stage-coaches.

The distance from Malden to Hampton is about five hundred miles.
I had not been away from home many hours before it began to grow
painfully evident that I did not have enough money to pay my fair
to Hampton. One experience I shall long remember. I had been
travelling over the mountains most of the afternoon in an
old-fashion stage-coach, when, late in the evening, the coach
stopped for the night at a common, unpainted house called a
hotel. All the other passengers except myself were whites. In my
ignorance I supposed that the little hotel existed for the
purpose of accommodating the passengers who travelled on the
stage-coach. The difference that the colour of one's skin would
make I had not thought anything about. After all the other
passengers had been shown rooms and were getting ready for
supper, I shyly presented myself before the man at the desk. It
is true I had practically no money in my pocket with which to pay
for bed or food, but I had hoped in some way to beg my way into
the good graces of the landlord, for at that season in the
mountains of Virginia the weather was cold, and I wanted to get
indoors for the night. Without asking as to whether I had any
money, the man at the desk firmly refused to even consider the
matter of providing me with food or lodging. This was my first
experience in finding out what the colour of my skin meant. In
some way I managed to keep warm by walking about, and so got
through the night. My whole soul was so bent upon reaching
Hampton that I did not have time to cherish any bitterness toward
the hotel-keeper.

By walking, begging rides both in wagons and in the cars, in some
way, after a number of days, I reached the city of Richmond,
Virginia, about eighty-two miles from Hampton. When I reached
there, tired, hungry, and dirty, it was late in the night. I had
never been in a large city, and this rather added to my misery.
When I reached Richmond, I was completely out of money. I had not
a single acquaintance in the place, and, being unused to city
ways, I did not know where to go. I applied at several places for
lodging, but they all wanted money, and that was what I did not
have. Knowing nothing else better to do, I walked the streets. In
doing this I passed by many a food-stands where fried chicken and
half-moon apple pies were piled high and made to present a most
tempting appearance. At that time it seemed to me that I would
have promised all that I expected to possess in the future to
have gotten hold of one of those chicken legs or one of those
pies. But I could not get either of these, nor anything else to

I must have walked the streets till after midnight. At last I
became so exhausted that I could walk no longer. I was tired, I
was hungry, I was everything but discouraged. Just about the time
when I reached extreme physical exhaustion, I came upon a portion
of a street where the board sidewalk was considerably elevated. I
waited for a few minutes, till I was sure that no passers-by
could see me, and then crept under the sidewalk and lay for the
night upon the ground, with my satchel of clothing for a pillow.
Nearly all night I could hear the tramp of feet over my head. The
next morning I found myself somewhat refreshed, but I was
extremely hungry, because it had been a long time since I had had
sufficient food. As soon as it became light enough for me to see
my surroundings I noticed that I was near a large ship, and that
this ship seemed to be unloading a cargo of pig iron. I went at
once to the vessel and asked the captain to permit me to help
unload the vessel in order to get money for food. The captain, a
white man, who seemed to be kind-hearted, consented. I worked
long enough to earn money for my breakfast, and it seems to me,
as I remember it now, to have been about the best breakfast that
I have ever eaten.

My work pleased the captain so well that he told me if I desired
I could continue working for a small amount per day. This I was
very glad to do. I continued working on this vessel for a number
of days. After buying food with the small wages I received there
was not much left to add on the amount I must get to pay my way
to Hampton. In order to economize in every way possible, so as to
be sure to reach Hampton in a reasonable time, I continued to
sleep under the same sidewalk that gave me shelter the first
night I was in Richmond. Many years after that the coloured
citizens of Richmond very kindly tendered me a reception at which
there must have been two thousand people present. This reception
was held not far from the spot where I slept the first night I
spent in the city, and I must confess that my mind was more upon
the sidewalk that first gave me shelter than upon the
recognition, agreeable and cordial as it was.

When I had saved what I considered enough money with which to
reach Hampton, I thanked the captain of the vessel for his
kindness, and started again. Without any unusual occurrence I
reached Hampton, with a surplus of exactly fifty cents with which
to begin my education. To me it had been a long, eventful
journey; but the first sight of the large, three-story, brick
school building seemed to have rewarded me for all that I had
undergone in order to reach the place. If the people who gave the
money to provide that building could appreciate the influence the
sight of it had upon me, as well as upon thousands of other
youths, they would feel all the more encouraged to make such
gifts. It seemed to me to be the largest and most beautiful
building I had ever seen. The sight of it seemed to give me new
life. I felt that a new kind of existence had now begun--that
life would now have a new meaning. I felt that I had reached the
promised land, and I resolved to let no obstacle prevent me from
putting forth the highest effort to fit myself to accomplish the
most good in the world.

As soon as possible after reaching the grounds of the Hampton
Institute, I presented myself before the head teacher for an
assignment to a class. Having been so long without proper food, a
bath, and a change of clothing, I did not, of course, make a very
favourable impression upon her, and I could see at once that
there were doubts in her mind about the wisdom of admitting me as
a student. I felt that I could hardly blame her if she got the
idea that I was a worthless loafer or tramp. For some time she
did not refuse to admit me, neither did she decide in my favour,
and I continued to linger about her, and to impress her in all
the ways I could with my worthiness. In the meantime I saw her
admitting other students, and that added greatly to my
discomfort, for I felt, deep down in my heart, that I could do as
well as they, if I could only get a chance to show what was in

After some hours had passed, the head teacher said to me: "The
adjoining recitation-room needs sweeping. Take the broom and
sweep it."

It occurred to me at once that here was my chance. Never did I
receive an order with more delight. I knew that I could sweep,
for Mrs. Ruffner had thoroughly taught me how to do that when I
lived with her.

I swept the recitation-room three times. Then I got a
dusting-cloth and dusted it four times. All the woodwork around
the walls, every bench, table, and desk, I went over four times
with my dusting-cloth. Besides, every piece of furniture had been
moved and every closet and corner in the room had been thoroughly
cleaned. I had the feeling that in a large measure my future
dependent upon the impression I made upon the teacher in the
cleaning of that room. When I was through, I reported to the head
teacher. She was a "Yankee" woman who knew just where to look for
dirt. She went into the room and inspected the floor and closets;
then she took her handkerchief and rubbed it on the woodwork
about the walls, and over the table and benches. When she was
unable to find one bit of dirt on the floor, or a particle of
dust on any of the furniture, she quietly remarked, "I guess you
will do to enter this institution."

I was one of the happiest souls on Earth. The sweeping of that
room was my college examination, and never did any youth pass an
examination for entrance into Harvard or Yale that gave him more
genuine satisfaction. I have passed several examinations since
then, but I have always felt that this was the best one I ever

I have spoken of my own experience in entering the Hampton
Institute. Perhaps few, if any, had anything like the same
experience that I had, but about the same period there were
hundreds who found their way to Hampton and other institutions
after experiencing something of the same difficulties that I went
through. The young men and women were determined to secure an
education at any cost.

The sweeping of the recitation-room in the manner that I did it
seems to have paved the way for me to get through Hampton. Miss
Mary F. Mackie, the head teacher, offered me a position as
janitor. This, of course, I gladly accepted, because it was a
place where I could work out nearly all the cost of my board. The
work was hard and taxing but I stuck to it. I had a large number
of rooms to care for, and had to work late into the night, while
at the same time I had to rise by four o'clock in the morning, in
order to build the fires and have a little time in which to
prepare my lessons. In all my career at Hampton, and ever since I
have been out in the world, Miss Mary F. Mackie, the head teacher
to whom I have referred, proved one of my strongest and most
helpful friends. Her advice and encouragement were always helpful
in strengthening to me in the darkest hour.

I have spoken of the impression that was made upon me by the
buildings and general appearance of the Hampton Institute, but I
have not spoken of that which made the greatest and most lasting
impression on me, and that was a great man--the noblest, rarest
human being that it has ever been my privilege to meet. I refer
to the late General Samuel C. Armstrong.

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, class-rooms, 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. 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!

General Armstrong spent two of the last six months of his life in
my home at Tuskegee. At that time he was paralyzed to the extent
that he had lost control of his body and voice in a very large
degree. Notwithstanding his affliction, he worked almost
constantly night and day for the cause to which he had given his
life. I never saw a man who so completely lost sight of himself.
I do not believe he ever had a selfish thought. He was just as
happy in trying to assist some other institution in the South as
he was when working for Hampton. Although he fought the Southern
white man in the Civil War, I never heard him utter a bitter word
against him afterward. On the other hand, he was constantly
seeking to find ways by which he could be of service to the
Southern whites.

It would be difficult to describe the hold that he had upon the
students at Hampton, or the faith they had in him. In fact, he
was worshipped by his students. It never occurred to me that
General Armstrong could fail in anything that he undertook. There
is almost no request that he could have made that would not have
been complied with. When he was a guest at my home in Alabama,
and was so badly paralyzed that he had to be wheeled about in an
invalid's chair, I recall that one of the General's former
students had occasion to push his chair up a long, steep hill
that taxed his strength to the utmost. When the top of the hill
was reached, the former pupil, with a glow of happiness on his
face, exclaimed, "I am so glad that I have been permitted to do
something that was real hard for the General before he dies!"
While I was a student at Hampton, the dormitories became so
crowded that it was impossible to find room for all who wanted to
be admitted. In order to help remedy the difficulty, the General
conceived the plan of putting up tents to be used as rooms. As
soon as it became known that General Armstrong would be pleased
if some of the older students would live in the tents during the
winter, nearly every student in school volunteered to go.

I was one of the volunteers. The winter that we spent in those
tents was an intensely cold one, and we suffered severely--how
much I am sure General Armstrong never knew, because we made no
complaints. It was enough for us to know that we were pleasing
General Armstrong, and that we were making it possible for an
additional number of students to secure an education. More than
once, during a cold night, when a stiff gale would be blowing,
our tend was lifted bodily, and we would find ourselves in the
open air. The General would usually pay a visit to the tents
early in the morning, and his earnest, cheerful, encouraging
voice would dispel any feeling of despondency.

I have spoken of my admiration for General Armstrong, and yet he
was but a type of that Christlike body of men and women who went
into the Negro schools at the close of the war by the hundreds to
assist in lifting up my race. The history of the world fails to
show a higher, purer, and more unselfish class of men and women
than those who found their way into those Negro schools.

Life at Hampton was a constant revelation to me; was constantly
taking me into a new world. The matter of having meals at regular
hours, of eating on a tablecloth, using a napkin, the use of the
bath-tub and of the tooth-brush, as well as the use of sheets
upon the bed, were all new to me.

I sometimes feel that almost the most valuable lesson I got at
the Hampton Institute was in the use and value of the bath. I
learned there for the first time some of its value, not only in
keeping the body healthy, but in inspiring self-respect and
promoting virtue. In all my travels in the South and elsewhere
since leaving Hampton I have always in some way sought my daily
bath. To get it sometimes when I have been the guest of my own
people in a single-roomed cabin has not always been easy to do,
except by slipping away to some stream in the woods. I have
always tried to teach my people that some provision for bathing
should be a part of every house.

For some time, while a student at Hampton, I possessed but a
single pair of socks, but when I had worn these till they became
soiled, I would wash them at night and hang them by the fire to
dry, so that I might wear them again the next morning.

The charge for my board at Hampton was ten dollars per month. I
was expected to pay a part of this in cash and to work out the
remainder. To meet this cash payment, as I have stated, I had
just fifty cents when I reached the institution. Aside from a
very few dollars that my brother John was able to send me once in
a while, I had no money with which to pay my board. I was
determined from the first to make my work as janitor so valuable
that my services would be indispensable. This I succeeded in
doing to such an extent that I was soon informed that I would be
allowed the full cost of my board in return for my work. The cost
of tuition was seventy dollars a year. This, of course, was
wholly beyond my ability to provide. If I had been compelled to
pay the seventy dollars for tuition, in addition to providing for
my board, I would have been compelled to leave the Hampton
school. General Armstrong, however, very kindly got Mr. S.
Griffitts Morgan, of New Bedford, Mass., to defray the cost of my
tuition during the whole time that I was at Hampton. After I
finished the course at Hampton and had entered upon my lifework
at Tuskegee, I had the pleasure of visiting Mr. Morgan several

After having been for a while at Hampton, I found myself in
difficulty because I did not have books and clothing. Usually,
however, I got around the trouble about books by borrowing from
those who were more fortunate than myself. As to clothes, when I
reached Hampton I had practically nothing. Everything that I
possessed was in a small hand satchel. My anxiety about clothing
was increased because of the fact that General Armstrong made a
personal inspection of the young men in ranks, to see that their
clothes were clean. Shoes had to be polished, there must be no
buttons off the clothing, and no grease-spots. To wear one suit
of clothes continually, while at work and in the schoolroom, and
at the same time keep it clean, was rather a hard problem for me
to solve. In some way I managed to get on till the teachers
learned that I was in earnest and meant to succeed, and then some
of them were kind enough to see that I was partly supplied with
second-hand clothing that had been sent in barrels from the
North. These barrels proved a blessing to hundreds of poor but
deserving students. Without them I question whether I should ever
have gotten through Hampton.

When I first went to Hampton I do not recall that I had ever
slept in a bed that had two sheets on it. In those days there
were not many buildings there, and room was very precious. There
were seven other boys in the same room with me; most of them,
however, students who had been there for some time. The sheets
were quite a puzzle to me. The first night I slept under both of
them, and the second night I slept on top of them; but by
watching the other boys I learned my lesson in this, and have
been trying to follow it ever since and to teach it to others.

I was among the youngest of the students who were in Hampton at
the time. Most of the students were men and women--some as old as
forty years of ago. As I now recall the scene of my first year, I
do not believe that one often has the opportunity of coming into
contact with three or four hundred men and women who were so
tremendously in earnest as these men and women were. Every hour
was occupied in study or work. Nearly all had had enough actual
contact with the world to teach them the need of education. Many
of the older ones were, of course, too old to master the
text-books very thoroughly, and it was often sad to watch their
struggles; but they made up in earnest much of what they lacked
in books. Many of them were as poor as I was, and, besides having
to wrestle with their books, they had to struggle with a poverty
which prevented their having the necessities of life. Many of
them had aged parents who were dependent upon them, and some of
them were men who had wives whose support in some way they had to
provide for.

The great and prevailing idea that seemed to take possession of
every one was to prepare himself to lift up the people at his
home. No one seemed to think of himself. And the officers and
teachers, what a rare set of human beings they were! They worked
for the students night and day, in seasons and out of season.
They seemed happy only when they were helping the students in
some manner. Whenever it is written--and I hope it will be--the
part that the Yankee teachers played in the education of the
Negroes immediately after the war will make one of the most
thrilling parts of the history off this country. The time is not
far distant when the whole South will appreciate this service in
a way that it has not yet been able to do.

Chapter IV. Helping Others

At the end of my first year at Hampton I was confronted with
another difficulty. Most of the students went home to spend their
vacation. I had no money with which to go home, but I had to go
somewhere. In those days very few students were permitted to
remain at the school during vacation. It made me feel very sad
and homesick to see the other students preparing to leave and
starting for home. I not only had no money with which to go home,
but I had none with which to go anywhere.

In some way, however, I had gotten hold of an extra, second-hand
coat which I thought was a pretty valuable coat. This I decided
to sell, in order to get a little money for travelling expenses.
I had a good deal of boyish pride, and I tried to hide, as far as
I could, from the other students the fact that I had no money and
nowhere to go. I made it known to a few people in the town of
Hampton that I had this coat to sell, and, after a good deal of
persuading, one coloured man promised to come to my room to look
the coat over and consider the matter of buying it. This cheered
my drooping spirits considerably. Early the next morning my
prospective customer appeared. After looking the garment over
carefully, he asked me how much I wanted for it. I told him I
thought it was worth three dollars. He seemed to agree with me as
to price, but remarked in the most matter-of-fact way: "I tell
you what I will do; I will take the coat, and will pay you five
cents, cash down, and pay you the rest of the money just as soon
as I can get it." It is not hard to imagine what my feelings were
at the time.

With this disappointment I gave up all hope of getting out of the
town of Hampton for my vacation work. I wanted very much to go
where I might secure work that would at least pay me enough to
purchase some much-needed clothing and other necessities. In a
few days practically all the students and teachers had left for
their homes, and this served to depress my spirits even more.

After trying for several days in and near the town of Hampton, I
finally secured work in a restaurant at Fortress Monroe. The
wages, however, were very little more than my board. At night,
and between meals, I found considerable time for study and
reading; and in this direction I improved myself very much during
the summer.

When I left school at the end of my first year, I owed the
institution sixteen dollars that I had not been able to work out.
It was my greatest ambition during the summer to save money
enough with which to pay this debt. I felt that this was a debt
of honour, and that I could hardly bring myself to the point of
even trying to enter school again till it was paid. I economized
in every way that I could think of--did my own washing, and went
without necessary garments--but still I found my summer vacation
ending and I did not have the sixteen dollars.

One day, during the last week of my stay in the restaurant, I
found under one of the tables a crisp, new ten-dollar bill. I
could hardly contain myself, I was so happy. As it was not my
place of business I felt it to be the proper thing to show the
money to the proprietor. This I did. He seemed as glad as I was,
but he coolly explained to me that, as it was his place of
business, he had a right to keep the money, and he proceeded to
do so. This, I confess, was another pretty hard blow to me. I
will not say that I became discouraged, for as I now look back
over my life I do not recall that I ever became discouraged over
anything that I set out to accomplish. I have begun everything
with the idea that I could succeed, and I never had much patience
with the multitudes of people who are always ready to explain why
one cannot succeed. I determined to face the situation just as it
was. At the end of the week I went to the treasurer of the
Hampton Institute, General J.F.B. Marshall, and told him frankly
my condition. To my gratification he told me that I could reenter
the institution, and that he would trust me to pay the debt when
I could. During the second year I continued to work as a janitor.

The education that I received at Hampton out of the text-books
was but a small part of what I learned there. One of the things
that impressed itself upon me deeply, the second year, was the
unselfishness of the teachers. It was hard for me to understand
how any individuals could bring themselves to the point where
they could be so happy in working for others. Before the end of
the year, I think I began learning that those who are happiest
are those who do the most for others. This lesson I have tried to
carry with me ever since.

I also learned a valuable lesson at Hampton by coming into
contact with the best breeds of live stock and fowls. No student,
I think, who has had the opportunity of doing this could go out
into the world and content himself with the poorest grades.

Perhaps the most valuable thing that I got out of my second year
was an understanding of the use and value of the Bible. Miss
Nathalie Lord, one of the teachers, from Portland, Me., taught me
how to use and love the Bible. Before this I had never cared a
great deal about it, but now I learned to love to read the Bible,
not only for the spiritual help which it gives, but on account of
it as literature. The lessons taught me in this respect took such
a hold upon me that at the present time, when I am at home, no
matter how busy I am, I always make it a rule to read a chapter
or a portion of a chapter in the morning, before beginning the
work of the day.

Whatever ability I may have as a public speaker I owe in a
measure to Miss Lord. When she found out that I had some
inclination in this direction, she gave me private lessons in the
matter of breathing, emphasis, and articulation. Simply to be
able to talk in public for the sake of talking has never had the
least attraction to me. In fact, I consider that there is nothing
so empty and unsatisfactory as mere abstract public speaking; but
from my early childhood I have had a desire to do something to
make the world better, and then to be able to speak to the world
about that thing.

The debating societies at Hampton were a constant source of
delight to me. These were held on Saturday evening; and during my
whole life at Hampton I do not recall that I missed a single
meeting. I not only attended the weekly debating society, but was
instrumental in organizing an additional society. I noticed that
between the time when supper was over and the time to begin
evening study there were about twenty minutes which the young men
usually spent in idle gossip. About twenty of us formed a society
for the purpose of utilizing this time in debate or in practice
in public speaking. Few persons ever derived more happiness or
benefit from the use of twenty minutes of time than we did in
this way.

At the end of my second year at Hampton, by the help of some
money sent me by my mother and brother John, supplemented by a
small gift from one of the teachers at Hampton, I was enabled to
return to my home in Malden, West Virginia, to spend my vacation.
When I reached home I found that the salt-furnaces were not
running, and that the coal-mine was not being operated on account
of the miners being out on "strike." This was something which, it
seemed, usually occurred whenever the men got two or three months
ahead in their savings. During the strike, of course, they spent
all that they had saved, and would often return to work in debt
at the same wages, or would move to another mine at considerable
expense. In either case, my observations convinced me that the
miners were worse off at the end of the strike. Before the days
of strikes in that section of the country, I knew miners who had
considerable money in the bank, but as soon as the professional
labour agitators got control, the savings of even the more
thrifty ones began disappearing.

My mother and the other members of my family were, of course,
much rejoiced to see me and to note the improvement that I had
made during my two years' absence. The rejoicing on the part of
all classes of the coloured people, and especially the older
ones, over my return, was almost pathetic. I had to pay a visit
to each family and take a meal with each, and at each place tell
the story of my experiences at Hampton. In addition to this I had
to speak before the church and Sunday-school, and at various
other places. The thing that I was most in search of, though,
work, I could not find. There was no work on account of the
strike. I spent nearly the whole of the first month of my
vacation in an effort to find something to do by which I could
earn money to pay my way back to Hampton and save a little money
to use after reaching there.

Toward the end of the first month, I went to place a considerable
distance from my home, to try to find employment. I did not
succeed, and it was night before I got started on my return. When
I had gotten within a mile or so of my home I was so completely
tired out that I could not walk any farther, and I went into an
old, abandoned house to spend the remainder of the night. About
three o'clock in the morning my brother John found me asleep in
this house, and broke to me, as gently as he could, the sad news
that our dear mother had died during the night.

This seemed to me the saddest and blankest moment in my life. For
several years my mother had not been in good health, but I had no
idea, when I parted from her the previous day, that I should
never see her alive again. Besides that, I had always had an
intense desire to be with her when she did pass away. One of the
chief ambitions which spurred me on at Hampton was that I might
be able to get to be in a position in which I could better make
my mother comfortable and happy. She had so often expressed the
wish that she might be permitted to live to see her children
educated and started out in the world.

In a very short time after the death of my mother our little home
was in confusion. My sister Amanda, although she tried to do the
best she could, was too young to know anything about keeping
house, and my stepfather was not able to hire a housekeeper.
Sometimes we had food cooked for us, and sometimes we did not. I
remember that more than once a can of tomatoes and some crackers
constituted a meal. Our clothing went uncared for, and everything
about our home was soon in a tumble-down condition. It seems to
me that this was the most dismal period of my life.

My good friend, Mrs. Ruffner, to whom I have already referred,
always made me welcome at her home, and assisted me in many ways
during this trying period. Before the end of the vacation she
gave me some work, and this, together with work in a coal-mine at
some distance from my home, enabled me to earn a little money.

At one time it looked as if I would have to give up the idea of
returning to Hampton, but my heart was so set on returning that I
determined not to give up going back without a struggle. I was
very anxious to secure some clothes for the winter, but in this I
was disappointed, except for a few garments which my brother John
secured for me. Notwithstanding my need of money and clothing, I
was very happy in the fact that I had secured enough money to pay
my travelling expenses back to Hampton. Once there, I knew that I
could make myself so useful as a janitor that I could in some way
get through the school year.

Three weeks before the time for the opening of the term at
Hampton, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a letter from my
good friend Miss Mary F. Mackie, the lady principal, asking me to
return to Hampton two weeks before the opening of the school, in
order that I might assist her in cleaning the buildings and
getting things in order for the new school year. This was just
the opportunity I wanted. It gave me a chance to secure a credit
in the treasurer's office. I started for Hampton at once.

During these two weeks I was taught a lesson which I shall never
forget. Miss Mackie was a member of one of the oldest and most
cultured families of the North, and yet for two weeks she worked
by my side cleaning windows, dusting rooms, putting beds in
order, and what not. She felt that things would not be in
condition for the opening of school unless every window-pane was
perfectly clean, and she took the greatest satisfaction in
helping to clean them herself. The work which I have described
she did every year that I was at Hampton.

It was hard for me at this time to understand how a woman of her
education and social standing could take such delight in
performing such service, in order to assist in the elevation of
an unfortunate race. Ever since then I have had no patience with
any school for my race in the South which did not teach its
students the dignity of labour.

During my last year at Hampton every minute of my time that was
not occupied with my duties as janitor was devoted to hard study.
I was determined, if possible, to make such a record in my class
as would cause me to be placed on the "honour roll" of
Commencement speakers. This I was successful in doing. It was
June of 1875 when I finished the regular course of study at
Hampton. The greatest benefits that I got out of my at the
Hampton Institute, perhaps, may be classified under two heads:--

First was contact with a great man, General S.C. Armstrong, who,
I repeat, was, in my opinion, the rarest, strongest, and most
beautiful character that it has ever been my privilege to meet.

Second, at Hampton, for the first time, I learned what education
was expected to do for an individual. Before going there I had a
good deal of the then rather prevalent idea among our people that
to secure an education meant to have a good, easy time, free from
all necessity for manual labour. At Hampton I not only learned
that it was not a disgrace to labour, but learned to love labour,
not alone for its financial value, but for labour's own sake and
for the independence and self-reliance which the ability to do
something which the world wants done brings. At that institution
I got my first taste of what it meant to live a life of
unselfishness, my first knowledge of the fact that the happiest
individuals are those who do the most to make others useful and

I was completely out of money when I graduated. In company with
our other Hampton students, I secured a place as a table waiter
in a summer hotel in Connecticut, and managed to borrow enough
money with which to get there. I had not been in this hotel long
before I found out that I knew practically nothing about waiting
on a hotel table. The head waiter, however, supposed that I was
an accomplished waiter. He soon gave me charge of the table at
which their sat four or five wealthy and rather aristocratic
people. My ignorance of how to wait upon them was so apparent
that they scolded me in such a severe manner that I became
frightened and left their table, leaving them sitting there
without food. As a result of this I was reduced from the position
of waiter to that of a dish-carrier.

But I determined to learn the business of waiting, and did so
within a few weeks and was restored to my former position. I have
had the satisfaction of being a guest in this hotel several times
since I was a waiter there.

At the close of the hotel season I returned to my former home in
Malden, and was elected to teach the coloured school at that
place. This was the beginning of one of the happiest periods of
my life. I now felt that I had the opportunity to help the people
of my home town to a higher life. I felt from the first that mere
book education was not all that the young people of that town
needed. I began my work at eight o'clock in the morning, and, as
a rule, it did not end until ten o'clock at night. In addition to
the usual routine of teaching, I taught the pupils to comb their
hair, and to keep their hands and faces clean, as well as their
clothing. I gave special attention to teaching them the proper

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest