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THE AWAKENING OF THE NEGRO







by: Booker T. Washington
When a mere boy, I saw a young colored man, who had spent several
years in school, sitting in a common cabin in the South, studying
a French grammar. I noted the poverty, the untidiness, the want
of system and thrift, that existed about the cabin,
notwithstanding his knowledge of French and other academic
subjects. Another time, when riding on the outer edges of a town
in the South, I heard the sound of a piano coming from a cabin of
the same kind. Contriving some excuse, I entered, and began a
conversation with the young colored woman who was playing, and who
had recently returned from a boarding-school, where she had been
studying instrumental music among other things. Despite the fact
that her parents were living in a rented cabin, eating poorly
cooked food, surrounded with poverty, and having almost none of
the conveniences of life, she had persuaded them to rent a piano
for four or five dollars per month. Many such instances as these,
in connection with my own struggles, impressed upon me the
importance of making a study of our needs as a race, and applying
the remedy accordingly.

Some one may be tempted to ask, Has not the negro boy or girl as
good a right to study a French grammar and instrumental music as
the white youth? I answer, Yes, but in the present condition of
the negro race in this country there is need of something more.
Perhaps I may be forgiven for the seeming egotism if I mention the
expansion of my own life partly as an example of what I mean. My
earliest recollection is of a small one-room log hut on a large
slave plantation in Virginia. After the close of the war, while
working in the coal-mines of West Virginia for the support of my
mother, I heart in some accidental way of the Hampton Institute.
When I learned that it was an institution where a black boy could
study, could have a chance to work for his board, and at the same
time be taught how to work and to realize the dignity of labor, I
resolved to go there. Bidding my mother good-by, I started out
one morning to find my way to Hampton, though I was almost
penniless and had no definite idea where Hampton was. By walking,
begging rides, and paying for a portion of the journey on the
steam-cars, I finally succeeded in reaching the city of Richmond,
Virginia. I was without money or friends. I slept under a
sidewalk, and by working on a vessel next day I earned money to
continue my way to the institute, where I arrived with a surplus
of fifty cents. At Hampton I found the opportunity--in the way of
buildings, teachers, and industries provided by the generous--to
get training in the class-room and by practical touch with
industrial life, to learn thrift, economy, and push. I was
surrounded by an atmosphere of business, Christian influence, and
a spirit of self-help that seemed to have awakened every faculty
in me, and caused me for the first time to realize what it meant
to be a man instead of a piece of property.

While there I resolved that when I had finished the course of
training I would go into the far South, into the Black Belt of the
South, and give my life to providing the same kind of opportunity
for self-reliance and self-awakening that I had found provided for
me at Hampton. My work began at Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1881, in a
small shanty and church, with one teacher and thirty students,
without a dollar's worth of property. The spirit of work and of
industrial thrift, with aid from the State and generosity from the
North, has enabled us to develop an institution of eight hundred
students gathered from nineteen States, with seventy-nine
instructors, fourteen hundred acres of land, and thirty buildings,
including large and small; in all, property valued at $280,000.
Twenty-five industries have been organized, and the whole work is
carried on at an annual cost of about $80,000 in cash; two fifths
of the annual expense so far has gone into permanent plant.

What is the object of all this outlay? First, it must be borne in
mind that we have in the South a peculiar and unprecedented state
of things. It is of the utmost importance that our energy be
given to meeting conditions that exist right about us rather than
conditions that existed centuries ago or that exist in countries a
thousand miles away. What are the cardinal needs among the seven
millions of colored people in the South, most of whom are to be
found on the plantations? Roughly, these needs may be stated as
food, clothing, shelter, education, proper habits, and a
settlement of race relations. The seven millions of colored
people of the South cannot be reached directly by any missionary
agency, but they can be reached by sending out among them strong
selected young men and women, with the proper training of head,
hand, and heart, who will live among these masses and show them
how to lift themselves up.

The problem that the Tuskegee Institute keeps before itself
constantly is how to prepare these leaders. From the outset, in
connection with religious and academic training, it has emphasized
industrial or hand training as a means of finding the way out of
present conditions. First, we have found the industrial teaching
useful in giving the student a chance to work out a portion of his
expenses while in school. Second, the school furnishes labor that
has an economic value, and at the same time gives the student a
chance to acquire knowledge and skill while performing the labor.
Most of all, we find the industrial system valuable in teaching
economy, thrift, and the dignity of labor, and in giving moral
backbone to students. The fact that a student goes out into the
world conscious of his power to build a house or a wagon, or to
make a harness, gives him a certain confidence and moral
independence that he would not possess without such training.

A more detailed example of our methods at Tuskegee may be of
interest. For example, we cultivate by student labor six hundred
and fifty acres of land. The object is not only to cultivate the
land in a way to make it pay our boarding department, but at the
same time to teach the students, in addition to the practical
work, something of the chemistry of the soil, the best methods of
drainage, dairying, the cultivation of fruit, the care of
livestock and tools, and scores of other lessons needed by a
people whose main dependence is on agriculture. Notwithstanding
that eighty-five per cent of the colored people in the South live
by agriculture in some form, aside from what has been done by
Hampton, Tuskegee, and one or two other institutions practically
nothing has been attempted in the direction of teaching them about
the very industry from which the masses of our people must get
their subsistence. Friends have recently provided means for the
erection of a large new chapel at Tuskegee. Our students have
made the bricks for this chapel. A large part of the timber is
sawed by students at our own sawmill, the plans are drawn by our
teacher of architecture and mechanical drawing, and students do
the brick-masonry, plastering, painting, carpentry work, tinning,
slating, and make most of the furniture. Practically, the whole
chapel will be built and furnished by student labor; in the end
the school will have the building for permanent use, and the
students will have a knowledge of the trades employed in its
construction. In this way all but three of the thirty buildings
on the grounds have been erected. While the young men do the
kinds of work I have mentioned, the young women to a large extent
make, mend, and launder the clothing of the young men, and thus
are taught important industries.

One of the objections sometimes urged against industrial education
for the negro is that it aims merely to teach him to work on the
same plan that he was made to follow when in slavery. This is far
from being the object at Tuskegee. At the head of each of the
twenty-five industrial departments we have an intelligent and
competent instructor, just as we have in our history classes, so
that the student is taught not only practical brick-masonry, for
example, but also the underlying principles of that industry, the
mathematics and the mechanical and architectural drawing. Or he
is taught how to become master of the forces of nature so that,
instead of cultivating corn in the old way, he can use a corn
cultivator, that lays off the furrows, drops the corn into them,
and covers it, and in this way he can do more work than three men
by the old process of corn-planting; at the same time much of the
toil is eliminated and labor is dignified. In a word, the
constant aim is to show the student how to put brains into every
process of labor; how to bring his knowledge of mathematics and
the sciences into farming, carpentry, forging, foundry work; how
to dispense as soon as possible with the old form of ante-bellum
labor. In the erection of the chapel just referred to, instead of
letting the money which was given us go into outside hands, we
make it accomplish three objects: first, it provides the chapel;
second, it gives the students a chance to get a practical
knowledge of the trades connected with building; and third, it
enables them to earn something toward the payment of board while
receiving academic and industrial training.

Having been fortified at Tuskegee by education of mind, skill of
hand, Christian character, ideas of thrift, economy, and push, and
a spirit of independence, the student is sent out to become a
centre of influence and light in showing the masses of our people
in the Black Belt of the South how to lift themselves up. How can
this be done? I give but one or two examples. Ten years ago a
young colored man came to the institute from one of the large
plantation districts; he studied in the class-room a portion of
the time, and received practical and theoretical training on the
farm the remainder of the time. Having finished his course at
Tuskegee, he returned to his plantation home, which was in a
county where the colored people outnumber the whites six to one,
as is true of many of the counties in the Black Belt of the South.
He found the negroes in debt. Ever since the war they had been
mortgaging their crops for the food on which to live while the
crops were growing. The majority of them were living from hand to
mouth on rented land, in small, one-room log cabins, and
attempting to pay a rate of interest on their advances that ranged
from fifteen to forty per cent per annum. The school had been
taught in a wreck of a log cabin, with no apparatus, and had never
been in session longer than three months out of twelve. With as
many as eight or ten persons of all ages and conditions and of
both sexes huddled together in one cabin year after year, and with
a minister whose only aim was to work upon the emotions of the
people, one can imagine something of the moral and religious state
of the community.

But the remedy. In spite of the evil, the negro got the habit of
work from slavery. The rank and file of the race, especially
those on the Southern plantations, work hard, but the trouble is,
what they earn gets away from them in high rents, crop mortgages,
whiskey, snuff, cheap jewelry, and the like. The young man just
referred to had been trained at Tuskegee, as most of our graduates
are, to meet just this condition of things. He took the three
months' public school as a nucleus for his work. Then he
organized the older people into a club, or conference, that held
meetings every week. In these meetings he taught the people in a
plain, simple manner how to save their money, how to farm in a
better way, how to sacrifice,--to live on bread and potatoes, if
need be, till they could get out of debt, and begin the buying of
lands.

Soon a large proportion of the people were in condition to make
contracts for the buying of homes (land is very cheap in the
South), and to live without mortgaging their crops. Not only
this: under the guidance and leadership of this teacher, the first
year that he was among them they learned how, by contributions in
money and labor, to build a neat, comfortable schoolhouse that
replaced the wreck of a log cabin formerly used. The following
year the weekly meetings were continued, and two months were added
to the original three months of school. The next year two more
months were added. The improvement has gone on, until now these
people have every year an eight months' school.

I wish my readers could have the chance that I have had of going
into this community. I wish they could look into the faces of the
people and see them beaming with hope and delight. I wish they
could see the two or three room cottages that have taken the place
of the usual one-room cabin, the well-cultivated farms, and the
religious life of the people that now means something more than
the name. The teacher has a good cottage and a well-kept farm
that serve as models. In a word, a complete revolution has been
wrought in the industrial, educational, and religious life of this
whole community by reason of the fact that they have had this
leader, this guide and object-lesson, to show them how to take the
money and effort that had hitherto been scattered to the wind in
mortgages and high rents, in whiskey and gewgaws, and concentrate
them in the direction of their own uplifting. One community on
its feet presents an object-lesson for the adjoining communities,
and soon improvements show themselves in other places.

Another student who received academic and industrial training at
Tuskegee established himself, three years ago, as a blacksmith and
wheelwright in a community, and, in addition to the influence of
his successful business enterprise, he is fast making the same
kind of changes in the life of the people about him that I have
just recounted. It would be easy for me to fill many pages
describing the influence of the Tuskegee graduates in every part
of the South. We keep it constantly in the minds of our students
and graduates that the industrial or material condition of the
masses of our people must be improved, as well as the
intellectual, before there can be any permanent change in their
moral and religious life. We find it a pretty hard thing to make
a good Christian of a hungry man. No matter how much our people
"get happy" and "shout" in church, if they go home at night from
church hungry, they are tempted to find something before morning.
This is a principle of human nature, and is not confined to the
negro.

The negro has within him immense power for self-uplifting, but for
years it will be necessary to guide and stimulate him. The
recognition of this power led us to organize, five years ago, what
is now known as the Tuskegee Negro Conference,--a gathering that
meets every February, and is composed of about eight hundred
representative colored men and women from all sections of the
Black Belt. They come in ox-carts, mule-carts, buggies, on
muleback and horseback, on foot, by railroad: some traveling all
night in order to be present. The matters considered at the
conferences are those that the colored people have it within their
own power to control: such as the evils of the mortgage system,
the one-room cabin, buying on credit, the importance of owning a
home and of putting money in the bank, how to build schoolhouses
and prolong the school term, and how to improve their moral and
religious condition.

As a single example of the results, one delegate reported that
since the conferences were started five years ago eleven people in
his neighborhood had bought homes, fourteen had got out of debt,
and a number had stopped mortgaging their crops. Moreover, a
schoolhouse had been built by the people themselves, and the
school term had been extended from three to six months; and with a
look of triumph he exclaimed, "We is done stopped libin' in de
ashes!"

Besides this Negro Conference for the masses of the people, we now
have a gathering at the same time known as the Workers'
Conference, composed of the officers and instructors in the
leading colored schools of the South. After listening to the
story of the conditions and needs from the people themselves, the
Workers' Conference finds much food for thought and discussion.

Nothing else so soon brings about right relations between the two
races in the South as the industrial progress of the negro.
Friction between the races will pass away in proportion as the
black man, by reason of his skill, intelligence, and character,
can produce something that the white man wants or respects in the
commercial world. This is another reason why at Tuskegee we push
the industrial training. We find that as every year we put into a
Southern community colored men who can start a brick-yard, a
sawmill, a tin-shop, or a printing-office,--men who produce
something that makes the white man partly dependent upon the
negro, instead of all the dependence being on the other side,--a
change takes place in the relations of the races.

Let us go on for a few more years knitting our business and
industrial relations into those of the white man, till a black man
gets a mortgage on a white man's house that he can foreclose at
will. The white man on whose house the mortgage rests will not
try to prevent that negro from voting when he goes to the polls.
It is through the dairy farm, the truck garden, the trades, and
commercial life, largely, that the negro is to find his way to the
enjoyment of all his rights. Whether he will or not, a white man
respects a negro who owns a two-story brick house.

What is the permanent value of the Tuskegee system of training to
the South in a broader sense? In connection with this, it is well
to bear in mind that slavery taught the white man that labor with
the hands was something fit for the negro only, and something for
the white man to come into contact with just as little as
possible. It is true that there was a large class of poor white
people who labored with the hands, but they did it because they
were not able to secure negroes to work for them; and these poor
whites were constantly trying to imitate the slave-holding class
in escaping labor, and they too regarded it as anything but
elevating. The negro in turn looked down upon the poor whites
with a certain contempt because they had to work. The negro, it
is to be borne in mind, worked under constant protest, because he
felt that his labor was being unjustly required, and he spent
almost as much effort in planning how to escape work as in
learning how to work. Labor with him was a badge of degradation.
The white man was held up before him as the highest type of
civilization, but the negro noted that this highest type of
civilization himself did no labor; hence he argued that the less
work he did, the more nearly he would be like a white man. Then,
in addition to these influences, the slave system discouraged
labor-saving machinery. To use labor-saving machinery
intelligence was required, and intelligence and slavery were not
on friendly terms; hence the negro always associated labor with
toil, drudgery, something to be escaped. When the negro first
became free, his idea of education was that it was something that
would soon put him in the same position as regards work that his
recent master had occupied. Out of these conditions grew the
Southern habit of putting off till to-morrow and the day after the
duty that should be done promptly to-day. The leaky house was not
repaired while the sun shone, for then the rain did not come
through. While the rain was falling, no one cared to expose
himself to stop the leak. The plough, on the same principle, was
left where the last furrow was run, to rot and rust in the field
during the winter. There was no need to repair the wooden chimney
that was exposed to the fire, because water could be thrown on it
when it was on fire. There was no need to trouble about the
payment of a debt to-day, for it could just as well be paid next
week or next year. Besides these conditions, the whole South, at
the close of the war, was without proper food, clothing, and
shelter,--was in need of habits of thrift and economy and of
something laid up for a rainy day.

To me it seemed perfectly plain that here was a condition of
things that could not be met by the ordinary process of education.
At Tuskegee we became convinced that the thing to do was to make a
careful systematic study of the condition and needs of the South,
especially the Black Belt, and to bend our efforts in the
direction of meeting these needs, whether we were following a
well-beaten track, or were hewing out a new path to meet
conditions probably without a parallel in the world. After
fourteen years of experience and observation, what is the result?
Gradually but surely, we find that all through the South the
disposition to look upon labor as a disgrace is on the wane, and
the parents who themselves sought to escape work are so anxious to
give their children training in intelligent labor that every
institution which gives training in the handicrafts is crowded,
and many (among them Tuskegee) have to refuse admission to
hundreds of applicants. The influence of the Tuskegee system is
shown again by the fact that almost every little school at the
remotest cross-roads is anxious to be known as an industrial
school, or, as some of the colored people call it, an "industrus"
school.

The social lines that were once sharply drawn between those who
labored with the hand and those who did not are disappearing.
Those who formerly sought to escape labor, now when they see that
brains and skill rob labor of the toil and drudgery once
associated with it, instead of trying to avoid it are willing to
pay to be taught how to engage in it. The South is beginning to
see labor raised up, dignified and beautified, and in this sees
its salvation. In proportion as the love of labor grows, the
large idle class which has long been one of the curses of the
South disappears. As its members become absorbed in occupations,
they have less time to attend to everybody else's business, and
more time for their own.

The South is still an undeveloped and unsettled country, and for
the next half century and more the greater part of the energy of
the masses will be needed to develop its material opportunities.
Any force that brings the rank and file of the people to a greater
love of industry is therefore especially valuable. This result
industrial education is surely bringing about. It stimulates
production and increases trade,--trade between the races,--and in
this new and engrossing relation both forget the past. The white
man respects the vote of the colored man who does $10,000 worth of
business, and the more business the colored man has, the more
careful he is how he votes.

Immediately after the war, there was a large class of Southern
people who feared that the opening of the free schools to the
freedmen and the poor whites--the education of the head alone--
would result merely in increasing the class who sought to escape
labor, and that the South would soon be overrun by the idle and
vicious. But as the results of industrial combined with academic
training begin to show themselves in hundreds of communities that
have been lifted up through the medium of the Tuskegee system,
these former prejudices against education are being removed. Many
of those who a few years ago opposed general education are now
among its warmest advocates.

This industrial training, emphasizing as it does the idea of
economic production, is gradually bringing the South to the point
where it is feeding itself. Before the war, and long after it,
the South made what little profit was received from the cotton
crop, and sent its earnings out of the South to purchase food
supplies,--meat, bread, canned vegetables, and the like; but the
improved methods of agriculture are fast changing this habit.
With the newer methods of labor, which teach promptness and
system, and emphasize the worth of the beautiful,--the moral value
of the well-painted house, and the fence with every paling and
nail in its place,--we are bringing to bear upon the South an
influence that is making it a new country in industry, education,
and religion.





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