There is something in human nature which always makes people reward merit, no matter under what color of skin merit is found. I have found, too, that it is the visible, the tangible, that goes a long way in softening prejudices. The actual sight of a good 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 build. The individual who can do something that the world wants done will, in the end, make his way regardless of his race.
--Booker T. Washington
This is a story about a Negro. The story has the peculiarity of being true. The man was born a slave in Virginia. His mother was a slave, and was thrice sold in the market-place. This man is Booker T. Washington.
The name Booker was a fanciful one given to the lad by playmates on account of his love for a certain chance dog-eared spelling-book. Before this he was only Mammy's Pet. The T. stood for nothing, but later a happy thought made it Taliaferro.
Most Negroes, fresh from slavery, stood sponsor to themselves, and chose the name Washington; if not this, then Lincoln, Clay or Webster.
This lad when but a child, being suddenly asked for his name, exclaimed, "Washington," and stuck to it.
The father of this boy was a white man; but children always take the status of the mother, so Booker T. Washington is a Negro, and proud of it, as he should be, for he is standard by performance, even if not by pedigree.
This Negro's father is represented by the sign x. By remaining in obscurity the fond father threw away his one chance for immortality. We do not even know his name, his social position, or his previous condition of turpitude. We assume he was happily married and respectable. Concerning him legend is silent and fable dumb. As for the child, we are not certain whether he was born in Eighteen Hundred Fifty-eight or Eighteen Hundred Fifty-nine, and we know not the day or the month. There were no signs in the East.
The mother lived in a log cabin of one room, say ten by twelve. This room was also a kitchen, for the mother was cook to the farmhands of her owner. There were no windows and no floor in the cabin save the hard-trodden clay. There were a table, a bench and a big fireplace. There were no beds, and the children at night simply huddled and cuddled in a pile of straw and rags in the corner. Doubtless they had enough food, for they ate the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table--who, by the way, wasn't so very rich.
One of the earliest recollections of Black Baby Booker was of being awakened in the middle of the night by his mother to eat fried chicken. Imagine the picture--it is past midnight. No light in the room save the long, flickering streaks that dance on the rafters. Outside the wind makes mournful, sighing melody. In the corner huddled the children, creeping close together with intertwining arms to get the warmth of each little half-naked body.
The dusky mother moves swiftly, deftly, half-frightened at her task.
She has come in from the night with a chicken! Where did she get it? Hush! Where do you suppose oppressed colored people get chickens?
She picks the bird--prepares it for the skillet--fries it over the coals. And then when it is done just right, Maryland style, this mother full of mother-love, an ingredient which God never omits, shakes each little piccaninny into wakefulness, and gives him the forbidden dainty--drumstick, wishbone, gizzard, white meat, or the part that went through the fence last--anything but the neck.
Feathers, bones, waste are thrown into the fireplace, and what the village editor calls the "devouring element" hides all trace of the crime. Then all lie down to sleep, until the faint flush of pink comes into the East, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the mountain-tops.
* * * * * * *
This ex-slave remembers a strange and trying time, when all of the colored folk on the plantation were notified to assemble at the "big house." They arrived and stood around in groups, waiting and wondering, talking in whispers. The master came out, and standing on the veranda read from a paper in a tremulous voice. Then he told them that they were all free, and shook hands with each. Everybody cried. However, they were very happy in spite of the tears, for freedom to them meant heaven--a heaven of rest. Yet they bore only love towards their former owners.
Most of them began to wander--they thought they had to leave their old quarters. In a few days the wisest came back and went to work just as usual. Booker T.'s mother quit work for just half a day.
But in a little while her husband arrived--a colored man to whom she had been married years before, and who had been sold and sent away. Now he came and took her and the little monochrome brood, and they all started away for West Virginia, where they heard that colored men were hired to work in coalmines and were paid wages in real money.
It took months and months to make the journey. They carried all their belongings in bundles. They had no horses--no cows--no wagon--they walked. If the weather was pleasant they slept out of doors; if it rained they sought a tobacco-shed, a barn, or the friendly side of a straw-stack. For food they depended on a little cornmeal they carried, with which the mother made pone-cakes in the ashes of a campfire. Kind colored people on the way replenished the meal-bag, for colored people are always generous to the hungry and needy if they have anything to be generous with. Then Providence sent stray, ownerless chickens their way, at times, just as the Children of Israel were fed on quails in the wilderness. Once they caught a 'possum--and there was a genuine banquet, where the children ate until they were as tight as drums.
Finally they reached the promised land of West Virginia, and at the little village of Maiden, near Charleston, they stopped, for here were the coal mine and the salt-works where colored men were hired and paid in real money.
Booker's stepfather found a job, and he also found a job for little Booker. They had nothing to live on until pay-day, so the kind man who owned the mine allowed them to get things at the store on credit. This was a brand-new experience--and no doubt they bought a few things they did not need, for prices and values were absolutely out of their realm. Besides, they did not know how much wages they were to get, neither could they figure the prices of the things they bought. At any rate, when pay-day came they were still in debt, so they saw no real money--certainly little Booker at this time of his life never did.
* * * * * * *
General Lewis Ruffner owned the salt-works and the coalmine where little Booker worked. He was stern, severe, strict. But he believed Negroes were human beings, and there were those then who disputed the proposition.
Ruffner organized a night-school for his helpers, and let a couple of his bookkeepers teach it. At this time there was not a colored person in the neighborhood who could spell cat, much less write his name. A few could count five. Booker must have been about ten years old when one day he boasted a bit of his skill in mathematics. The foreman told him to count the loads of coal as they came out of the mine. The boy started in bravely, "One--two--three--four--dere goes one, dere goes anoder, anoder, anoder, anoder, anoder!"
The foreman laughed.
The boy was abashed, then chagrined. "Send me to the night-school and in a month I'll show you how to count!"
The foreman wrote the lad an order which admitted him to the night-school.
But now there was another difficulty--the boy worked until nine o'clock at night, the last hour's work being to sweep out the office. The night-school began at nine o'clock and it was two miles away.
The lad scratched his head and thought and thought. A great idea came to him--he would turn the office clock ahead half an hour. He could then leave at nine o'clock, and by running part of the way could get to school at exactly nine o'clock.
The scheme worked for two days, when one of the clerks in the office said that a spook was monkeying with the clock. They tried the plan of locking the case, and all was well.
Booker must have been about twelve years old, goin' on thirteen, when one day as he lay on his back in the coalmine, pushing out the broken coal with his feet, he overheard two men telling of a very wonderful school where colored people were taught to read, write and cipher--also, how to speak in public. The scholars were allowed to work part of the time to pay for their board.
The lad crawled close in the darkness and listened to the conversation. He caught the names "Hampton" and "Armstrong." Whether Armstrong was the place and Hampton was the name of the man, he could not make out, but he clung to the names.
Here was a school for colored people--he would go there! That night he told his mother about it. She laughed, patted his kinky head, and indulged him in his dream.
She was only a poor black woman; she could not spell ab, nor count to ten, but she had a plan for her boy--he would some day be a preacher.
This was the very height of her imagination--a preacher! Beyond this there was nothing in human achievement. The night-school came after a day of fourteen hours' work. Little Booker sat on a bench, his feet dangling about a foot from the floor. As he sat there one night trying hard to drink in knowledge, he went to sleep. He nodded, braced up, nodded again, and then pitched over in a heap on the floor, to the great amusement of the class, and his own eternal shame.
The next day, however, as he was feeling very sorrowful over his sad experience, he heard that Mrs. Ruffner wanted a boy for general work at the big house.
Here was a chance. Mrs. Ruffner was a Vermont Yankee, which meant that she had a great nose for dirt, and would not stand for a "sassy nigger." Her reputation had gone abroad, and of how she pinched the ears of her "help," and got them up at exactly a certain hour, and made them use soap and water at least once a day, and even compelled them to use a toothbrush; all this was history, well defined.
Booker said he could please her, even if she was a Yankee. He applied for the job and got it, with wages fixed at a dollar a week, with a promise of twenty-five cents extra every week, if he did his work without talking back and breaking a tray of dishes.
* * * * * * *
"Genius! No hovel is safe from it!" says Whistler.
Genius consists in doing the right thing without being told more than three times.
Booker silently studied the awful Yankee woman to see what she really wanted. He finally decided that she desired her servants to have clean skins, fairly neat clothing, do things promptly, finish the job and keep still when they had nothing to say.
He set himself to please her--and he did.
She loaned him books, gave him a lead-pencil, and showed him how to write with a pen without smearing his hands and face with ink.
He told her of his dream and asked about Armstrong and Hampton. She told him that Armstrong was the man and Hampton the place.
At last he got her consent to leave and go to Hampton.
When he started she gave him a comb, a toothbrush, two handkerchiefs and a pair of shoes. He had been working for her for a year, and she thought, of course, he saved his wages. He never told her that his money had gone to keep the family, because his stepfather had been on a strike and therefore out of work.
So the boy started away for Hampton. It was five hundred miles away. He didn't know how far five hundred miles is--nobody does unless he has walked it.
He had three dollars, so he gaily paid for a seat in the stage. At the end of the first day he was forty miles from home and out of money. He slept in a barn, and a colored woman handed him a ham-bone and a chunk of bread out of the kitchen-window, and looked the other way.
He trudged on east--always and forever east--towards the rising sun.
He walked weeks--months--years, he thought. He kept no track of the days. He carried his shoes as a matter of economy.
Finally he sold the shoes for four dollars to a man who paid him ten cents cash down, and promised to pay the rest when they should meet at Hampton. Nearly forty years have passed and they have never met.
On he walked--on and on--east, and always forever east.
He reached the city of Richmond, the first big city he had ever seen. The wide streets--the sidewalks--the street-lamps entranced him. It was just like heaven. But he was hungry and penniless, and when he looked wistfully at a pile of cold fried chicken on a street-stand and asked the price of a drumstick, at the same time telling he had no money, he discovered he was not in heaven at all. He was called a lazy nigger and told to move on.
Later he made the discovery that a "nigger" is a colored person who has no money.
He pulled the piece of rope that served him for a belt a little tighter, and when no one was looking, crawled under a sidewalk and went to sleep, disturbed only by the trampling overhead.
When he awoke he saw he was near the dock, where a big ship pushed its bowsprit out over the street. Men were unloading bags and boxes from the boat. He ran down and asked the mate if he could help. "Yes!" was the gruff answer.
He got in line and went staggering under the heavy loads.
He was little, but strong, and best of all, willing, yet he reeled at the work.
"Have you had any breakfast? Yes, you liver-colored boy--you, I say, have you had your breakfast?"
"No, sir," said the boy; "and no supper last night nor dinner yesterday!"
"Well, I reckoned as much. Now you take this quarter and go over to that stand and buy you a drumstick, a cup of coffee and two fried cakes!"
The lad didn't need urging. He took the money in his palm, went over to the man who the night before had called him a lazy nigger, and showing the silver, picked out his piece of chicken.
The man hastened to wait on him, and said it was a fine day and hoped he was well.
* * * * * * *
Arriving at Hampton, this colored boy, who had tramped the long, weary miles, stood abashed before the big brick building which he knew was Hampton Institute.
He was so little--the place was so big--by what right could he ask to be admitted?
Finally he boldly entered, and in a voice meant to be firm, but which was very shaky, said, "I am here!" and pointed to the bosom of his hickory shirt.
The Yankee woman motioned him to a chair. Negroes coming there were plentiful. Usually they wanted to live the Ideal Life. They had a call to preach--and the girls wanted to be music-teachers.
The test was simple and severe: would they and could they do one useful piece of work well?
Booker sat and waited, not knowing that his patience was being put to the test.
Then Miss Priscilla, in a hard, Neill Burgess voice, "guessed" that the adjoining recitation-room needed sweeping and dusting. She handed Booker a broom and dust-cloth, motioned to the room, and went away.
Oho! Little did she know her lad. The colored boy smiled to himself--sweeping and dusting were his specialties--he had learned the trade from a Yankee woman from Vermont! He smiled.
Then he swept that room--moved every chair, the table, the desk. He dusted each piece of furniture four times. He polished each rung and followed around the baseboard on hands and knees.
Miss Priscilla came back--pushed the table around and saw at once that the dirt had not been concealed beneath it. She took out her handkerchief and wiped the table top, then the desk.
She turned, looked at the boy, and her smile met his half-suppressed triumphant grin.
"You'll do," she said.
* * * * * * *
General Samuel C. Armstrong, the founder of Hampton Institute, and the grandfather of Tuskegee, was a white man who fought the South valiantly and well.
He seems about the only man in the North who, at the close of the war, clearly realized that the war had just begun--that the real enemies were not subdued, and that these enemies were ignorance, superstition and incompetence.
The pitiable condition of four million human beings, flung from slavery into freedom, thrown upon their own resources, with no thought of responsibility, and with no preparation for the change, meant for them only another kind of slavery.
General Armstrong's heart went out to them--he desired to show them how to be useful, helpful, self-reliant, healthy. For the whites of the South he had only high regard and friendship. He, of all men, knew how they had suffered from the war--and he realized also that they had fought for what they believed was right. In his heart there was no hate. He resolved to give himself--his life--his fortune--his intellect--his love--his all, for the upbuilding of the South. He saw with the vision of a prophet that indolence and pride were the actual enemies of white and black alike. The blacks must be taught to work--to know the dignity of human labor--to serve society--to help themselves by helping others. He realized that there are no menial tasks--that all which serves is sacred.
And this is the man who sowed the seeds of truth in the heart of the nameless black boy--Booker Washington. Armstrong's shibboleth, too, was, "With malice toward none, but with charity for all, let us finish the work God has given us to do."
* * * * * * *
I do not know very much about this subject of education, yet I believe I know as much about what others know about it as most people. I have visited the principal colleges of America and Europe, and the methods of Preparatory and High Schools are to me familiar. I know the night-schools of the cities, the "Ungraded Rooms," the Schools for Defectives, the educational schemes in prisons, the Manual-Training Schools, the New Education (first suggested by Socrates) as carried out by G. Stanley Hall, John Dewey, and dozens of other good men and women in America. I am familiar with the School for the Deaf at Malone, New York, and the School for the Blind at Batavia, where even the sorely stricken are taught to be self-sufficient, self-supporting and happy. I have tumbled down the circular fire-escape at Lapeer with the inmates of the Home of Epileptics, and heard the shouts of laughter from lips that never laughed before. I have seen the Jewish Manual Training School of Chicago transform Russian refugees into useful citizens--capable, earnest and excellent. I know a little about Swarthmore, Wellesley, Vassar, Radcliffe, and have put my head into West Point and Annapolis, and had nobody cry, "Genius!"
Of Harvard, Yale and Princeton I know something, having done time in each. I have also given jobs to graduates of Oxford, Cambridge and Heidelberg, to my sorrow and their chagrin. This does not prove that graduates of the great universities are, as a rule, out of work, or that they are incompetent. It simply means that it is possible for a man to graduate at these institutions and secure his diploma and yet be a man who has nothing the world really wants, either in way of ideas or services.
The reason that my "cum laude" friends did not like me, and the cause of my having to part with them--getting them a little free transportation from your Uncle George--was not because they lacked intelligence, but because they wanted to secure a position, while I simply offered them a job.
They were like Cave-of-the-Winds of Oshkosh, who is an ice-cutter in August, and in winter is an out-of-door horticulturist--a hired man is something else.
As a general proposition, I believe this will not now be disputed: the object of education is that a man may benefit himself by serving society.
To benefit others, you must be reasonably happy: there must be animation through useful activity, good-cheer, kindness and health--health of mind and health of body. And to benefit society you must also have patience, persistency, and a firm determination to do the right thing, and to mind your own business so that others, too, may mind theirs. Then all should be tinctured with a dash of discontent with past achievements, so you will constantly put forth an effort to do more and better work.
When what you have done in the past looks large to you, you haven't done much today.
So there you get the formula of Education: health and happiness through useful activity--animation, kindness, good-cheer, patience, persistency, willingness to give and take, seasoned with enough discontent to prevent smugness, which is the scum that grows over every stagnant pond.
Of course no college can fill this prescription--no institution can supply the ingredients--all that the college can do is to supply the conditions so that these things can spring into being. Plants need the sunlight--mushrooms are different.
The question is, then, what teaching concern in America supplies the best quality of actinic ray?
And I answer, Tuskegee is the place, and Booker Washington is the man.
"What!" you exclaim. "The Ideal School a school for Negroes, instituted by a Negro, where only Negroes teach, and only Negroes are allowed to enter as students?"
And the answer is, "Exactly so."
At Tuskegee there are nearly two thousand students, and over one hundred fifty teachers. There are two classes of students--"day-school" and "night-school" students. The night-school students work all day at any kind of task they are called upon to do. They receive their board, clothing and a home--they pay no tuition, but are paid for their labor, the amount being placed to their credit, so when fifty dollars is accumulated they can enter as "day students."
The "day students" make up the bulk of the scholars. Each pays fifty dollars a year. These all work every other day at manual labor or some useful trade.
Tuskegee has fully twice as many applicants as it can accommodate; but there is one kind of applicant who never receives any favor. This is the man who says he has the money to pay his way, and wishes to take the academic course only. The answer always is: "Please go elsewhere--there are plenty of schools that want your money. The fact that you have money will not exempt you here from useful labor."
This is exactly what every college in the world should say.
The Tuskegee farm consists of about three thousand acres. There are four hundred head of cattle, about five hundred hogs, two hundred horses, great flocks of chickens, geese, ducks and turkeys, and many swarms of bees. It is the intention to raise all the food that is consumed on the place, and to manufacture all supplies. There are wagon-shops, a sawmill, a harness-shop, a shoe-shop, a tailor-shop, a printing-plant, a model laundry, a canning establishment. Finer fruit and vegetables I have never seen, and the thousands of peach, plum and apple trees, and the vast acreage of berries that have been planted, will surely some day be a goodly source of revenue.
The place is religious, but not dogmatically so--the religion being merely the natural safety-valve for emotion. At Tuskegee there is no lacrimose appeal to confess your sins--they do better--they forget them.
I never heard more inspiring congregational singing, and the use of the piano, organ, orchestra and brass band are important factors in the curriculum. In the chapel I spoke to an audience so attentive, so alert, so receptive, so filled with animation, that the whole place looked like a vast advertisement for Sozodont.
No prohibitive signs are seen at Tuskegee. All is affirmative, yet it is understood that some things are tabu--tobacco, for instance, and strong drink, of course.
We have all heard of Harvard Beer and Yale Mixture, but be it said in sober justice, Harvard runs no brewery, and Yale has no official brand of tobacco. Yet Harvard men consume much beer, and many men at Yale smoke. And if you want to see the cigarette-fiend on his native heath, you'll find him like the locust on the campus at Cambridge and New Haven. But if you want to see the acme of all cigarette-bazaars, just ride out of Boylston Street, Boston, any day at noon, and watch the boys coming out of the Institute of Technology.
I once asked a Tech Professor if cigarette-smoking was compulsory in his institution. "Yes," he replied; "but the rule is not strictly enforced, as I know three students who do not smoke."
Tuskegee stands for order, system, cleanliness, industry, courtesy and usefulness. There are no sink-holes around the place, no "back yards." Everything is beautiful, wholesome and sanitary. All trades are represented. The day is crammed so full of work from sunrise to sunset that there is no time for complaining, misery or faultfinding--three things that are usually born of idleness. At Tuskegee there are no servants. All of the work is done by the students and teachers--everybody works--everybody is a student, and all are teachers.
We are all teachers, whether we will it or not--we teach by example, and all students who do good work are good teachers.
When the Negro is able to do skilled work, he ceases to be a problem--he is a man. The fact that Alexandre Dumas was a Negro does not count against him in the world's assize.
The old-time academic college, that cultivated the cerebrum and gave a man his exercise in an indoor gymnasium, or not at all, has ruined its tens of thousands. To have top--head and no lungs--is not wholly desirable. The student was made exempt from every useful thing, just as the freshly freed slave hoped and expected to be, and after four years it was often impossible for him to take up the practical lessons of life. He had gotten used to the idea of one set of men doing all the work and another set of men having the culture. To a large degree he came to regard culture as the aim of life. And when a man begins to pride himself upon his culture, he hasn't any to speak of. Culture must be merely incidental, and to clutch it is like capturing a butterfly: you do not secure the butterfly at all--you get only a grub.
Let us say right here that there is only one way in which a Negro, or a white man, can ever make himself respected. Statute law will not do it; rights voted him by the State are of small avail; making demands will not secure the desired sesame. If we ever gain the paradise of freedom it will be because we have earned it--because we deserve it. A make-believe education may suffice for a white man--especially if he has a rich father, but a Negro who has to carve out his own destiny must be taught order, system, and quiet, persistent, useful effort.
A college that has its students devote one-half their time to actual, useful work is so in line with commonsense that we are amazed that the idea had to be put into execution by the ex-slave as a life-saver for his disenfranchised race. Our great discoveries are always accidents: we work for one thing and get another. I expect that the day will come, and erelong, when the great universities of the world will have to put the Tuskegee Idea into execution in order to save themselves from being distanced by the Colored Race.
If life were one thing and education another, it might be all right to separate them. Culture of the head over a desk, and indoor gymnastics for the body, are not the ideal, and that many succeed in spite of the handicap is no proof of the excellence of the plan. Ships that go around the world accumulate many barnacles, but barnacles as a help to the navigator are an iridescent dream.
A little regular manual labor, rightly mixed with the mental, eliminates draw-poker, highballs, brawls, broils, Harvard Beer, Yale Mixture, Princeton Pinochle, Chippee dances, hazing, roistering, rowdyism and the bulldog propensity. The Heidelberg article of cocked hat and insolent ways is not produced at Tuskegee. At Tuskegee there is no place for those who lie in wait for insults and regard scrapping as a fine art. As for college athletics at the Orthodox Universities, only one man out of ten ever does anything at it anyway--the college man who needs the gymnasium most is practically debarred from everything in it and serves as a laughing-stock whenever he strips. Coffee, cocaine, bromide, tobacco and strong drink often serve in lieu of exercise and ozone, and Princeton winks her woozy eye in innocency.
Freedom can not be bestowed--it must be achieved. Education can not be given--it must be earned. Lincoln did not free the slaves--he only freed himself. The Negroes did not know they were slaves, and so they had no idea of what freedom meant. Until a man wants to be free, each kind of freedom is only another form of slavery. Booker Washington is showing the colored man how to secure a genuine freedom through useful activity. To get freedom you must shoulder responsibility.
If college education were made compulsory by the State, and one-half of the curriculum consisted of actual, useful manual labor, most of our social ills would be solved, and we would be well out on the highway towards the Ideal City.
Without animation, man is naught--nothing is accomplished, nothing done. People who inspire other people have animation plus.
And animation plus is ecstasy. In ecstasy the spirit rushes out, runs over and saturates all. Oratory is an ecstasy that inundates the hearer and makes him ride upon the crest of another's ideas.
Art is born of ecstasy--art is ecstasy in the concrete. Beautiful music is ecstasy expressed in sound, regulated into rhythm, cadence and form. "Statuary is frozen music," said Heine.
A man who is not moved into ecstasy by ecstasy is hopeless. A people that has not the surging, uplifting, onward power that ecstasy gives, is decadent--dead.
The Negro is easily moved to ecstasy. Very little musical training makes him a power in song. At Tuskegee the congregational singing is a feature that, once heard, is never to be forgotten. Fifteen hundred people lifting up their hearts in an outburst of emotion--song! Fifteen hundred people of one mind, doing anything in unison--do you know what it means? Ecstasy is essentially a matter of sex. In art and religion sex can not be left out of the equation. The simple fact that in forty years the Negro race in America has increased from four million to ten million tells of their ecstasy as a people. "Only happy beings reproduce themselves," says Darwin. Depress your animal and it ceases to breed; so there are a whole round of animals that do not reproduce in captivity. But in slavery or freedom the Negro sings, and reproduces--he is not doomed nor depressed--his soul arises superior to circumstance.
Without animation, education is impossible. And the problem of the educator is to direct this singing, flowing, moving spirit of the hive into useful channels.
Education is simply the encouragement of right habits--the fixing of good habits until they become a part of one's nature, and are exercised automatically.
The man who is industrious by habit is the only man who wins. The man who is not industrious except when driven to it, or when it occurs to him, accomplishes little.
Man gets his happiness by doing: and work to a slave is always distasteful. The power of mimicry and imitation is omitted--the owner does not work--the strong man does not work. Ergo--to grow strong means to cease work. To be strong means to be free--to be free means no work!
It has been a frightfully bad education that the Negro has had--work distasteful, and work disgraceful! And the slave-owner suffered most of all, for he came to regard work as debasing.
And now a Negro is teaching the Negro that work is beautiful--that work is a privilege--that only through willing service can he ever win his freedom. Architecture is fixed ecstasy, inspired always by a strong man who gives a feeling of security. Athens was an ecstasy in marble.
Tuskegee is an ecstasy in brick and mortar.
Don't talk about the education of the Negro! The experiment has really never been tried, except spasmodically, of educating either the whites or the blacks in the South--or elsewhere.
A Negro is laying hold upon the natural ecstasy of the Negro, and directing it into channels of usefulness and excellence. Can you foretell where this will end--this formation of habits of industry, sobriety and continued, persistent effort towards the right?
Booker Washington, child of a despised race, has done and is doing what the combined pedagogic and priestly wisdom of ages has failed to do. He is the Moses who by his example is leading the children of his former oppressors out into the light of social, mental, moral and economic freedom.
I am familiar in detail with every criticism brought against Tuskegee. On examination these criticisms all reduce themselves down to three:
1. A vast sum of money has been collected by Booker Washington for his own aggrandizement and benefit.
2. Tuskegee is a show-place where all the really good work is done by picked men from the North.
3. Booker Washington is a tyrant, a dictator and an egotist.
If I were counsel for Tuskegee--as I am not--I would follow the example of the worthy accusers, and submit the matter without argument. Booker Washington can afford to plead guilty to every charge; and he has never belittled himself by answering his accusers.
But let the facts be known, that this man has collected upward of six million dollars, mostly from the people of the North, and has built up the nearest perfect educational institution in the world.
It is probably true that many of his teachers and best workers are picked people--but they are Negroes, and were selected by a Negro. The great general reveals his greatness in the selection of his generals: it was the marshals whom Napoleon appointed who won for him his victories; but his spirit animated theirs, and he chose them for this one reason--he could dominate them. He infused into their souls a goodly dash of his own enthusiasm.
Booker Washington is a greater general than Napoleon. For the Tuskegee idea no Waterloo awaits. And as near as I can judge, Booker Washington's most noisy critics are merely camp-followers.
That the man is a tyrant and a dictator there is no doubt. He is a beneficent tyrant, but a tyrant still, for he always, invariably, has his own way in weighty matters--in trivialities others can have theirs. And as for dictatorship, the man who advances on chaos and transforms it into cosmos is perforce a dictator and an egotist.
Booker Washington believes he is in the right, and he makes no effort to conceal the fact that he is on earth. In him there is no disposition to run and peep about, and find himself a dishonorable grave. All live men are egotists, and they are egotists just in proportion as they have life. Dead men are not egotists. Booker Washington has life in abundance, and through him I truly believe runs the spirit of Divinity, if ever a living man had it. A man like this is the instrument of Deity.
Tuskegee Institute has applications ahead all the time, from all over America, for competent colored men and women who can take charge of important work and do it. Dressmakers, housekeepers, cooks, farmers, stockmen, builders, gardeners, are in demand. The world has never yet had enough people to bear its burdens.
Recently we have heard much of the unemployed, but a very little search will show that the people out of work are those of bad habits, which make them unreliable and untrustworthy. The South, especially, needs the willing worker and the practical man. And best of all the South knows it, and stands ready to pay for the service.
A few years ago there was a fine storm of protest from Northern Negroes to the effect that Booker Washington was endeavoring to limit the Negro to menial service--that is, thrust him back into servility. The first ambition of the Negro was to get an education so that he might become a Baptist preacher. To him, education meant freedom from toil, and of course we do not have to look far to see where he got the idea. Then when Tuskegee came forward and wanted to make blacksmiths, carpenters and brick-masons out of black men, there was a cry, "If this means education, we will none of it--treason, treason!" It was assumed that the Negro who set other Negroes to work was not their friend. This phase of the matter requires neither denial nor apology. We smile and pass on.
In Eighteen Hundred Seventy-seven, the Negro was practically disenfranchised throughout the South, by being excluded from the primaries. He had no recognized ticket in the field. For both the blacks and the whites this has been well. To most of the blacks freedom meant simply exemption from work. So there quickly grew up a roistering, turbulent, idle and dangerous class of black men who were used by the most ambitious of their kind for political ends. To preserve the peace of the community, the whites were forced to adopt heroic measures, with the result that we now have the disenfranchised Negro.
Early in the Eighties, Booker Washington realized that, politically, there was no hope for his race. He saw, however, that commerce recognized no color line. We would buy, sell and trade with the black man on absolute equality. Life-insurance companies would insure him, banks would receive his deposits, and if honest and competent, would loan him money. If he could shoe a horse, we waived his complexion; and in every sort and kind of craftsmanship he stood on absolute equality with the whites. The only question ever asked was, "Can you do the work?"
And Booker Washington set out to help the Negro win success for himself by serving society through becoming skilled in doing useful things. And so it became Head, Hand and Heart. The manual was played off against the intellectual.
But over and beyond the great achievement of Booker Washington in founding and carrying to a successful issue the most complete educational scheme of this age, or any other, stands the man himself. He is one without hate, heat or prejudice. No one can write on the lintels of his doorpost the word, "Whim." He is half-white, but calls himself a Negro. He sides with the disgraced and outcast black woman who gave him birth, rather than with the respectable white man who was his sire.
He rides in the Jim Crow cars, and on long trips, if it is deemed expedient to use a sleeping-car, he hires the stateroom, so that he may not trespass or presume upon those who would be troubled by the presence of a colored man. Often in traveling he goes for food and shelter to the humble home of one of his own people. At hotels he receives and accepts, without protest or resentment, the occasional contumely of the inferior whites--whites too ignorant to appreciate that one of God's noblemen stands before them. For the whites of the South he has only words of kindness and respect; the worst he says about them is that they do not understand. His modesty, his patience, his forbearance, are sublime. He is a true Fabian--he does what he can, like the royal Roycroft opportunist that he is. Every petty annoyance is passed over; the gibes and jeers and the ingratitude of his own race are forgotten. "They do not understand," he calmly says. He does his work. He is respected by the best people of North and South. He has the confidence of the men of affairs--he is a safe man.