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The Economic Development of the Negro Race Since Its Emancipation

By Booker T. Washington


In the preceding chapter, I referred to some of the things which the Negro brought with him out of slavery into his life of freedom that he used to his advantage. I shall now discuss those things that were to his disadvantage.

We must bear in mind that one of the influences of slavery was to impress upon both master and slave the fact that labor with the hand was not dignified, was disgraceful, that labor of this character was something to be escaped, to be gotten rid of just as soon as possible. Hence, it was very natural that the Negro race looked forward to the day of freedom as being that period when it would be delivered from all necessity of laboring with the hand. It was natural that a large proportion of the race, immediately after its freedom, should make the mistake of confusing freedom with license. Under the circumstances, any other race would have acted in the same manner.

One of the first and most important lessons, then, to be taught the Negro when he became free was the one that labor with the hand or with the head, so far from being something to be dreaded and shunned, was something that was dignified and something that should be sought, loved, and appreciated. Here began the function of the industrial school for the education of the Negro. This was the uppermost idea of General Armstrong, the father of industrial education of the Negro. And permit me to say right here, that, in my opinion, General Armstrong, more than any other single individual, is the father of industrial education not only for the Negro, but in a large measure for the entire United States. For you must always bear in mind that, prior to the establishment of such institutions as the Hampton Institute, there was practically no systematic industrial training given for either black or white people, either North or South. At the present time more attention is being paid to this kind of education for white boys and girls than is being given to black boys and girls.

It is an interesting thought that this kind of education, started thirty-five years ago for the education of the Negro, has spread throughout the United States, in the North and West, and has taken hold upon the people who once enslaved the Negro in our Southern states.

When industrial schools were first established in the South for the education of members of my race, stubborn objection was raised against them on the part of black people. This was the experience of Hampton, and this in later years was the experience of the Tuskeegee Institute.

I remember that for a number of years after the founding of the Tuskeegee Institute, objection on the part of parents and on the part of students poured in upon me from day to day. The parents said that they wanted their children taught "the book," but they did not want them taught anything concerning farming or household duties. It was curious to note how most of the people worshiped "the book." The parent did not care what was inside the book; the harder and the longer the name of it, the better it satisfied the parent every time, and the more books you could require the child to purchase, the better teacher you were. His reputation as a first-class pedagogue was added to very largely in that section if the teacher required the child to buy a long string of books each year and each month. I found some white people who had the same idea.

They reminded me further that the Negro for two hundred and fifty years as a slave had been worked, and now that the race was free they contended that their children ought not to be taught to work and especially while in school. In answer to these objections I said to them that it was true that the race had been worked in slavery, but the great lesson which we wanted to learn in freedom was to work. I explained to them that there was a vast difference between being worked and working. I said to them that being worked meant degradation, that working meant civilization.

We have gone on at Tuskeegee from that day until this, emphasizing the difference between being worked and working, until, I am glad to say, every sign of opposition against any form of industrial education has completely disappeared from among parents and students; and I but state the truth when I say that industrial education, whether on the farm or in the carpenter shop or in the cooking class, is even more sought after at Tuskeegee than is training in purely academic branches. It has been ten years since I have had a single application for other than a form of industrial training. On the contrary, this kind of training is so popular among them that we have many applications from other students who live in other states who wish to devote themselves wholly to the industrial side of education.

From Hampton and Tuskeegee and other large educational centres the idea of industrial education has spread throughout the South, and there are now scores of institutions that are giving this kind of training in a most effective and helpful manner; so that, in my opinion, the greatest thing that we have accomplished for the Negro race within the last twenty-five years has been to rid his mind of all idea of labor's being degrading. This has been no inconsiderable achievement. If I were asked to point out the greatest change accomplished for the Negro race, I would say that it was not a tangible, physical change, but a change of the spirit,—the new idea of our people with respect to Negro labor.

Industrial education has had another value wherever it has been put into practice, that is in starting the Negro off in his new life in a natural, logical, sensible manner instead of allowing him to be led into temptation to begin life in an artificial atmosphere without any real foundation.

All races that have reached success and have influenced the world for righteousness have laid their foundation at one stage of their career in the intelligent and successful cultivation of the soil; that is, have begun their free life by coming into contact with earth and wood and stone and minerals. Any people that begins on a natural foundation of this kind, rises slowly but naturally and gradually in the world.

In my work at Tuskeegee and in what I have endeavored to accomplish in writing and in speaking before the public, I have always found it important to stick to nature as closely as possible, and the same policy should be followed with a race. If you will excuse my making a personal reference, just as often as I can when I am at home, I like to get my hoe and dig in my garden, to come into contact with real earth, or to touch my pigs and fowls. Whenever I want new material for an address or a magazine article, I follow the plan of getting away from the town with its artificial surroundings and getting back into the country, where I can sleep in a log cabin and eat the food of the farmer, go among the people at work on the plantations and hear them tell their experiences. I have gotten more material in this way than I have by reading books.

Many of these seemingly ignorant people, while not educated in the way that we consider education, have in reality a very high form of education—that which they have gotten out of contact with nature. Only a few days ago I heard one of these old farmers, who could neither read nor write, give a lesson before a Farmers' Institute that I shall never forget. The old man got up on the platform and began with this remark: "I'se had no chance to study science, but I'se been making some science for myself," and then he held up before the audience a stalk of cotton with only two bolls on it. He said he began his scientific work with that stalk. Then he held up a second stalk and showed how the following year he had improved the soil so that the stalk contained four bolls, and then he held up a third stalk and showed how he had improved the soil and method of cultivation until the stalk contained six bolls, and so he went through the whole process until he had demonstrated to his fellow farmers how he had made a single stalk of cotton produce twelve or fourteen bolls. At the close of the old man's address somebody in the audience asked what his name was. He replied, "When I didn't own no home and was in debt, they used to call me old Jim Hill, but now that I own a home and am out of debt, they call me 'Mr. James Hill.'"

In the previous chapter I referred to the practical benefit that could be achieved in foreign mission fields through economic and industrial development. Now that industrial education is understood and appreciated by the Negro in America, the question which has the most practical value to you and to me is what effect has this kind of development had upon the moral and religious life of the Negro right here in America since the race became free.

By reason of the difficulty in getting reliable and comprehensive statistics, it is not easy to answer this question with satisfaction, but I believe that enough facts can be given to show that economic and industrial development has wonderfully improved the moral and religious life of the Negro race in America, and that, just in proportion as any race progresses in this same direction, its moral and religious life will be strengthened and made more practical.

Let me first emphasize the fact that in order for the moral and religious life to be strengthened we must of necessity have industry, but along with industry there must be intelligence and refinement. Without these two elements combined, the moral and religious lives of the people are not very much helped.

A few months ago I was in a mining camp composed largely of members of my race who were, for the most part, ignorant and uncultivated, who had had little opportunities in the way of education, but they had been taught to mine coal. The operators of this mine complained that, notwithstanding the unusually high wages being paid during that season, these miners could not be induced to work more than three or four days out of six. The difficulty was right here; these miners were so ignorant that they had few wants, and these were simple and crude. Their wants could be satisfied by working a few days out of each week, and when they had satisfied their wants they could not understand why it was necessary to work any longer, and we must all acknowledge that there is a good deal of human nature in this point of view.

In a case of this kind, what is needed is not only to have the individual educated in industry but to have his hand so trained that he will become ambitious; as one man put it not long ago, "He will want more wants." We should get the man to the point where he will want a house, where his wife will want carpet for the floor, pictures for the walls, books, a newspaper and a substantial kind of furniture. We should get the family to the point where it will want money to educate its children, to support the minister and the church. Later, we should get this family to the point where it will want to put money in the bank and perhaps have the experience of placing a mortgage on some property. When this stage of development has been reached, there is no difficulty in getting individuals to work six days during the week.

I have in mind now an old colored man who lived some four miles from the Institution. I first noticed him a number of years ago as I took my daily exercise after my day's work. I found him and his wife living in a little broken-down cabin and resolved to try an experiment on them to see if I could not get them to realize that that kind of life proved of no benefit. When I began, their wants were for the bare necessities of life only. I gradually began to talk to his wife and urge her to see the importance of living a different kind of life. Without the old man's knowing it, I took pains to tell her of how some of their neighbors were living and about some of the things her neighbors were owning. Some had two-room houses, glass windows, new furniture, and little pieces of carpet, and had whitewashed their houses. Finally she became quite interested.

When I began with the man he was working about three days in the week. The old fellow grew interested and began to work a little longer, until the last time I rode by that house the old man was working nearly every day in the week, while they were living in a two-room house and everything had changed. The hardest task I had was to get him to put up a chimney for the second room, finally he put up one and although it was a pretty rickety, crooked affair, yet it answered the purpose and he felt proud of it. When I left this time he informed me that by the time I came back he would try to have both of those rooms whitewashed. I am not through with that family yet. I am going to work on that woman until through her I will get the old man to work five and six days out of the week.

It should always be borne in mind that, for any person of any race, literary education alone increases his want; and, if you increase these wants without at the same time training the individual in a manner to enable him to supply these increased wants, you have not always strengthened his moral and religious basis.

The same principle might be illustrated in connection with South Africa. In that country there are six millions of Negroes. Notwithstanding this fact, South Africa suffers to-day perhaps as never before for lack of labor. The natives have never been educated by contact with the white man in the same way as has been true of the American Negro. They have never been educated in the day school nor in the Sunday-school nor in the church, nor in the industrial school or college; hence their ambitions have never been awakened, their wants have not been increased, and they work perhaps two days out of the week and are in idleness during the remaining portion of the time. This view of the case I had confirmed in a conversation with a gentleman who had large interests in South Africa.

How different in the Southern part of the United States where we have eight millions of black people! Ask any man who has had practical experience in using the masses of these people as laborers and he will tell you that in proportion to their progress in the civilization of the world, it is difficult to find any set of men who will labor in a more satisfactory way. True, these people have not by any means reached perfection in this regard, but they have advanced on the whole much beyond the condition of the South Africans. The trained American Negro has learned to want the highest and best in our civilization, and as we go on giving him more education, increasing his industrial efficiency and his love of labor, he will soon get to the point where he will work six days out of each week.

But as to the results of industrial training. Following the example of the modern pedagogue, let me begin with that which I know most about, the Tuskeegee Institute. This institution employs one of its officers who spends a large part of his time in keeping in close contact with our graduates and former students. He visits them in their homes and in their places of employment and not only sees for himself what they are doing, but gets the testimony of their neighbors and employers, and I can state positively that not ten per cent. of the men and women who have graduated from the Tuskeegee Institute or who have been there long enough to understand the spirit and methods of that institution can be found to-day in idleness in any part of the country. They are at work because they have learned the dignity and beauty and civilizing influence and, I might add, Christianizing power of labor; they have learned the degradation and demoralizing influence of idleness; they have learned to love labor for its own sake and are miserable unless they are at work. I consider labor one of the greatest boons which our Creator has conferred upon human beings.

Further, after making careful investigation, I am prepared to say that there is not a single man or woman who holds a diploma from the Tuskeegee Institute who can be found within the walls of any penitentiary in the United States.

I have learned that not more than a score of the graduates of the fifteen oldest and largest colleges and industrial schools in the entire South have been sent to prison since these institutions were established. Those who are guilty of crime for the most part are individuals who are without education, without a trade, who own no land, who are not taxpayers, who have no bank account, and who have made no progress in industrial and economic development.

The following extracts from a letter written by a Southern white man to the Daily Advertiser, of Montgomery, Alabama, contains most valuable testimony. The letter refers to convicts in Alabama, most of whom are colored:


"I was conversing not long ago with the warden of one of our mining prisons, containing about 500 convicts. The warden is a practical man, who has been in charge of prisoners for more than fifteen years, and has no theories of any kind to support. I remarked to him that I wanted some information as to the effect of manual training in preventing criminality, and asked him to state what per cent. of the prisoners under his charge had received any manual training, besides acquaintance with the crudest agricultural labor. He replied: 'Perhaps about one per cent.' He added: 'No, much less than that. We have here at present only one mechanic; that is, there is one man who claims to be a house painter.'

"'Have you any shoemakers?'

"'Never had a shoemaker.'

"'Have you any tailors?'

"'Never had a tailor.'

"'Any printers?'

"'Never had a printer.'

"'Any carpenters?'

"'Never had a carpenter. There is not a man in this prison that could saw to a straight line.'"


Now these facts seem to show that manual training is almost as good a preventative of criminality as vaccination is of smallpox.

The records of the South show that ninety per cent. of the colored people in prisons are without knowledge of trades, and sixty-one per cent. are illiterate.

There are few higher authorities on the progress of the Negro than Joel Chandler Harris, of the Atlanta Constitution, of "Uncle Remus" fame. Mr. Harris had opportunity to know the Negro before the war, and he has followed his progress closely in freedom. In a printed statement made some time ago Mr. Harris says:


"The point I desire to make is that the overwhelming majority of the Negroes in all parts of the South, especially in the agricultural regions, are leading sober and industrious lives. A temperate race is bound to be industrious, and the Negroes are temperate when compared with the whites. Even in the towns the majority of them are sober and industrious."


Dr. Frissell makes the same statement regarding Hampton Institute. Not more than a score of the graduates have been sent to prison since these institutions were established. The majority is among those who are without training and who have made no progress in industrial and economic development. The idle and criminal classes among them make a great show in the police court records, but right here in Atlanta the respectable and decent Negroes far outnumber those who are on the lists of the police as old or new offenders. I am bound to conclude from what I see all about me, and what I know of the race elsewhere, that the Negro, notwithstanding the late start he has made in civilization and enlightenment, is capable of making himself a useful member in the communities in which he lives and moves, and that he is become more and more desirous of conforming to all the laws that have been enacted for the protection of society.

Some time ago I sent out letters to representative Southern men, covering each ex-slave state, asking them to state, judging by their observation in their own communities, what effect industrial education has upon the morals and religion of the Negro. To these questions I received 136 replies as follows:

Has education improved the morals of the black race?

Answers—Yes, 97; No, 20; Unanswered, 19.

Has it made his religion less emotional and more practical?

Answers—Yes, 101; No, 16; Unanswered, 19.

Is it, as a rule, the ignorant or the educated who commit crime?

Answers—Ignorant, 115; Educated, 3; Unanswered, 18.

Does crime grow less as education increases among the colored people?

Answers—Yes, 102; No, 19; Unanswered, 15.

Do not these figures speak for themselves?

If possible I want to give you an idea of the progress of the Negro race in a single county in one of the Southern States. For this purpose I select Gloucester County, Virginia. I take this one for the reason that I had the privilege of visiting it a number of years ago, just about the time when interest in the education of the colored people was beginning to be aroused, and for the further reason that this is one of the counties in Virginia and the South that has been longest under the influence of graduates of the Hampton Institute, or of men and women trained in other centres of education.

Gloucester County is the tide-water section of Eastern Virginia. According to the census of 1890, Gloucester County contained a total population of 12,832, a little over one-half being colored, and both sets of schools are in session from five and a half to six months, and the pay of the two sets of teachers is about the same. The majority of the colored teachers in this county were trained at Hampton, and have been teaching in this county a number of years. For the most part, the teachers of Gloucester County are not mentally superior, but what they lack in methods of teaching and mental alertness is more than made up for by the moral earnestness and the example they set. Most of the teachers are natives of the county, and, what is more important, most of them own property in the county.

Now, what is the economic or material result in one county where the Negro has been given a reasonable chance to make progress? I say "reasonable" because it must be kept in mind that the great body of white people in America, with whom the Negro is constantly compared, have schools that are in session from eight to nine months in the year. Note especially what I am going to say now. According to the public records, the total assessed value of the land in Gloucester County is $666,132.33. Of the total value of the land, the colored people own $87,953.55. The buildings in the county have an assessed valuation of $466,127.05. The colored people pay taxes upon $79,387.00 of this amount. To state it differently, the Negroes of Gloucester County, beginning about forty years ago in poverty, have reached the point where they now own and pay taxes upon one-sixth of the real estate in this county. This property is very largely in the shape of small farms, varying in size from ten to one hundred acres. A large proportion of the farms contain about ten acres.

It is interesting to note the influence of this material growth upon the home life of the people. It is stated upon good authority that about twenty-five years ago at least three-fourths of the colored people lived in one-roomed cabins. Let a single illustration tell the story of the growth. In a school where there were thirty pupils ten testified that they lived in houses containing six rooms, and only one said that he lived in a house containing but a single room.

I repeat, I have always believed that in proportion as the industrial, not omitting the intellectual, condition of my race is improved, in the same degree would their moral and religious life improve.

Some years ago, before the home life and economic condition of the people had improved, bastardy was common in Gloucester County. In 1903 there were only eight cases of bastardy reported in the whole county, and two of those were among the white population. During the year 1904 there was only one case of bastardy within a radius of ten miles of the court house. Another gratifying evidence of progress is shown by the fact that there is very little evidence of immoral relations existing between the races. In the whole county, during the year 1903, about twenty-five years after the work of education had gotten under way, there were only thirty arrests for misdemeanors; of these sixteen were white, fourteen colored. In 1904 there were fifteen such arrests—fourteen white and one colored. In 1904 there were but seven arrests for felonies; of these two were white and five were colored.

In one point at least the colored people in Gloucester County have set an example for the rest of the religious world that ought to receive attention. It is in this regard: there is only one religious denomination in all of this county, and that is the Baptist. No over-multiplying, no over-lapping, no denominational wrangling and wasting of money and energy.

May I add that, out of my own observation and experience in the heart of the South during the last twenty-five years, I have learned that the man of my race who has some regular occupation, who owns his farm, is a taxpayer and perhaps has a little money in the bank, is the most reliable and helpful man in the Sunday-school, in the church, and in all religious endeavor. The man who has gotten upon his feet in these directions is almost never charged with crime, but is the one who has the respect and the confidence of both races in his community.

I can give you no better idea of the tremendous advance which the Negro has made since he became free than to say that largely through the influence of industrial education the race has acquired ownership in land that is equal in area to the combined countries of Belgium and Holland. This, for a race starting in poverty and ignorance forty years ago, it seems to me is a pretty good record.

I would not have you understand that I emphasize material possessions as the chief thing in life or as an object within itself. I emphasize economic growth because the civilization of the world teaches that the possession of a certain amount of material wealth indicates the ability of a race to exercise self-control, to plan to-day for to-morrow, to do without to-day in order that it may possess to-morrow. In other words, a race, like an individual, becomes highly civilized and useful in proportion as it learns to use the good things of this earth, not as an end, but as a means toward promoting its own moral and religious growth and the prosperity and happiness of the world. This is what I advocate for my race; it is what I would advocate for any race.

The average white man of America, in passing judgment upon the black race, very often overlooks the fact that geographically and physically the semi-barbarous Negro race has been thrown right down in the centre of the highest civilization that the world knows anything about. Consciously or unconsciously, you compare the Negro's progress with your progress, forgetting, when you are doing it, that you are placing a pretty severe test on the members of my race. If, for example, we were compared with the civilization of the Oriental countries, the test would not be so severe. But we have been placed in the midst of a pushing, surging, restless, conquering, successful civilization, and you must acknowledge that when the American white man wants to lead, no other race can go far ahead. In fact, he would have the whole field to himself. The progress of the Negro will be in proportion as they learn to get the material things of this world, consecrate them, and weave them into the service of our Heavenly Father.

In conclusion, may I say that I hope the people of this country, North and South, will learn to pray more and more; and, as they pray, to put their hands upon their hearts and then ask God if they were placed in the Negro's state, how, under the circumstances, would they like to be treated by their fellows. Conscience will answer the question.

Booker T. Washington

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