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

Up From Slavery: An Autobiography by Booker T. Washington

Part 2 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.

use of the tooth-brush and the bath. In all my teaching I have
watched carefully the influence of the tooth-brush, and I am
convinced that there are few single agencies of civilization that
are more far-reaching.

There were so many of the older boys and girls in the town, as
well as men and women, who had to work in the daytime and still
were craving an opportunity for an education, that I soon opened
a night-school. From the first, this was crowded every night,
being about as large as the school that I taught in the day. The
efforts of some of the men and women, who in many cases were over
fifty years of age, to learn, were in some cases very pathetic.

My day and night school work was not all that I undertook. I
established a small reading-room and a debating society. On
Sundays I taught two Sunday-schools, one in the town of Malden in
the afternoon, and the other in the morning at a place three
miles distant from Malden. In addition to this, I gave private
lessons to several young men whom I was fitting to send to the
Hampton Institute. Without regard to pay and with little thought
of it, I taught any one who wanted to learn anything that I could
teach him. I was supremely happy in the opportunity of being able
to assist somebody else. I did receive, however, a small salary
from the public fund, for my work as a public-school teacher.

During the time that I was a student at Hampton my older brother,
John, not only assisted me all that he could, but worked all of
the time in the coal-mines in order to support the family. He
willingly neglected his own education that he might help me. It
was my earnest wish to help him to prepare to enter Hampton, and
to save money to assist him in his expenses there. Both of these
objects I was successful in accomplishing. In three years my
brother finished the course at Hampton, and he is now holding the
important position of Superintendent of Industries at Tuskegee.
When he returned from Hampton, we both combined our efforts and
savings to send our adopted brother, James, through the Hampton
Institute. This we succeeded in doing, and he is now the
postmaster at the Tuskegee Institute. The year 1877, which was my
second year of teaching in Malden, I spent very much as I did the

It was while my home was at Malden that what was known as the "Ku
Klux Klan" was in the height of its activity. The "Ku Klux" were
bands of men who had joined themselves together for the purpose
of regulating the conduct of the coloured people, especially with
the object of preventing the members of the race from exercising
any influence in politics. They corresponded somewhat to the
"patrollers" of whom I used to hear a great deal during the days
of slavery, when I was a small boy. The "patrollers" were bands
of white men--usually young men--who were organized largely for
the purpose of regulating the conduct of the slaves at night in
such matters as preventing the slaves from going from one
plantation to another without passes, and for preventing them
from holding any kind of meetings without permission and without
the presence at these meetings of at least one white man.

Like the "patrollers" the "Ku Klux" operated almost wholly at
night. They were, however, more cruel than the "patrollers."
Their objects, in the main, were to crush out the political
aspirations of the Negroes, but they did not confine themselves
to this, because schoolhouses as well as churches were burned by
them, and many innocent persons were made to suffer. During this
period not a few coloured people lost their lives.

As a young man, the acts of these lawless bands made a great
impression upon me. I saw one open battle take place at Malden
between some of the coloured and white people. There must have
been not far from a hundred persons engaged on each side; many on
both sides were seriously injured, among them General Lewis
Ruffner, the husband of my friend Mrs. Viola Ruffner. General
Ruffner tried to defend the coloured people, and for this he was
knocked down and so seriously wounded that he never completely
recovered. It seemed to me as I watched this struggle between
members of the two races, that there was no hope for our people
in this country. The "Ku Klux" period was, I think, the darkest
part of the Reconstruction days.

I have referred to this unpleasant part of the history of the
South simply for the purpose of calling attention to the great
change that has taken place since the days of the "Ku Klux."
To-day there are no such organizations in the South, and the fact
that such ever existed is almost forgotten by both races. There
are few places in the South now where public sentiment would
permit such organizations to exist.

Chapter V. The Reconstruction Period

The years from 1867 to 1878 I think may be called the period of
Reconstruction. This included the time that I spent as a student
at Hampton and as a teacher in West Virginia. During the whole of
the Reconstruction period two ideas were constantly agitating in
the minds of the coloured people, or, at least, in the minds of a
large part of the race. One of these was the craze for Greek and
Latin learning, and the other was a desire to hold office.

It could not have been expected that a people who had spent
generations in slavery, and before that generations in the
darkest heathenism, could at first form any proper conception of
what an education meant. In every part of the South, during the
Reconstruction period, schools, both day and night, were filled
to overflowing with people of all ages and conditions, some being
as far along in age as sixty and seventy years. The ambition to
secure an education was most praiseworthy and encouraging. The
idea, however, was too prevalent that, as soon as one secured a
little education, in some unexplainable way he would be free from
most of the hardships of the world, and, at any rate, could live
without manual labour. There was a further feeling that a
knowledge, however little, of the Greek and Latin languages would
make one a very superior human being, something bordering almost
on the supernatural. I remember that the first coloured man whom
I saw who knew something about foreign languages impressed me at
the time as being a man of all others to be envied.

Naturally, most of our people who received some little education
became teachers or preachers. While among those two classes there
were many capable, earnest, godly men and women, still a large
proportion took up teaching or preaching as an easy way to make a
living. Many became teachers who could do little more than write
their names. I remember there came into our neighbourhood one of
this class, who was in search of a school to teach, and the
question arose while he was there as to the shape of the earth
and how he could teach the children concerning the subject. He
explained his position in the matter by saying that he was
prepared to teach that the earth was either flat or round,
according to the preference of a majority of his patrons.

The ministry was the profession that suffered most--and still
suffers, though there has been great improvement--on account of
not only ignorant but in many cases immoral men who claimed that
they were "called to preach." In the earlier days of freedom
almost every coloured man who learned to read would receive "a
call to preach" within a few days after he began reading. At my
home in West Virginia the process of being called to the ministry
was a very interesting one. Usually the "call" came when the
individual was sitting in church. Without warning the one called
would fall upon the floor as if struck by a bullet, and would lie
there for hours, speechless and motionless. Then the news would
spread all through the neighborhood that this individual had
received a "call." If he were inclined to resist the summons, he
would fall or be made to fall a second or third time. In the end
he always yielded to the call. While I wanted an education badly,
I confess that in my youth I had a fear that when I had learned
to read and write very well I would receive one of these "calls";
but, for some reason, my call never came.

When we add the number of wholly ignorant men who preached or
"exhorted" to that of those who possessed something of an
education, it can be seen at a glance that the supply of
ministers was large. In fact, some time ago I knew a certain
church that had a total membership of about two hundred, and
eighteen of that number were ministers. But, I repeat, in many
communities in the South the character of the ministry is being
improved, and I believe that within the next two or three decades
a very large proportion of the unworthy ones will have
disappeared. The "calls" to preach, I am glad to say, are not
nearly so numerous now as they were formerly, and the calls to
some industrial occupation are growing more numerous. The
improvement that has taken place in the character of the teachers
is even more marked than in the case of the ministers.

During the whole of the Reconstruction period our people
throughout the South looked to the Federal Government for
everything, very much as a child looks to its mother. This was
not unnatural. The central government gave them freedom, and the
whole Nation had been enriched for more than two centuries by the
labour of the Negro. Even as a youth, and later in manhood, I had
the feeling that it was cruelly wrong in the central government,
at the beginning of our freedom, to fail to make some provision
for the general education of our people in addition to what the
states might do, so that the people would be the better prepared
for the duties of citizenship.

It is easy to find fault, to remark what might have been done,
and perhaps, after all, and under all the circumstances, those in
charge of the conduct of affairs did the only thing that could be
done at the time. Still, as I look back now over the entire
period of our freedom, I cannot help feeling that it would have
been wiser if some plan could have been put in operation which
would have made the possession of a certain amount of education
or property, or both, a test for the exercise of the franchise,
and a way provided by which this test should be made to apply
honestly and squarely to both the white and black races.

Though I was but little more than a youth during the period of
Reconstruction, I had the feeling that mistakes were being made,
and that things could not remain in the condition that they were
in then very long. I felt that the Reconstruction policy, so far
as it related to my race, was in a large measure on a false
foundation, was artificial and forced. In many cases it seemed to
me that the ignorance of my race was being used as a tool with
which to help white men into office, and that there was an
element in the North which wanted to punish the Southern white
men by forcing the Negro into positions over the heads of the
Southern whites. I felt that the Negro would be the one to suffer
for this in the end. Besides, the general political agitation
drew the attention of our people away from the more fundamental
matters of perfecting themselves in the industries at their doors
and in securing property.

The temptations to enter political life were so alluring that I
came very near yielding to them at one time, but I was kept from
doing so by the feeling that I would be helping in a more
substantial way by assisting in the laying of the foundation of
the race through a generous education of the hand, head, and
heart. I saw coloured men who were members of the state
legislatures, and county officers, who, in some cases, could not
read or write, and whose morals were as weak as their education.
Not long ago, when passing through the streets of a certain city
in the South, I heard some brick-masons calling out, from the top
of a two-story brick building on which they were working, for the
"Governor" to "hurry up and bring up some more bricks." Several
times I heard the command, "Hurry up, Governor!" "Hurry up,
Governor!" My curiosity was aroused to such an extent that I made
inquiry as to who the "Governor" was, and soon found that he was
a coloured man who at one time had held the position of
Lieutenant-Governor of his state.

But not all the coloured people who were in office during
Reconstruction were unworthy of their positions, by any means.
Some of them, like the late Senator B.K. Bruce, Governor
Pinchback, and many others, were strong, upright, useful men.
Neither were all the class designated as carpetbaggers
dishonourable men. Some of them, like ex-Governor Bullock, of
Georgia, were men of high character and usefulness.

Of course the coloured people, so largely without education, and
wholly without experience in government, made tremendous
mistakes, just as many people similarly situated would have done.
Many of the Southern whites have a feeling that, if the Negro is
permitted to exercise his political rights now to any degree, the
mistakes of the Reconstruction period will repeat themselves. I
do not think this would be true, because the Negro is a much
stronger and wiser man than he was thirty-five years ago, and he
is fast learning the lesson that he cannot afford to act in a
manner that will alienate his Southern white neighbours from him.
More and more I am convinced that the final solution of the
political end of our race problem will be for each state that
finds it necessary to change the law bearing upon the franchise
to make the law apply with absolute honesty, and without
opportunity for double dealing or evasion, to both races alike.
Any other course my daily observation in the South convinces me,
will be unjust to the Negro, unjust to the white man, and unfair
to the rest of the state in the Union, and will be, like slavery,
a sin that at some time we shall have to pay for.

In the fall of 1878, after having taught school in Malden for two
years, and after I had succeeded in preparing several of the
young men and women, besides my two brothers, to enter the
Hampton Institute, I decided to spend some months in study at
Washington, D.C. I remained there for eight months. I derived a
great deal of benefit from the studies which I pursued, and I
came into contact with some strong men and women. At the
institution I attended there was no industrial training given to
the students, and I had an opportunity of comparing the influence
of an institution with no industrial training with that of one
like the Hampton Institute, that emphasizes the industries. At
this school I found the students, in most cases, had more money,
were better dressed, wore the latest style of all manner of
clothing, and in some cases were more brilliant mentally. At
Hampton it was a standing rule that, while the institution would
be responsible for securing some one to pay the tuition for the
students, the men and women themselves must provide for their own
board, books, clothing, and room wholly by work, or partly by
work and partly in cash. At the institution at which I now was, I
found that a large portion of the students by some means had
their personal expenses paid for them. At Hampton the student was
constantly making the effort through the industries to help
himself, and that very effort was of immense value in
character-building. The students at the other school seemed to be
less self-dependent. They seemed to give more attention to mere
outward appearances. In a word, they did not appear to me to be
beginning at the bottom, on a real, solid foundation, to the
extent that they were at Hampton. They knew more about Latin and
Greek when they left school, but they seemed to know less about
life and its conditions as they would meet it at their homes.
Having lived for a number of years in the midst of comfortable
surroundings, they were not as much inclined as the Hampton
students to go into the country districts of the South, where
there was little of comfort, to take up work for our people, and
they were more inclined to yield to the temptation to become
hotel waiters and Pullman-car porters as their life-work.

During the time I was a student at Washington the city was
crowded with coloured people, many of whom had recently come from
the South. A large proportion of these people had been drawn to
Washington because they felt that they could lead a life of ease
there. Others had secured minor government positions, and still
another large class was there in the hope of securing Federal
positions. A number of coloured men--some of them very strong and
brilliant--were in the House of Representatives at that time, and
one, the Hon. B.K. Bruce, was in the Senate. All this tended to
make Washington an attractive place for members of the coloured
race. Then, too, they knew that at all times they could have the
protection of the law in the District of Columbia. The public
schools in Washington for coloured people were better then than
they were elsewhere. I took great interest in studying the life
of our people there closely at that time. I found that while
among them there was a large element of substantial, worthy
citizens, there was also a superficiality about the life of a
large class that greatly alarmed me. I saw young coloured men who
were not earning more than four dollars a week spend two dollars
or more for a buggy on Sunday to ride up and down Pennsylvania
Avenue in, in order that they might try to convince the world
that they were worth thousands. I saw other young men who
received seventy-five or one hundred dollars per month from the
Government, who were in debt at the end of every month. I saw men
who but a few months previous were members of Congress, then
without employment and in poverty. Among a large class there
seemed to be a dependence upon the Government for every
conceivable thing. The members of this class had little ambition
to create a position for themselves, but wanted the Federal
officials to create one for them. How many times I wished them,
and have often wished since, that by some power of magic I might
remove the great bulk of these people into the county districts
and plant them upon the soil, upon the solid and never deceptive
foundation of Mother Nature, where all nations and races that
have ever succeeded have gotten their start,--a start that at
first may be slow and toilsome, but one that nevertheless is

In Washington I saw girls whose mothers were earning their living
by laundrying. These girls were taught by their mothers, in
rather a crude way it is true, the industry of laundrying. Later,
these girls entered the public schools and remained there perhaps
six or eight years. When the public school course was finally
finished, they wanted more costly dresses, more costly hats and
shoes. In a word, while their wants have been increased, their
ability to supply their wants had not been increased in the same
degree. On the other hand, their six or eight years of book
education had weaned them away from the occupation of their
mothers. The result of this was in too many cases that the girls
went to the bad. I often thought how much wiser it would have
been to give these girls the same amount of maternal
training--and I favour any kind of training, whether in the
languages or mathematics, that gives strength and culture to the
mind --but at the same time to give them the most thorough
training in the latest and best methods of laundrying and other
kindred occupations.

Chapter VI. Black Race And Red Race

During the year that I spent in Washington, and for some little
time before this, there had been considerable agitation in the
state of West Virginia over the question of moving the capital of
the state from Wheeling to some other central point. As a result
of this, the Legislature designated three cities to be voted upon
by the citizens of the state as the permanent seat of government.
Among these cities was Charleston, only five miles from Malden,
my home. At the close of my school year in Washington I was very
pleasantly surprised to receive, from a committee of three white
people in Charleston, an invitation to canvass the state in the
interests of that city. This invitation I accepted, and spent
nearly three months in speaking in various parts of the state.
Charleston was successful in winning the prize, and is now the
permanent seat of government.

The reputation that I made as a speaker during this campaign
induced a number of persons to make an earnest effort to get me
to enter political life, but I refused, still believing that I
could find other service which would prove of more permanent
value to my race. Even then I had a strong feeling that what our
people most needed was to get a foundation in education,
industry, and property, and for this I felt that they could
better afford to strive than for political preferment. As for my
individual self, it appeared to me to be reasonably certain that
I could succeed in political life, but I had a feeling that it
would be a rather selfish kind of success--individual success at
the cost of failing to do my duty in assisting in laying a
foundation for the masses.

At this period in the progress of our race a very large
proportion of the young men who went to school or to college did
so with the expressed determination to prepare themselves to be
great lawyers, or Congressmen, and many of the women planned to
become music teachers; but I had a reasonably fixed idea, even at
that early period in my life, that there was a need for something
to be done to prepare the way for successful lawyers,
Congressmen, and music teachers.

I felt that the conditions were a good deal like those of an old
coloured man, during the days of slavery, who wanted to learn how
to play on the guitar. In his desire to take guitar lessons he
applied to one of his young masters to teach him, but the young
man, not having much faith in the ability of the slave to master
the guitar at his age, sought to discourage him by telling him:
"Uncle Jake, I will give you guitar lessons; but, Jake, I will
have to charge you three dollars for the first lesson, two
dollars for the second lesson, and one dollar for the third
lesson. But I will charge you only twenty-five cents for the last

Uncle Jake answered: "All right, boss, I hires you on dem terms.
But, boss! I wants yer to be sure an' give me dat las' lesson

Soon after my work in connection with the removal of the capital
was finished, I received an invitation which gave me great joy
and which at the same time was a very pleasant surprise. This was
a letter from General Armstrong, inviting me to return to Hampton
at the next Commencement to deliver what was called the
"post-graduate address." This was an honour which I had not
dreamed of receiving. With much care I prepared the best address
that I was capable of. I chose for my subject "The Force That

As I returned to Hampton for the purpose of delivering this
address, I went over much of the same ground--now, however,
covered entirely by railroad--that I had traversed nearly six
years before, when I first sought entrance into Hampton Institute
as a student. Now I was able to ride the whole distance in the
train. I was constantly contrasting this with my first journey to
Hampton. I think I may say, without seeming egotism, that it is
seldom that five years have wrought such a change in the life and
aspirations of an individual.

At Hampton I received a warm welcome from teachers and students.
I found that during my absence from Hampton the institute each
year had been getting closer to the real needs and conditions of
our people; that the industrial reaching, as well as that of the
academic department, had greatly improved. The plan of the school
was not modelled after that of any other institution then in
existence, but every improvement was made under the magnificent
leadership of General Armstrong solely with the view of meeting
and helping the needs of our people as they presented themselves
at the time. Too often, it seems to me, in missionary and
educational work among underdeveloped races, people yield to the
temptation of doing that which was done a hundred years before,
or is being done in other communities a thousand miles away. The
temptation often is to run each individual through a certain
educational mould, regardless of the condition of the subject or
the end to be accomplished. This was not so at Hampton Institute.

The address which I delivered on Commencement Day seems to have
pleased every one, and many kind and encouraging words were
spoken to me regarding it. Soon after my return to my home in
West Virginia, where I had planned to continue teaching, I was
again surprised to receive a letter from General Armstrong,
asking me to return to Hampton partly as a teacher and partly to
pursue some supplementary studies. This was in the summer of
1879. Soon after I began my first teaching in West Virginia I had
picked out four of the brightest and most promising of my pupils,
in addition to my two brothers, to whom I have already referred,
and had given them special attention, with the view of having
them go to Hampton. They had gone there, and in each case the
teachers had found them so well prepared that they entered
advanced classes. This fact, it seems, led to my being called
back to Hampton as a teacher. One of the young men that I sent to
Hampton in this way is now Dr. Samuel E. Courtney, a successful
physician in Boston, and a member of the School Board of that

About this time the experiment was being tried for the first
time, by General Armstrong, of education Indians at Hampton. Few
people then had any confidence in the ability of the Indians to
receive education and to profit by it. General Armstrong was
anxious to try the experiment systematically on a large scale. He
secured from the reservations in the Western states over one
hundred wild and for the most part perfectly ignorant Indians,
the greater proportion of whom were young men. The special work
which the General desired me to do was be a sort of "house
father" to the Indian young men--that is, I was to live in the
building with them and have the charge of their discipline,
clothing, rooms, and so on. This was a very tempting offer, but I
had become so much absorbed in my work in West Virginia that I
dreaded to give it up. However, I tore myself away from it. I did
not know how to refuse to perform any service that General
Armstrong desired of me.

On going to Hampton, I took up my residence in a building with
about seventy-five Indian youths. I was the only person in the
building who was not a member of their race. At first I had a
good deal of doubt about my ability to succeed. I knew that the
average Indian felt himself above the white man, and, of course,
he felt himself far above the Negro, largely on account of the
fact of the Negro having submitted to slavery--a thing which the
Indian would never do. The Indians, in the Indian Territory,
owned a large number of slaves during the days of slavery. Aside
from this, there was a general feeling that the attempt to
education and civilize the red men at Hampton would be a failure.
All this made me proceed very cautiously, for I felt keenly the
great responsibility. But I was determined to succeed. It was not
long before I had the complete confidence of the Indians, and not
only this, but I think I am safe in saying that I had their love
and respect. I found that they were about like any other human
beings; that they responded to kind treatment and resented
ill-treatment. They were continually planning to do something
that would add to my happiness and comfort. The things that they
disliked most, I think, were to have their long hair cut, to give
up wearing their blankets, and to cease smoking; but no white
American ever thinks that any other race is wholly civilized
until he wears the white man's clothes, eats the white man's
food, speaks the white man's language, and professes the white
man's religion.

When the difficulty of learning the English language was
subtracted, I found that in the matter of learning trades and in
mastering academic studies there was little difference between
the coloured and Indian students. It was a constant delight to me
to note the interest which the coloured students took in trying
to help the Indians in every way possible. There were a few of
the coloured students who felt that the Indians ought not to be
admitted to Hampton, but these were in the minority. Whenever
they were asked to do so, the Negro students gladly took the
Indians as room-mates, in order that they might teach them to
speak English and to acquire civilized habits.

I have often wondered if there was a white institution in this
country whose students would have welcomed the incoming of more
than a hundred companions of another race in the cordial way that
these black students at Hampton welcomed the red ones. How often
I have wanted to say to white students that they lift themselves
up in proportion as they help to lift others, and the more
unfortunate the race, and the lower in the scale of civilization,
the more does one raise one's self by giving the assistance.

This reminds me of a conversation which I once had with the Hon.
Frederick Douglass. At one time Mr. Douglass was travelling in
the state of Pennsylvania, and was forced, on account of his
colour, to ride in the baggage-car, in spite of the fact that he
had paid the same price for his passage that the other passengers
had paid. When some of the white passengers went into the
baggage-car to console Mr. Douglass, and one of them said to him:
"I am sorry, Mr. Douglass, that you have been degraded in this
manner," Mr. Douglass straightened himself up on the box upon
which he was sitting, and replied: "They cannot degrade Frederick
Douglass. The soul that is within me no man can degrade. I am not
the one that is being degraded on account of this treatment, but
those who are inflicting it upon me."

In one part of the country, where the law demands the separation
of the races on the railroad trains, I saw at one time a rather
amusing instance which showed how difficult it sometimes is to
know where the black begins and the white ends.

There was a man who was well known in his community as a Negro,
but who was so white that even an expert would have hard work to
classify him as a black man. This man was riding in the part of
the train set aside for the coloured passengers. When the train
conductor reached him, he showed at once that he was perplexed.
If the man was a Negro, the conductor did not want to send him to
the white people's coach; at the same time, if he was a white
man, the conductor did not want to insult him by asking him if he
was a Negro. The official looked him over carefully, examining
his hair, eyes, nose, and hands, but still seemed puzzled.
Finally, to solve the difficulty, he stooped over and peeped at
the man's feet. When I saw the conductor examining the feet of
the man in question, I said to myself, "That will settle it;" and
so it did, for the trainman promptly decided that the passenger
was a Negro, and let him remain where he was. I congratulated
myself that my race was fortunate in not losing one of its

My experience has been that the time to test a true gentleman is
to observe him when he is in contact with individuals of a race
that is less fortunate than his own. This is illustrated in no
better way than by observing the conduct of the old-school type
of Southern gentleman when he is in contact with his former
salves or their descendants.

An example of what I mean is shown in a story told of George
Washington, who, meeting a coloured man in the road once, who
politely lifted his hat, lifted his own in return. Some of his
white friends who saw the incident criticised Washington for his
action. In reply to their criticism George Washington said: "Do
you suppose that I am going to permit a poor, ignorant, coloured
man to be more polite than I am?"

While I was in charge of the Indian boys at Hampton, I had one or
two experiences which illustrate the curious workings of caste in
America. One of the Indian boys was taken ill, and it became my
duty to take him to Washington, deliver him over to the Secretary
of the Interior, and get a receipt for him, in order that he
might be returned to his Western reservation. At that time I was
rather ignorant of the ways of the world. During my journey to
Washington, on a steamboat, when the bell rang for dinner, I was
careful to wait and not enter the dining room until after the
greater part of the passengers had finished their meal. Then,
with my charge, I went to the dining saloon. The man in charge
politely informed me that the Indian could be served, but that I
could not. I never could understand how he knew just where to
draw the colour line, since the Indian and I were of about the
same complexion. The steward, however, seemed to be an expert in
this manner. I had been directed by the authorities at Hampton to
stop at a certain hotel in Washington with my charge, but when I
went to this hotel the clerk stated that he would be glad to
receive the Indian into the house, but said that he could not
accommodate me.

An illustration of something of this same feeling came under my
observation afterward. I happened to find myself in a town in
which so much excitement and indignation were being expressed
that it seemed likely for a time that there would be a lynching.
The occasion of the trouble was that a dark-skinned man had
stopped at the local hotel. Investigation, however, developed the
fact that this individual was a citizen of Morocco, and that
while travelling in this country he spoke the English language.
As soon as it was learned that he was not an American Negro, all
the signs of indignation disappeared. The man who was the
innocent cause of the excitement, though, found it prudent after
that not to speak English.

At the end of my first year with the Indians there came another
opening for me at Hampton, which, as I look back over my life
now, seems to have come providentially, to help to prepare me for
my work at Tuskegee later. General Armstrong had found out that
there was quite a number of young coloured men and women who were
intensely in earnest in wishing to get an education, but who were
prevented from entering Hampton Institute because they were too
poor to be able to pay any portion of the cost of their board, or
even to supply themselves with books. He conceived the idea of
starting a night-school in connection with the Institute, into
which a limited number of the most promising of these young men
and women would be received, on condition that they were to work
for ten hours during the day, and attend school for two hours at
night. They were to be paid something above the cost of their
board for their work. The greater part of their earnings was to
be reserved in the school's treasury as a fund to be drawn on to
pay their board when they had become students in the day-school,
after they had spent one or two years in the night-school. In
this way they would obtain a start in their books and a knowledge
of some trade or industry, in addition to the other far-reaching
benefits of the institution.

General Armstrong asked me to take charge of the night-school,
and I did so. At the beginning of this school there were about
twelve strong, earnest men and women who entered the class.
During the day the greater part of the young men worked in the
school's sawmill, and the young men worked in the laundry. The
work was not easy in either place, but in all my teaching I never
taught pupils who gave me much genuine satisfaction as these did.
They were good students, and mastered their work thoroughly. They
were so much in earnest that only the ringing of the
retiring-bell would make them stop studying, and often they would
urge me to continue the lessons after the usual hour for going to
bed had come.

These students showed so much earnestness, both in their hard
work during the day, as well as in their application to their
studies at night, that I gave them the name of "The Plucky
Class"--a name which soon grew popular and spread throughout the
institution. After a student had been in the night-school long
enough to prove what was in him, I gave him a printed certificate
which read something like this:--

"This is to certify that James Smith is a member of The Plucky
Class of the Hampton Institute, and is in good and regular

The students prized these certificates highly, and they added
greatly to the popularity of the night-school. Within a few weeks
this department had grown to such an extent that there were about
twenty-five students in attendance. I have followed the course of
many of these twenty-five men and women ever since then, and they
are now holding important and useful positions in nearly every
part of the South. The night-school at Hampton, which started
with only twelve students, now numbers between three and four
hundred, and is one of the permanent and most important features
of the institution.

Chapter VII. Early Days At Tuskegee

During the time that I had charge of the Indians and the
night-school at Hampton, I pursued some studies myself, under the
direction of the instructors there. One of these instructors was
the Rev. Dr. H.B. Frissell, the present Principal of the Hampton
Institute, General Armstrong's successor.

In May, 1881, near the close of my first year in teaching the
night-school, in a way that I had not dared expect, the
opportunity opened for me to begin my life-work. One night in the
chapel, after the usual chapel exercises were over, General
Armstrong referred to the fact that he had received a letter from
some gentlemen in Alabama asking him to recommend some one to
take charge of what was to be a normal school for the coloured
people in the little town of Tuskegee in that state. These
gentlemen seemed to take it for granted that no coloured man
suitable for the position could be secured, and they were
expecting the General to recommend a white man for the place. The
next day General Armstrong sent for me to come to his office,
and, much to my surprise, asked me if I thought I could fill the
position in Alabama. I told him that I would be willing to try.
Accordingly, he wrote to the people who had applied to him for
the information, that he did not know of any white man to
suggest, but if they would be willing to take a coloured man, he
had one whom he could recommend. In this letter he gave them my

Several days passed before anything more was heard about the
matter. Some time afterward, one Sunday evening during the chapel
exercises, a messenger came in and handed the general a telegram.
At the end of the exercises he read the telegram to the school.
In substance, these were its words: "Booker T. Washington will
suit us. Send him at once."

There was a great deal of joy expressed among the students and
teachers, and I received very hearty congratulations. I began to
get ready at once to go to Tuskegee. I went by way of my old home
in West Virginia, where I remained for several days, after which
I proceeded to Tuskegee. I found Tuskegee to be a town of about
two thousand inhabitants, nearly one-half of whom were coloured.
It was in what was known as the Black Belt of the South. In the
county in which Tuskegee is situated the coloured people
outnumbered the whites by about three to one. In some of the
adjoining and near-by counties the proportion was not far from
six coloured persons to one white.

I have often been asked to define the term "Black Belt." So far
as I can learn, the term was first used to designated a part of
the country which was distinguished by the colour of the soil.
The part of the country possessing this thick, dark, and
naturally rich soil was, of course, the part of the South where
the slaves were most profitable, and consequently they were taken
there in the largest numbers. Later, and especially since the
war, the term seems to be used wholly in a political sense--that
is, to designate the counties where the black people outnumber
the white.

Before going to Tuskegee I had expected to find there a building
and all the necessary apparatus ready for me to begin teaching.
To my disappointment, I found nothing of the kind. I did find,
though, that which no costly building and apparatus can
supply,--hundreds of hungry, earnest souls who wanted to secure

Tuskegee seemed an ideal place for the school. It was in the
midst of the great bulk of the Negro population, and was rather
secluded, being five miles from the main line of railroad, with
which it was connected by a short line. During the days of
slavery, and since, the town had been a centre for the education
of the white people. This was an added advantage, for the reason
that I found the white people possessing a degree of culture and
education that is not surpassed by many localities. While the
coloured people were ignorant, they had not, as a rule, degraded
and weakened their bodies by vices such as are common to the
lower class of people in the large cities. In general, I found
the relations between the two races pleasant. For example, the
largest, and I think at that time the only hardware store in the
town was owned and operated jointly by a coloured man and a white
man. This copartnership continued until the death of the white

I found that about a year previous to my going to Tuskegee some
of the coloured people who had heard something of the work of
education being done at Hampton had applied to the state
Legislature, through their representatives, for a small
appropriation to be used in starting a normal school in Tuskegee.
This request the Legislature had complied with to the extent of
granting an annual appropriation of two thousand dollars. I soon
learned, however, that this money could be used only for the
payment of the salaries of the instructors, and that there was no
provision for securing land, buildings, or apparatus. The task
before me did not seem a very encouraging one. It seemed much
like making bricks without straw. The coloured people were
overjoyed, and were constantly offering their services in any way
in which they could be of assistance in getting the school

My first task was to find a place in which to open the school.
After looking the town over with some care, the most suitable
place that could be secured seemed to be a rather dilapidated
shanty near the coloured Methodist church, together with the
church itself as a sort of assembly-room. Both the church and the
shanty were in about as bad condition as was possible. I recall
that during the first months of school that I taught in this
building it was in such poor repair that, whenever it rained, one
of the older students would very kindly leave his lessons and
hold an umbrella over me while I heard the recitations of the
others. I remember, also, that on more than one occasion my
landlady held an umbrella over me while I ate breakfast.

At the time I went to Alabama the coloured people were taking
considerable interest in politics, and they were very anxious
that I should become one of them politically, in every respect.
They seemed to have a little distrust of strangers in this
regard. I recall that one man, who seemed to have been designated
by the others to look after my political destiny, came to me on
several occasions and said, with a good deal of earnestness: "We
wants you to be sure to vote jes' like we votes. We can't read de
newspapers very much, but we knows how to vote, an' we wants you
to vote jes' like we votes." He added: "We watches de white man,
and we keeps watching de white man till we finds out which way de
white man's gwine to vote; an' when we finds out which way de
white man's gwine to vote, den we votes 'xactly de other way. Den
we knows we's right."

I am glad to add, however, that at the present time the
disposition to vote against the white man merely because he is
white is largely disappearing, and the race is learning to vote
from principle, for what the voter considers to be for the best
interests of both races.

I reached Tuskegee, as I have said, early in June, 1881. The
first month I spent in finding accommodations for the school, and
in travelling through Alabama, examining into the actual life of
the people, especially in the court districts, and in getting the
school advertised among the glass of people that I wanted to have
attend it. The most of my travelling was done over the country
roads, with a mule and a cart or a mule and a buggy wagon for
conveyance. I ate and slept with the people, in their little
cabins. I saw their farms, their schools, their churches. Since,
in the case of the most of these visits, there had been no notice
given in advance that a stranger was expected, I had the
advantage of seeing the real, everyday life of the people.

In the plantation districts I found that, as a rule, the whole
family slept in one room, and that in addition to the immediate
family there sometimes were relatives, or others not related to
the family, who slept in the same room. On more than one occasion
I went outside the house to get ready for bed, or to wait until
the family had gone to bed. They usually contrived some kind of a
place for me to sleep, either on the floor or in a special part
of another's bed. Rarely was there any place provided in the
cabin where one could bathe even the face and hands, but usually
some provision was made for this outside the house, in the yard.

The common diet of the people was fat pork and corn bread. At
times I have eaten in cabins where they had only corn bread and
"black-eye peas" cooked in plain water. The people seemed to have
no other idea than to live on this fat meat and corn bread,--the
meat, and the meal of which the bread was made, having been
bought at a high price at a store in town, notwithstanding the
face that the land all about the cabin homes could easily have
been made to produce nearly every kind of garden vegetable that
is raised anywhere in the country. Their one object seemed to be
to plant nothing but cotton; and in many cases cotton was planted
up to the very door of the cabin.

In these cabin homes I often found sewing-machines which had been
bought, or were being bought, on instalments, frequently at a
cost of as much as sixty dollars, or showy clocks for which the
occupants of the cabins had paid twelve or fourteen dollars. I
remember that on one occasion when I went into one of these
cabins for dinner, when I sat down to the table for a meal with
the four members of the family, I noticed that, while there were
five of us at the table, there was but one fork for the five of
us to use. Naturally there was an awkward pause on my part. In
the opposite corner of that same cabin was an organ for which the
people told me they were paying sixty dollars in monthly
instalments. One fork, and a sixty-dollar organ!

In most cases the sewing-machine was not used, the clocks were so
worthless that they did not keep correct time--and if they had,
in nine cases out of ten there would have been no one in the
family who could have told the time of day--while the organ, of
course, was rarely used for want of a person who could play upon

In the case to which I have referred, where the family sat down
to the table for the meal at which I was their guest, I could see
plainly that this was an awkward and unusual proceeding, and was
done in my honour. In most cases, when the family got up in the
morning, for example, the wife would put a piece of meat in a
frying-pan and put a lump of dough in a "skillet," as they called
it. These utensils would be placed on the fire, and in ten or
fifteen minutes breakfast would be ready. Frequently the husband
would take his bread and meat in his hand and start for the
field, eating as he walked. The mother would sit down in a corner
and eat her breakfast, perhaps from a plate and perhaps directly
from the "skillet" or frying-pan, while the children would eat
their portion of the bread and meat while running about the yard.
At certain seasons of the year, when meat was scarce, it was
rarely that the children who were not old enough or strong enough
to work in the fields would have the luxury of meat.

The breakfast over, and with practically no attention given to
the house, the whole family would, as a general thing, proceed to
the cotton-field. Every child that was large enough to carry a
hoe was put to work, and the baby--for usually there was at least
one baby--would be laid down at the end of the cotton row, so
that its mother could give it a certain amount of attention when
she had finished chopping her row. The noon meal and the supper
were taken in much the same way as the breakfast.

All the days of the family would be spent after much this same
routine, except Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday the whole family
would spent at least half a day, and often a whole day, in town.
The idea in going to town was, I suppose, to do shopping, but all
the shopping that the whole family had money for could have been
attended to in ten minutes by one person. Still, the whole family
remained in town for most of the day, spending the greater part
of the time in standing on the streets, the women, too often,
sitting about somewhere smoking or dipping snuff. Sunday was
usually spent in going to some big meeting. With few exceptions,
I found that the crops were mortgaged in the counties where I
went, and that the most of the coloured farmers were in debt. The
state had not been able to build schoolhouses in the country
districts, and, as a rule, the schools were taught in churches or
in log cabins. More than once, while on my journeys, I found that
there was no provision made in the house used for school purposes
for heating the building during the winter, and consequently a
fire had to be built in the yard, and teacher and pupils passed
in and out of the house as they got cold or warm. With few
exceptions, I found the teachers in these country schools to be
miserably poor in preparation for their work, and poor in moral
character. The schools were in session from three to five months.
There was practically no apparatus in the schoolhouses, except
that occasionally there was a rough blackboard. I recall that one
day I went into a schoolhouse--or rather into an abandoned log
cabin that was being used as a schoolhouse--and found five pupils
who were studying a lesson from one book. Two of these, on the
front seat, were using the book between them; behind these were
two others peeping over the shoulders of the first two, and
behind the four was a fifth little fellow who was peeping over
the shoulders of all four.

What I have said concerning the character of the schoolhouses and
teachers will also apply quite accurately as a description of the
church buildings and the ministers.

I met some very interesting characters during my travels. As
illustrating the peculiar mental processes of the country people,
I remember that I asked one coloured man, who was about sixty
years old, to tell me something of his history. He said that he
had been born in Virginia, and sold into Alabama in 1845. I asked
him how many were sold at the same time. He said, "There were
five of us; myself and brother and three mules."

In giving all these descriptions of what I saw during my mouth of
travel in the country around Tuskegee, I wish my readers to keep
in mind the fact that there were many encouraging exceptions to
the conditions which I have described. I have stated in such
plain words what I saw, mainly for the reason that later I want
to emphasize the encouraging changes that have taken place in the
community, not wholly by the work of the Tuskegee school, but by
that of other institutions as well.

Chapter VIII. Teaching School In A Stable And A Hen-House

I confess that what I saw during my month of travel and
investigation left me with a very heavy heart. The work to be
done in order to lift these people up seemed almost beyond
accomplishing. I was only one person, and it seemed to me that
the little effort which I could put forth could go such a short
distance toward bringing about results. I wondered if I could
accomplish anything, and if it were worth while for me to try.

Of one thing I felt more strongly convinced than ever, after
spending this month in seeing the actual life of the coloured
people, and that was that, in order to lift them up, something
must be done more than merely to imitate New England education as
it then existed. I saw more clearly than ever the wisdom of the
system which General Armstrong had inaugurated at Hampton. To
take the children of such people as I had been among for a month,
and each day give them a few hours of mere book education, I felt
would be almost a waste of time.

After consultation with the citizens of Tuskegee, I set July 4,
1881, as the day for the opening of the school in the little
shanty and church which had been secured for its accommodation.
The white people, as well as the coloured, were greatly
interested in the starting of the new school, and the opening day
was looked forward to with much earnest discussion. There were
not a few white people in the vicinity of Tuskegee who looked
with some disfavour upon the project. They questioned its value
to the coloured people, and had a fear that it might result in
bringing about trouble between the races. Some had the feeling
that in proportion as the Negro received education, in the same
proportion would his value decrease as an economic factor in the
state. These people feared the result of education would be that
the Negroes would leave the farms, and that it would be difficult
to secure them for domestic service.

The white people who questioned the wisdom of starting this new
school had in their minds pictures of what was called an educated
Negro, with a high hat, imitation gold eye-glasses, a showy
walking-stick, kid gloves, fancy boots, and what not--in a word,
a man who was determined to live by his wits. It was difficult
for these people to see how education would produce any other
kind of a coloured man.

In the midst of all the difficulties which I encountered in
getting the little school started, and since then through a
period of nineteen years, there are two men among all the many
friends of the school in Tuskegee upon whom I have depended
constantly for advice and guidance; and the success of the
undertaking is largely due to these men, from whom I have never
sought anything in vain. I mention them simply as types. One is a
white man and an ex-slaveholder, Mr. George W. Campbell; the
other is a black man and an ex-slave, Mr. Lewis Adams. These were
the men who wrote to General Armstrong for a teacher.

Mr. Campbell is a merchant and banker, and had had little
experience in dealing with matters pertaining to education. Mr.
Adams was a mechanic, and had learned the trades of shoemaking,
harness-making, and tinsmithing during the days of slavery. He
had never been to school a day in his life, but in some way he
had learned to read and write while a slave. From the first,
these two men saw clearly what my plan of education was,
sympathized with me, and supported me in every effort. In the
days which were darkest financially for the school, Mr. Campbell
was never appealed to when he was not willing to extend all the
aid in his power. I do not know two men, one an ex-slaveholder,
one an ex-slave, whose advice and judgment I would feel more like
following in everything which concerns the life and development
of the school at Tuskegee than those of these two men.

I have always felt that Mr. Adams, in a large degree, derived his
unusual power of mind from the training given his hands in the
process of mastering well three trades during the days of
slavery. If one goes to-day into any Southern town, and asks for
the leading and most reliable coloured man in the community, I
believe that in five cases out of ten he will be directed to a
Negro who learned a trade during the days of slavery.

On the morning that the school opened, thirty students reported
for admission. I was the only teacher. The students were about
equally divided between the sexes. Most of them lived in Macon
County, the county in which Tuskegee is situated, and of which it
is the county-seat. A great many more students wanted to enter
the school, but it had been decided to receive only those who
were above fifteen years of age, and who had previously received
some education. The greater part of the thirty were public-school
teachers, and some of them were nearly forty years of age. With
the teachers came some of their former pupils, and when they were
examined it was amusing to note that in several cases the pupil
entered a higher class than did his former teacher. It was also
interesting to note how many big books some of them had studied,
and how many high-sounding subjects some of them claimed to have
mastered. The bigger the book and the longer the name of the
subject, the prouder they felt of their accomplishment. Some had
studied Latin, and one or two Greek. This they thought entitled
them to special distinction.

In fact, one of the saddest things I saw during the month of
travel which I have described was a young man, who had attended
some high school, sitting down in a one-room cabin, with grease
on his clothing, filth all around him, and weeds in the yard and
garden, engaged in studying a French grammar.

The students who came first seemed to be fond of memorizing long
and complicated "rules" in grammar and mathematics, but had
little thought or knowledge of applying these rules to their
everyday affairs of their life. One subject which they liked to
talk about, and tell me that they had mastered, in arithmetic,
was "banking and discount," but I soon found out that neither
they nor almost any one in the neighbourhood in which they had
lived had ever had a bank account. In registering the names of
the students, I found that almost every one of them had one or
more middle initials. When I asked what the "J" stood for, in the
name of John J. Jones, it was explained to me that this was a
part of his "entitles." Most of the students wanted to get an
education because they thought it would enable them to earn more
money as school-teachers.

Notwithstanding what I have said about them in these respects, I
have never seen a more earnest and willing company of young men
and women than these students were. They were all willing to
learn the right thing as soon as it was shown them what was
right. I was determined to start them off on a solid and thorough
foundation, so far as their books were concerned. I soon learned
that most of them had the merest smattering of the high-sounding
things that they had studied. While they could locate the Desert
of Sahara or the capital of China on an artificial globe, I found
out that the girls could not locate the proper places for the
knives and forks on an actual dinner-table, or the places on
which the bread and meat should be set.

I had to summon a good deal of courage to take a student who had
been studying cube root and "banking and discount," and explain
to him that the wisest thing for him to do first was thoroughly
master the multiplication table.

The number of pupils increased each week, until by the end of the
first month there were nearly fifty. Many of them, however, said
that, as they could remain only for two or three months, they
wanted to enter a high class and get a diploma the first year if

At the end of the first six weeks a new and rare face entered the
school as a co-teacher. This was Miss Olivia A. Davidson, who
later became my wife. Miss Davidson was born in Ohio, and
received her preparatory education in the public schools of that
state. When little more than a girl, she heard of the need of
teachers in the South. She went to the state of Mississippi and
began teaching there. Later she taught in the city of Memphis.
While teaching in Mississippi, one of her pupils became ill with
smallpox. Every one in the community was so frightened that no
one would nurse the boy. Miss Davidson closed her school and
remained by the bedside of the boy night and day until he
recovered. While she was at her Ohio home on her vacation, the
worst epidemic of yellow fever broke out in Memphis, Tenn., that
perhaps has ever occurred in the South. When she heard of this,
she at once telegraphed the Mayor of Memphis, offering her
services as a yellow-fever nurse, although she had never had the

Miss Davidon's experience in the South showed her that the people
needed something more than mere book-learning. She heard of the
Hampton system of education, and decided that this was what she
wanted in order to prepare herself for better work in the South.
The attention of Mrs. Mary Hemenway, of Boston, was attracted to
her rare ability. Through Mrs. Hemenway's kindness and
generosity, Miss Davidson, after graduating at Hampton, received
an opportunity to complete a two years' course of training at the
Massachusetts State Normal School at Framingham.

Before she went to Framingham, some one suggested to Miss
Davidson that, since she was so very light in colour, she might
find it more comfortable not to be known as a coloured women in
this school in Massachusetts. She at once replied that under no
circumstances and for no considerations would she consent to
deceive any one in regard to her racial identity.

Soon after her graduation from the Framingham institution, Miss
Davidson came to Tuskegee, bringing into the school many valuable
and fresh ideas as to the best methods of teaching, as well as a
rare moral character and a life of unselfishness that I think has
seldom been equalled. No single individual did more toward laying
the foundations of the Tuskegee Institute so as to insure the
successful work that has been done there than Olivia A. Davidson.

Miss Davidson and I began consulting as to the future of the
school from the first. The students were making progress in
learning books and in development their minds; but it became
apparent at once that, if we were to make any permanent
impression upon those who had come to us for training we must do
something besides teach them mere books. The students had come
from homes where they had had no opportunities for lessons which
would teach them how to care for their bodies. With few
exceptions, the homes in Tuskegee in which the students boarded
were but little improvement upon those from which they had come.
We wanted to teach the students how to bathe; how to care for
their teeth and clothing. We wanted to teach them what to eat,
and how to eat it properly, and how to care for their rooms.
Aside from this, we wanted to give them such a practical
knowledge of some one industry, together with the spirit of
industry, thrift, and economy, that they would be sure of knowing
how to make a living after they had left us. We wanted to teach
them to study actual things instead of mere books alone.

We found that the most of our students came from the country
districts, where agriculture in some form or other was the main
dependence of the people. We learned that about eighty-five per
cent of the coloured people in the Gulf states depended upon
agriculture for their living. Since this was true, we wanted to
be careful not to education our students out of sympathy with
agricultural life, so that they would be attracted from the
country to the cities, and yield to the temptation of trying to
live by their wits. We wanted to give them such an education as
would fit a large proportion of them to be teachers, and at the
same time cause them to return to the plantation districts and
show the people there how to put new energy and new ideas into
farming, as well as into the intellectual and moral and religious
life of the people.

All these ideas and needs crowded themselves upon us with a
seriousness that seemed well-night overwhelming. What were we to
do? We had only the little old shanty and the abandoned church
which the good coloured people of the town of Tuskegee had kindly
loaned us for the accommodation of the classes. The number of
students was increasing daily. The more we saw of them, and the
more we travelled through the country districts, the more we saw
that our efforts were reaching, to only a partial degree, the
actual needs of the people whom we wanted to lift up through the
medium of the students whom we should education and send out as

The more we talked with the students, who were then coming to us
from several parts of the state, the more we found that the chief
ambition among a large proportion of them was to get an education
so that they would not have to work any longer with their hands.

This is illustrated by a story told of a coloured man in Alabama,
who, one hot day in July, while he was at work in a cotton-field,
suddenly stopped, and, looking toward the skies, said: "O Lawd,
de cottom am so grassy, de work am so hard, and the sun am so hot
dat I b'lieve dis darky am called to preach!"

About three months after the opening of the school, and at the
time when we were in the greatest anxiety about our work, there
came into market for sale an old and abandoned plantation which
was situated about a mile from the town of Tuskegee. The mansion
house--or "big house," as it would have been called--which had
been occupied by the owners during slavery, had been burned.
After making a careful examination of the place, it seemed to be
just the location that we wanted in order to make our work
effective and permanent.

But how were we to get it? The price asked for it was very little
--only five hundred dollars--but we had no money, and we were
strangers in the town and had no credit. The owner of the land
agreed to let us occupy the place if we could make a payment of
two hundred and fifty dollars down, with the understanding that
the remaining two hundred and fifty dollars must be paid within a
year. Although five hundred dollars was cheap for the land, it
was a large sum when one did not have any part of it.

In the midst of the difficulty I summoned a great deal of courage
and wrote to my friend General J.F.B. Marshall, the Treasurer of
the Hampton Institute, putting the situation before him and
beseeching him to lend me the two hundred and fifty dollars on my
own personal responsibility. Within a few days a reply came to
the effect that he had no authority to lend me the money
belonging to the Hampton Institute, but that he would gladly lend
me the amount needed from his own personal funds.

I confess that the securing of this money in this way was a great
surprise to me, as well as a source of gratification. Up to that
time I never had had in my possession so much money as one
hundred dollars at a time, and the loan which I had asked General
Marshall for seemed a tremendously large sum to me. The fact of
my being responsible for the repaying of such a large amount of
money weighed very heavily upon me.

I lost no time in getting ready to move the school on to the new
farm. At the time we occupied the place there were standing upon
it a cabin, formerly used as a dining room, an old kitchen, a
stable, and an old hen-house. Within a few weeks we had all of
these structures in use. The stable was repaired and used as a
recitation-room, and very presently the hen-house was utilized
for the same purpose.

I recall that one morning, when I told an old coloured man who
lived near, and who sometimes helped me, that our school had
grown so large that it would be necessary for us to use the
hen-house for school purposes, and that I wanted him to help me
give it a thorough cleaning out the next day, he replied, in the
most earnest manner: "What you mean, boss? You sholy ain't gwine
clean out de hen-house in de day-time?"

Nearly all the work of getting the new location ready for school
purposes was done by the students after school was over in the
afternoon. As soon as we got the cabins in condition to be used,
I determined to clear up some land so that we could plant a crop.
When I explained my plan to the young men, I noticed that they
did not seem to take to it very kindly. It was hard for them to
see the connection between clearing land and an education.
Besides, many of them had been school-teachers, and they
questioned whether or not clearing land would be in keeping with
their dignity. In order to relieve them from any embarrassment,
each afternoon after school I took my axe and led the way to the
woods. When they saw that I was not afraid or ashamed to work,
they began to assist with more enthusiasm. We kept at the work
each afternoon, until we had cleared about twenty acres and had
planted a crop.

In the meantime Miss Davidson was devising plans to repay the
loan. Her first effort was made by holding festivals, or
"suppers." She made a personal canvass among the white and
coloured families in the town of Tuskegee, and got them to agree
to give something, like a cake, a chicken, bread, or pies, that
could be sold at the festival. Of course the coloured people were
glad to give anything that they could spare, but I want to add
that Miss Davidson did not apply to a single white family, so far
as I now remember, that failed to donate something; and in many
ways the white families showed their interested in the school.

Several of these festivals were held, and quite a little sum of
money was raised. A canvass was also made among the people of
both races for direct gifts of money, and most of those applied
to gave small sums. It was often pathetic to note the gifts of
the older coloured people, most of whom had spent their best days
in slavery. Sometimes they would give five cents, sometimes
twenty-five cents. Sometimes the contribution was a quilt, or a
quantity of sugarcane. I recall one old coloured women who was
about seventy years of age, who came to see me when we were
raising money to pay for the farm. She hobbled into the room
where I was, leaning on a cane. She was clad in rags; but they
were clean. She said: "Mr. Washin'ton, God knows I spent de bes'
days of my life in slavery. God knows I's ignorant an' poor;
but," she added, "I knows what you an' Miss Davidson is tryin' to
do. I knows you is tryin' to make better men an' better women for
de coloured race. I ain't got no money, but I wants you to take
dese six eggs, what I's been savin' up, an' I wants you to put
dese six eggs into the eddication of dese boys an' gals."

Since the work at Tuskegee started, it has been my privilege to
receive many gifts for the benefit of the institution, but never
any, I think, that touched me so deeply as this one.

Chapter IX. Anxious Days And Sleepless Nights

The coming of Christmas, that first year of our residence in
Alabama, gave us an opportunity to get a farther insight into the
real life of the people. The first thing that reminded us that
Christmas had arrived was the "foreday" visits of scores of
children rapping at our doors, asking for "Chris'mus gifts!
Chris'mus gifts!" Between the hours of two o'clock and five
o'clock in the morning I presume that we must have had a
half-hundred such calls. This custom prevails throughout this
portion of the South to-day.

During the days of slavery it was a custom quite generally
observed throughout all the Southern states to give the coloured
people a week of holiday at Christmas, or to allow the holiday to
continue as long as the "yule log" lasted. The male members of
the race, and often the female members, were expected to get
drunk. We found that for a whole week the coloured people in and
around Tuskegee dropped work the day before Christmas, and that
it was difficult for any one to perform any service from the time
they stopped work until after the New Year. Persons who at other
times did not use strong drink thought it quite the proper thing
to indulge in it rather freely during the Christmas week. There
was a widespread hilarity, and a free use of guns, pistols, and
gunpowder generally. The sacredness of the season seemed to have
been almost wholly lost sight of.

During this first Christmas vacation I went some distance from
the town to visit the people on one of the large plantations. In
their poverty and ignorance it was pathetic to see their attempts
to get joy out of the season that in most parts of the country is
so sacred and so dear to the heart. In one cabin I notice that
all that the five children had to remind them of the coming of
Christ was a single bunch of firecrackers, which they had divided
among them. In another cabin, where there were at least a
half-dozen persons, they had only ten cents' worth of
ginger-cakes, which had been bought in the store the day before.
In another family they had only a few pieces of sugarcane. In
still another cabin I found nothing but a new jug of cheap, mean
whiskey, which the husband and wife were making free use of,
notwithstanding the fact that the husband was one of the local
ministers. In a few instances I found that the people had gotten
hold of some bright-coloured cards that had been designed for
advertising purposes, and were making the most of these. In other
homes some member of the family had bought a new pistol. In the
majority of cases there was nothing to be seen in the cabin to
remind one of the coming of the Saviour, except that the people
had ceased work in the fields and were lounging about their
homes. At night, during Christmas week, they usually had what
they called a "frolic," in some cabin on the plantation. That
meant a kind of rough dance, where there was likely to be a good
deal of whiskey used, and where there might be some shooting or
cutting with razors.

While I was making this Christmas visit I met an old coloured man
who was one of the numerous local preachers, who tried to
convince me, from the experience Adam had in the Garden of Eden,
that God had cursed all labour, and that, therefore, it was a sin
for any man to work. For that reason this man sought to do as
little work as possible. He seemed at that time to be supremely
happy, because he was living, as he expressed it, through one
week that was free from sin.

In the school we made a special effort to teach our students the
meaning of Christmas, and to give them lessons in its proper
observance. In this we have been successful to a degree that
makes me feel safe in saying that the season now has a new
meaning, not only through all that immediate region, but, in a
measure, wherever our graduates have gone.

At the present time one of the most satisfactory features of the
Christmas and Thanksgiving season at Tuskegee is the unselfish
and beautiful way in which our graduates and students spend their
time in administering to the comfort and happiness of others,
especially the unfortunate. Not long ago some of our young men
spent a holiday in rebuilding a cabin for a helpless coloured
women who was about seventy-five years old. At another time I
remember that I made it known in chapel, one night, that a very
poor student was suffering from cold, because he needed a coat.
The next morning two coats were sent to my office for him.

I have referred to the disposition on the part of the white
people in the town of Tuskegee and vicinity to help the school.
From the first, I resolved to make the school a real part of the
community in which it was located. I was determined that no one
should have the feeling that it was a foreign institution,
dropped down in the midst of the people, for which they had no
responsibility and in which they had no interest. I noticed that
the very fact that they had been asking to contribute toward the
purchase of the land made them begin to feel as if it was going
to be their school, to a large degree. I noted that just in
proportion as we made the white people feel that the institution
was a part of the life of the community, and that, while we
wanted to make friends in Boston, for example, we also wanted to
make white friends in Tuskegee, and that we wanted to make the
school of real service to all the people, their attitude toward
the school became favourable.

Perhaps I might add right here, what I hope to demonstrate later,
that, so far as I know, the Tuskegee school at the present time
has no warmer and more enthusiastic friends anywhere than it has
among the white citizens of Tuskegee and throughout the state of
Alabama and the entire South. From the first, I have advised our
people in the South to make friends in every straightforward,
manly way with their next-door neighbour, whether he be a black
man or a white man. I have also advised them, where no principle
is at stake, to consult the interests of their local communities,
and to advise with their friends in regard to their voting.

For several months the work of securing the money with which to
pay for the farm went on without ceasing. At the end of three
months enough was secured to repay the loan of two hundred and
fifty dollars to General Marshall, and within two months more we
had secured the entire five hundred dollars and had received a
deed of the one hundred acres of land. This gave us a great deal
of satisfaction. It was not only a source of satisfaction to
secure a permanent location for the school, but it was equally
satisfactory to know that the greater part of the money with
which it was paid for had been gotten from the white and coloured
people in the town of Tuskegee. The most of this money was
obtained by holding festivals and concerts, and from small
individual donations.

Our next effort was in the direction of increasing the
cultivation of the land, so as to secure some return from it, and
at the same time give the students training in agriculture. All
the industries at Tuskegee have been started in natural and
logical order, growing out of the needs of a community
settlement. We began with farming, because we wanted something to

Many of the students, also, were able to remain in school but a
few weeks at a time, because they had so little money with which
to pay their board. Thus another object which made it desirable
to get an industrial system started was in order to make in
available as a means of helping the students to earn money enough
so that they might be able to remain in school during the nine
months' session of the school year.

The first animal that the school came into possession of was an
old blind horse given us by one of the white citizens of
Tuskegee. Perhaps I may add here that at the present time the
school owns over two hundred horses, colts, mules, cows, calves,
and oxen, and about seven hundred hogs and pigs, as well as a
large number of sheep and goats.

The school was constantly growing in numbers, so much so that,
after we had got the farm paid for, the cultivation of the land
begun, and the old cabins which we had found on the place
somewhat repaired, we turned our attention toward providing a
large, substantial building. After having given a good deal of
thought to the subject, we finally had the plans drawn for a
building that was estimated to cost about six thousand dollars.
This seemed to us a tremendous sum, but we knew that the school
must go backward or forward, and that our work would mean little
unless we could get hold of the students in their home life.

One incident which occurred about this time gave me a great deal
of satisfaction as well as surprise. When it became known in the
town that we were discussing the plans for a new, large building,
a Southern white man who was operating a sawmill not far from
Tuskegee came to me and said that he would gladly put all the
lumber necessary to erect the building on the grounds, with no
other guarantee for payment than my word that it would be paid
for when we secured some money. I told the man frankly that at
the time we did not have in our hands one dollar of the money
needed. Notwithstanding this, he insisted on being allowed to put
the lumber on the grounds. After we had secured some portion of
the money we permitted him to do this.

Miss Davidson again began the work of securing in various ways
small contributions for the new building from the white and
coloured people in and near Tuskegee. I think I never saw a
community of people so happy over anything as were the coloured
people over the prospect of this new building. One day, when we
were holding a meeting to secure funds for its erection, an old,
ante-bellum coloured man came a distance of twelve miles and
brought in his ox-cart a large hog. When the meeting was in
progress, he rose in the midst of the company and said that he
had no money which he could give, but he had raised two fine
hogs, and that he had brought one of them as a contribution
toward the expenses of the building. He closed his announcement
by saying: "Any nigger that's got any love for his race, or any
respect for himself, will bring a hog to the next meeting." Quite
a number of men in the community also volunteered to give several
days' work, each, toward the erection of the building.

After we had secured all the help that we could in Tuskegee, Miss
Davidson decided to go North for the purpose of securing
additional funds. For weeks she visited individuals and spoke in
churches and before Sunday schools and other organizations. She
found this work quite trying, and often embarrassing. The school
was not known, but she was not long in winning her way into the
confidence of the best people in the North.

The first gift from any Northern person was received from a New
York lady whom Miss Davidson met on the boat that was bringing
her North. They fell into a conversation, and the Northern lady
became so much interested in the effort being made at Tuskegee
that before they parted Miss Davidson was handed a check for
fifty dollars. For some time before our marriage, and also after
it, Miss Davidson kept up the work of securing money in the North
and in the South by interesting people by personal visits and
through correspondence. At the same time she kept in close touch
with the work at Tuskegee, as lady principal and classroom
teacher. In addition to this, she worked among the older people
in and near Tuskegee, and taught a Sunday school class in the
town. She was never very strong, but never seemed happy unless
she was giving all of her strength to the cause which she loved.
Often, at night, after spending the day in going from door to
door trying to interest persons in the work at Tuskegee, she
would be so exhausted that she could not undress herself. A lady
upon whom she called, in Boston, afterward told me that at one
time when Miss Davidson called her to see and send up her card
the lady was detained a little before she could see Miss
Davidson, and when she entered the parlour she found Miss
Davidson so exhausted that she had fallen asleep.

While putting up our first building, which was named Porter Hall,
after Mr. A.H. Porter, of Brooklyn, N.Y., who gave a generous sum
toward its erection, the need for money became acute. I had given
one of our creditors a promise that upon a certain day he should
be paid four hundred dollars. On the morning of that day we did
not have a dollar. The mail arrived at the school at ten o'clock,
and in this mail there was a check sent by Miss Davidson for
exactly four hundred dollars. I could relate many instances of
almost the same character. This four hundred dollars was given by
two ladies in Boston. Two years later, when the work at Tuskegee
had grown considerably, and when we were in the midst of a season
when we were so much in need of money that the future looked
doubtful and gloomy, the same two Boston ladies sent us six
thousand dollars. Words cannot describe our surprise, or the
encouragement that the gift brought to us. Perhaps I might add
here that for fourteen years these same friends have sent us six
thousand dollars a year.

As soon as the plans were drawn for the new building, the
students began digging out the earth where the foundations were
to be laid, working after the regular classes were over. They had
not fully outgrown the idea that it was hardly the proper thing
for them to use their hands, since they had come there, as one of
them expressed it, "to be educated, and not to work." Gradually,
though, I noted with satisfaction that a sentiment in favour of
work was gaining ground. After a few weeks of hard work the
foundations were ready, and a day was appointed for the laying of
the corner-stone.

When it is considered that the laying of this corner-stone took
place in the heart of the South, in the "Black Belt," in the
centre of that part of our country that was most devoted to
slavery; that at that time slavery had been abolished only about
sixteen years; that only sixteen years before no Negro could be
taught from books without the teacher receiving the condemnation
of the law or of public sentiment--when all this is considered,
the scene that was witnessed on that spring day at Tuskegee was a
remarkable one. I believe there are few places in the world where
it could have taken place.

The principal address was delivered by the Hon. Waddy Thompson,
the Superintendent of Education for the county. About the
corner-stone were gathered the teachers, the students, their
parents and friends, the county officials--who were white--and
all the leading white men in that vicinity, together with many of
the black men and women whom the same white people but a few
years before had held a title to as property. The members of both
races were anxious to exercise the privilege of placing under the
corner-stone some momento.

Before the building was completed we passed through some very
trying seasons. More than once our hearts were made to bleed, as
it were, because bills were falling due that we did not have the
money to meet. Perhaps no one who has not gone through the
experience, month after month, of trying to erect buildings and
provide equipment for a school when no one knew where the money
was to come from, can properly appreciate the difficulties under
which we laboured. During the first years at Tuskegee I recall
that night after night I would roll and toss on my bed, without
sleep, because of the anxiety and uncertainty which we were in
regarding money. I knew that, in a large degree, we were trying
an experiment--that of testing whether or not it was possible for
Negroes to build up and control the affairs of a large education
institution. I knew that if we failed it would injure the whole
race. I knew that the presumption was against us. I knew that in
the case of white people beginning such an enterprise it would be
taken for granted that they were going to succeed, but in our
case I felt that people would be surprised if we succeeded. All
this made a burden which pressed down on us, sometimes, it
seemed, at the rate of a thousand pounds to the square inch.

In all our difficulties and anxieties, however, I never went to a
white or a black person in the town of Tuskegee for any
assistance that was in their power to render, without being
helped according to their means. More than a dozen times, when
bills figuring up into the hundreds of dollars were falling due,
I applied to the white men of Tuskegee for small loans, often
borrowing small amounts from as many as a half-dozen persons, to
meet our obligations. One thing I was determined to do from the
first, and that was to keep the credit of the school high; and
this, I think I can say without boasting, we have done all
through these years.

I shall always remember a bit of advice given me by Mr. George W.
Campbell, the white man to whom I have referred to as the one who
induced General Armstrong to send me to Tuskegee. Soon after I
entered upon the work Mr. Campbell said to me, in his fatherly
way: "Washington, always remember that credit is capital."

At one time when we were in the greatest distress for money that
we ever experienced, I placed the situation frankly before
General Armstrong. Without hesitation he gave me his personal
check for all the money which he had saved for his own use. This
was not the only time that General Armstrong helped Tuskegee in
this way. I do not think I have ever made this fact public

During the summer of 1882, at the end of the first year's work of
the school, I was married to Miss Fannie N. Smith, of Malden, W.
Va. We began keeping house in Tuskegee early in the fall. This
made a home for our teachers, who now had been increase to four
in number. My wife was also a graduate of the Hampton Institute.
After earnest and constant work in the interests of the school,
together with her housekeeping duties, my wife passed away in
May, 1884. One child, Portia M. Washington, was born during our

From the first, my wife most earnestly devoted her thoughts and
time to the work of the school, and was completely one with me in
every interest and ambition. She passed away, however, before she
had an opportunity of seeing what the school was designed to be.

Chapter X. A Harder Task Than Making Bricks Without Straw

From the very beginning, at Tuskegee, I was determined to have
the students do not only the agricultural and domestic work, but
to have them erect their own buildings. My plan was to have them,
while performing this service, taught the latest and best methods
of labour, so that the school would not only get the benefit of
their efforts, but the students themselves would be taught to see
not only utility in labour, but beauty and dignity; would be
taught, in fact, how to lift labour up from mere drudgery and
toil, and would learn to love work for its own sake. My plan was
not to teach them to work in the old way, but to show them how to
make the forces of nature--air, water, steam, electricity,
horse-power--assist them in their labour.

At first many advised against the experiment of having the
buildings erected by the labour of the students, but I was
determined to stick to it. I told those who doubted the wisdom of
the plan that I knew that our first buildings would not be so
comfortable or so complete in their finish as buildings erected
by the experienced hands of outside workmen, but that in the
teaching of civilization, self-help, and self-reliance, the
erection of buildings by the students themselves would more than
compensate for any lack of comfort or fine finish.

I further told those who doubted the wisdom of this plan, that
the majority of our students came to us in poverty, from the
cabins of the cotton, sugar, and rice plantations of the South,
and that while I knew it would please the students very much to
place them at once in finely constructed buildings, I felt that
it would be following out a more natural process of development
to teach them how to construct their own buildings. Mistakes I
knew would be made, but these mistakes would teach us valuable
lessons for the future.

During the now nineteen years' existence of the Tuskegee school,
the plan of having the buildings erected by student labour has
been adhered to. In this time forty buildings, counting small and
large, have been built, and all except four are almost wholly the
product of student labour. As an additional result, hundreds of
men are now scattered throughout the South who received their
knowledge of mechanics while being taught how to erect these
buildings. Skill and knowledge are now handed down from one set
of students to another in this way, until at the present time a
building of any description or size can be constructed wholly by
our instructors and students, from the drawing of the plans to
the putting in of the electric fixtures, without going off the
grounds for a single workman.

Not a few times, when a new student has been led into the
temptation of marring the looks of some building by leadpencil
marks or by the cuts of a jack-knife, I have heard an old student
remind him: "Don't do that. That is our building. I helped put it

In the early days of the school I think my most trying experience
was in the matter of brickmaking. As soon as we got the farm work
reasonably well started, we directed our next efforts toward the
industry of making bricks. We needed these for use in connection
with the erection of our own buildings; but there was also
another reason for establishing this industry. There was no
brickyard in the town, and in addition to our own needs there was
a demand for bricks in the general market.

I had always sympathized with the "Children of Israel," in their
task of "making bricks without straw," but ours was the task of
making bricks with no money and no experience.

In the first place, the work was hard and dirty, and it was
difficult to get the students to help. When it came to
brickmaking, their distaste for manual labour in connection with
book education became especially manifest. It was not a pleasant
task for one to stand in the mud-pit for hours, with the mud up
to his knees. More than one man became disgusted and left the

We tried several locations before we opened up a pit that
furnished brick clay. I had always supposed that brickmaking was
very simple, but I soon found out by bitter experience that it
required special skill and knowledge, particularly in the burning
of the bricks. After a good deal of effort we moulded about
twenty-five thousand bricks, and put them into a kiln to be
burned. This kiln turned out to be a failure, because it was not
properly constructed or properly burned. We began at once,
however, on a second kiln. This, for some reason, also proved a
failure. The failure of this kiln made it still more difficult to
get the students to take part in the work. Several of the
teachers, however, who had been trained in the industries at
Hampton, volunteered their services, and in some way we succeeded
in getting a third kiln ready for burning. The burning of a kiln
required about a week. Toward the latter part of the week, when
it seemed as if we were going to have a good many thousand bricks
in a few hours, in the middle of the night the kiln fell. For the
third time we had failed.

The failure of this last kiln left me without a single dollar
with which to make another experiment. Most of the teachers
advised the abandoning of the effort to make bricks. In the midst
of my troubles I thought of a watch which had come into my
possession years before. I took the watch to the city of
Montgomery, which was not far distant, and placed it in a
pawn-shop. I secured cash upon it to the amount of fifteen
dollars, with which to renew the brickmaking experiment. I
returned to Tuskegee, and, with the help of the fifteen dollars,
rallied our rather demoralized and discouraged forces and began a
fourth attempt to make bricks. This time, I am glad to say, we
were successful. Before I got hold of any money, the time-limit
on my watch had expired, and I have never seen it since; but I
have never regretted the loss of it.

Brickmaking has now become such an important industry at the
school that last season our students manufactured twelve hundred
thousand of first-class bricks, of a quality stable to be sold in
any market. Aside from this, scores of young men have mastered
the brickmaking trade--both the making of bricks by hand and by
machinery--and are now engaged in this industry in many parts of
the South.

The making of these bricks taught me an important lesson in
regard to the relations of the two races in the South. Many white
people who had had no contact with the school, and perhaps no
sympathy with it, came to us to buy bricks because they found out
that ours were good bricks. They discovered that we were
supplying a real want in the community. The making of these
bricks caused many of the white residents of the neighbourhood to
begin to feel that the education of the Negro was not making him
worthless, but that in educating our students we were adding
something to the wealth and comfort of the community. As the
people of the neighbourhood came to us to buy bricks, we got
acquainted with them; they traded with us and we with them. Our
business interests became intermingled. We had something which
they wanted; they had something which we wanted. This, in a large
measure, helped to lay the foundation for the pleasant relations
that have continued to exist between us and the white people in
that section, and which now extend throughout the South.

Wherever one of our brickmakers has gone in the South, we find
that he has something to contribute to the well-being of the
community into which he has gone; something that has made the
community feel that, in a degree, it is indebted to him, and
perhaps, to a certain extent, dependent upon him. In this way
pleasant relations between the races have been simulated.

My experience is that there is something in human nature which
always makes an individual recognize and reward merit, no matter
under what colour of skin merit is found. I have found, too, that
it is the visible, the tangible, that goes a long ways in
softening prejudices. The actual sight of a first-class house
that a Negro has built is ten times more potent than pages of
discussion about a house that he ought to build, or perhaps could

The same principle of industrial education has been carried out
in the building of our own wagons, carts, and buggies, from the
first. We now own and use on our farm and about the school dozens
of these vehicles, and every one of them has been built by the
hands of the students. Aside from this, we help supply the local
market with these vehicles. The supplying of them to the people
in the community has had the same effect as the supplying of
bricks, and the man who learns at Tuskegee to build and repair
wagons and carts is regarded as a benefactor by both races in the
community where he goes. The people with whom he lives and works
are going to think twice before they part with such a man.

The individual who can do something that the world wants done
will, in the end, make his way regardless of race. One man may go
into a community prepared to supply the people there with an
analysis of Greek sentences. The community may not at the time be
prepared for, or feel the need of, Greek analysis, but it may
feel its need of bricks and houses and wagons. If the man can
supply the need for those, then, it will lead eventually to a
demand for the first product, and with the demand will come the
ability to appreciate it and to profit by it.

About the time that we succeeded in burning our first kiln of
bricks we began facing in an emphasized form the objection of the
students to being taught to work. By this time it had gotten to
be pretty well advertised throughout the state that every student
who came to Tuskegee, no matter what his financial ability might
be, must learn some industry. Quite a number of letters came from
parents protesting against their children engaging in labour
while they were in the school. Other parents came to the school
to protest in person. Most of the new students brought a written
or a verbal request from their parents to the effect that they
wanted their children taught nothing but books. The more books,
the larger they were, and the longer the titles printed upon
them, the better pleased the students and their parents seemed to

I gave little heed to these protests, except that I lost no
opportunity to go into as many parts of the state as I could, for
the purpose of speaking to the parents, and showing them the
value of industrial education. Besides, I talked to the students
constantly on the subject. Notwithstanding the unpopularity of
industrial work, the school continued to increase in numbers to
such an extent that by the middle of the second year there was an
attendance of about one hundred and fifty, representing almost
all parts of the state of Alabama, and including a few from other

In the summer of 1882 Miss Davidson and I both went North and
engaged in the work of raising funds for the completion of our
new building. On my way North I stopped in New York to try to get
a letter of recommendation from an officer of a missionary
organization who had become somewhat acquainted with me a few
years previous. This man not only refused to give me the letter,
but advised me most earnestly to go back home at once, and not
make any attempt to get money, for he was quite sure that I would
never get more than enough to pay my travelling expenses. I
thanked him for his advice, and proceeded on my journey.

The first place I went to in the North, was Northampton, Mass.,
where I spent nearly a half-day in looking for a coloured family
with whom I could board, never dreaming that any hotel would
admit me. I was greatly surprised when I found that I would have
no trouble in being accommodated at a hotel.

We were successful in getting money enough so that on
Thanksgiving Day of that year we held our first service in the
chapel of Porter Hall, although the building was not completed.

In looking about for some one to preach the Thanksgiving sermon,
I found one of the rarest men that it has ever been my privilege
to know. This was the Rev. Robert C. Bedford, a white man from
Wisconsin, who was then pastor of a little coloured
Congregational church in Montgomery, Ala. Before going to
Montgomery to look for some one to preach this sermon I had never
heard of Mr. Bedford. He had never heard of me. He gladly
consented to come to Tuskegee and hold the Thanksgiving service.
It was the first service of the kind that the coloured people
there had ever observed, and what a deep interest they manifested
in it! The sight of the new building made it a day of
Thanksgiving for them never to be forgotten.

Mr. Bedford consented to become one of the trustees of the
school, and in that capacity, and as a worker for it, he has been
connected with it for eighteen years. During this time he has
borne the school upon his heart night and day, and is never so
happy as when he is performing some service, no matter how
humble, for it. He completely obliterates himself in everything,
and looks only for permission to serve where service is most
disagreeable, and where others would not be attracted. In all my
relations with him he has seemed to me to approach as nearly to
the spirit of the Master as almost any man I ever met.

A little later there came into the service of the school another
man, quite young at the time, and fresh from Hampton, without
whose service the school never could have become what it is. This
was Mr. Warren Logan, who now for seventeen years has been the
treasurer of the Institute, and the acting principal during my
absence. He has always shown a degree of unselfishness and an
amount of business tact, coupled with a clear judgment, that has
kept the school in good condition no matter how long I have been
absent from it. During all the financial stress through which the
school has passed, his patience and faith in our ultimate success
have not left him.

As soon as our first building was near enough to completion so
that we could occupy a portion of it--which was near the middle
of the second year of the school--we opened a boarding
department. Students had begun coming from quite a distance, and
in such increasing numbers that we felt more and more that we
were merely skimming over the surface, in that we were not
getting hold of the students in their home life.

We had nothing but the students and their appetites with which to
begin a boarding department. No provision had been made in the
new building for a kitchen and dining room; but we discovered
that by digging out a large amount of earth from under the
building we could make a partially lighted basement room that
could be used for a kitchen and dining room. Again I called on
the students to volunteer for work, this time to assist in
digging out the basement. This they did, and in a few weeks we
had a place to cook and eat in, although it was very rough and
uncomfortable. Any one seeing the place now would never believe
that it was once used for a dining room.

The most serious problem, though, was to get the boarding
department started off in running order, with nothing to do with
in the way of furniture, and with no money with which to buy
anything. The merchants in the town would let us have what food
we wanted on credit. In fact, in those earlier years I was
constantly embarrassed because people seemed to have more faith
in me than I had in myself. It was pretty hard to cook, however,
with stoves, and awkward to eat without dishes. At first the
cooking was done out-of-doors, in the old-fashioned, primitive
style, in pots and skillets placed over a fire. Some of the
carpenters' benches that had been used in the construction of the
building were utilized for tables. As for dishes, there were too
few to make it worth while to spend time in describing them.

No one connected with the boarding department seemed to have any
idea that meals must be served at certain fixed and regular
hours, and this was a source of great worry. Everything was so
out of joint and so inconvenient that I feel safe in saying that
for the first two weeks something was wrong at every meal. Either
the meat was not done or had been burnt, or the salt had been
left out of the bread, or the tea had been forgotten.

Early one morning I was standing near the dining-room door
listening to the complaints of the students. The complaints that
morning were especially emphatic and numerous, because the whole
breakfast had been a failure. One of the girls who had failed to
get any breakfast came out and went to the well to draw some
water to drink and take the place of the breakfast which she had
not been able to get. When she reached the well, she found that
the rope was broken and that she could get no water. She turned
from the well and said, in the most discouraged tone, not knowing
that I was where I could hear her, "We can't even get water to
drink at this school." I think no one remark ever came so near
discouraging me as that one.

At another time, when Mr. Bedford--whom I have already spoken of
as one of our trustees, and a devoted friend of the
institution--was visiting the school, he was given a bedroom
immediately over the dining room. Early in the morning he was
awakened by a rather animated discussion between two boys in the
dining room below. The discussion was over the question as to
whose turn it was to use the coffee-cup that morning. One boy won
the case by proving that for three mornings he had not had an
opportunity to use the cup at all.

But gradually, with patience and hard work, we brought order out
of chaos, just as will be true of any problem if we stick to it
with patience and wisdom and earnest effort.

As I look back now over that part of our struggle, I am glad to
see that we had it. I am glad that we endured all those
discomforts and inconveniences. I am glad that our students had
to dig out the place for their kitchen and dining room. I am glad
that our first boarding-place was in the dismal, ill-lighted, and
damp basement. Had we started in a fine, attractive, convenient
room, I fear we would have "lost our heads" and become "stuck
up." It means a great deal, I think, to start off on a foundation
which one has made for one's self.

When our old students return to Tuskegee now, as they often do,
and go into our large, beautiful, well-ventilated, and
well-lighted dining room, and see tempting, well-cooked
food--largely grown by the students themselves--and see tables,
neat tablecloths and napkins, and vases of flowers upon the
tables, and hear singing birds, and note that each meal is served
exactly upon the minute, with no disorder, and with almost no
complaint coming from the hundreds that now fill our dining room,
they, too, often say to me that they are glad that we started as
we did, and built ourselves up year by year, by a slow and
natural process of growth.

Chapter XI. Making Their Beds Before They Could Lie On Them

A little later in the history of the school we had a visit from
General J.F.B. Marshall, the Treasurer of the Hampton Institute,
who had had faith enough to lend us the first two hundred and
fifty dollars with which to make a payment down on the farm. He
remained with us a week, and made a careful inspection of
everything. He seemed well pleased with our progress, and wrote
back interesting and encouraging reports to Hampton. A little
later Miss Mary F. Mackie, the teacher who had given me the
"sweeping" examination when I entered Hampton, came to see us,
and still later General Armstrong himself came.

At the time of the visits of these Hampton friends the number of
teachers at Tuskegee had increase considerably, and the most of
the new teachers were graduates of the Hampton Institute. We gave
our Hampton friends, especially General Armstrong, a cordial
welcome. They were all surprised and pleased at the rapid
progress that the school had made within so short a time. The
coloured people from miles around came to the school to get a
look at General Armstrong, about whom they had heard so much. The
General was not only welcomed by the members of my own race, but
by the Southern white people as well.

This first visit which General Armstrong made to Tuskegee gave me
an opportunity to get an insight into his character such as I had
not before had. I refer to his interest in the Southern white
people. Before this I had had the thought that General Armstrong,
having fought the Southern white man, rather cherished a feeling
of bitterness toward the white South, and was interested in
helping only the coloured man there. But this visit convinced me
that I did not know the greatness and the generosity of the man.
I soon learned, by his visits to the Southern white people, and
from his conversations with them, that he was as anxious about
the prosperity and the happiness of the white race as the black.
He cherished no bitterness against the South, and was happy when
an opportunity offered for manifesting his sympathy. In all my
acquaintance with General Armstrong I never heard him speak, in

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest