In addition to the problem of educating eight million negroes in

our Southern States and ingrafting them into American citizenship,

we now have the additional responsibility, either directly or

indirectly, of educating and elevating about eight hundred

thousand others of African descent in Cuba and Porto Rico, to say

nothing of the white people of these islands, many of whom are in

a condition about as deplorable as that of the negroes. We have,

however, one advantage in approaching the question of the

education of our new neighbors.

The experience that we have passed through in the Southern States

during the last thirty years in the education of my race, whose

history and needs are not very different from the history and

needs of the Cubans and Porto Ricans, will prove most valuable in

elevating the blacks of the West Indian Islands. To tell what has

already been accomplished in the South under most difficult

circumstances is to tell what may be done in Cuba and Porto Rico.

To this end let me tell a story.

In what is known as the black belt of the South--that is, where

the negroes outnumber the whites--there lived before the Civil War

a white man who owned some two hundred slaves, and was prosperous.

At the close of the war he found his fortune gone, except that

which was represented in land, of which he owned several thousand

acres. Of the two hundred slaves a large proportion decided,

after their freedom, to continue on the plantation of their former


Some years after the war a young black boy, who seemed to have

"rained down," was discovered on the plantation by Mr. S-----, the

owner. In daily rides through the plantation Mr. S----- saw this

boy sitting by the roadside, and his condition awakened his pity,

for, from want of care, he was covered from head to foot with

sores, and Mr. S----- soon grew into the habit of tossing him a

nickel or a dime as he rode by. In some way this boy heard of the

Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama, and of the

advantages which it offered poor but deserving colored men and

women to secure an education through their own labor while taking

the course of study. This boy, whose name was William, made known

to the plantation hands his wish to go to the Tuskegee school. By

each one "chipping in," and through the efforts of the boy

himself, a few decent pieces of clothing were secured, and a

little money, but not enough to pay his railroad fare, so the boy

resolved to walk to Tuskegee, a distance of about one hundred and

fifty miles. Strange to say, he made the long distance with an

expenditure of only twenty cents in cash. He frankly told every

one with whom he came in contact where he was going and what he

was seeking. Both white and colored people along the route gave

him food and a place to sleep free of cost, and even the usually

exacting ferrymen were so impressed with the young negro's desire

for an education that, except in one case, he was given free

ferriage across the creeks and rivers.

One can easily imagine his appearance when he first arrived at

Tuskegee, with his blistered feet and small white bundle, which

contained all the clothing he possessed.

On being shown into my office his first words were: "I's come.

S'pose you been lookin' for me, but I didn't come on de railroad."

Looking up the records, it was found that this young man had been

given permission to come several months ago, but the

correspondence had long since been forgotten.

After being sent to the bath-room and provided with a tooth-

brush,--for the tooth-brush at Tuskegee is the emblem of

civilization,--William was assigned to a room, and was given work

on the school farm of fourteen hundred acres, seven hundred of

which are cultivated by student labor. During his first year at

Tuskegee William worked on the farm during the day, where he soon

learned to take a deep interest in all that the school was doing

to teach the students the best and most improved methods of

farming, and studied for two hours at night in the class-room

after his hard day's work was over. At first he seemed drowsy and

dull in the night-school, and would now and then fall asleep while

trying to study; but he did not grow discouraged. The new

machinery that he was compelled to use on the farm interested him

because it taught him that the farm work could be stripped of much

of the old-time drudgery and toil, and seemed to awaken his

sleeping intellect. Soon he began asking the farm-instructors

such questions as where the Jersey and Holstein cattle came from,

and why they produced more milk and butter than the common long-

tailed and long-horned cows that he had seen at home.

His night-school teachers found that he ceased to sleep in school,

and began asking questions about his lessons, and was soon able to

calculate the number of square yards in an acre and to tell the

number of peach-trees required to plant an acre of land. After he

had been at Tuskegee two or three months the farm-manager came

into my office on a cold, rainy day, and said that William was

virtually barefooted, the soles of his shoes having separated from

the uppers, though William had fastened them together as best he

could with bits of wire. In this condition the farm-instructor

found him plowing without a word of complaint. A pair of second-

hand shoes was secured for him, and he was soon very happy.

I will not take this part of the story further except to say that

at the end of his first year at Tuskegee this young man, having

made a start in his books, and having saved a small sum of money

above the cost of his board, which was credited to his account,

entered the next year our regular day-classes, though still

dividing his time between the class-room and work on the farm.

Toward the end of the year he found himself in need of money with

which to buy books, clothing, etc., and so wrote a carefully

worded letter to Mr. S-----, the white man on whose plantation he

had lived, and who had been, in slavery, the owner of his mother.

In the letter he told Mr. S----- how he got to Tuskegee, what he

was doing, and what his needs were, and asked Mr. S----- to lend

him fifteen dollars. Before receiving this letter Mr. S----- had

not thought once about the boy during his two years' absence; in

fact, did not know that he had left the plantation.

Mr. S----- was a good deal shocked, as well as amused, over such a

request from such a source. The letter went to the wastebasket

without being answered. A few weeks later William sent a second

letter, in which he took it for granted that the first letter had

not been received. The second letter shared the same fate as the

first. A third letter reached Mr. S----- in a few weeks, making

the same request. In answer to the third letter Mr. S----- told

me that, moved by some impulse which he himself never understood,

he sent William the fifteen dollars.

Two or three years passed, and Mr. S----- had about forgotten

William and the fifteen dollars; but one morning while sitting

upon his porch a bright young colored man walked up and introduced

himself as William, the boy to whom he used to toss small pieces

of money, and the one to whom he had sent fifteen dollars.

William paid Mr. S----- the fifteen dollars with interest, which

he had earned while teaching school after leaving Tuskegee.

This simple experience with this young colored man made a new and

different person of Mr. S-----, so far as the negro was concerned.

He began to think. He thought of the long past, but he thought

most of the future, and of his duty toward the hundreds of colored

people on his plantation and in his community. After careful

thought he asked William Edwards to open a school on his

plantation in a vacant log cabin. That was seven years ago. On

this same plantation at Snow Hill, Wilcox county, Alabama, a

county where, according to the last census, there are twenty-four

thousand colored people and about six thousand whites, there is

now a school with two hundred pupils, five teachers from Tuskegee,

and three school buildings. The school has forty acres of land.

In addition to the text-book lessons, the boys are taught farming

and carpentry, and the girls sewing and general house-keeping, and

the school is now in the act of starting a blacksmith and

wheelwright department. This school owes its existence almost

wholly to Mr. S-----, who gave to the trustees the forty acres of

land, and has contributed liberally to the building fund, as well

as to the pay of the teachers. Gifts from a few friends in the

North have been received, and the colored people have given their

labor and small sums in cash. When the people cannot find money

to give, they have often given corn, chickens, and eggs. The

school has grown so popular that almost every leading white man in

the community is willing to make a small gift toward its


In addition to the work done directly in the school for the

children, the teachers in the Snow Hill school have organized a

kind of university extension movement. The farmers are organized

into conferences, which hold meetings each month. In these

meetings they are taught better methods of agriculture, how to buy

land, how to economize and keep out of debt, how to stop

mortgaging, how to build school-houses and dwelling-houses with

more than one room, how to bring about a higher moral and

religious standing, and are warned against buying cheap jewelry,

snuff, and whisky.

No one is a more interested visitor at these meetings than Mr. S-----

himself. The matter does not end in mere talk and advice.

The women teachers go right into the cabins of the people and show

them how to keep them clean, how to dust, sweep, and cook.

When William Edwards left this community a few years ago for the

Tuskegee school, he left the larger proportion in debt, mortgaging

their crops every year for the food on which to live. Most of

them were living on rented land in small one-room log cabins, and

attempting to pay an enormous rate of interest on the value of

their food advances. As one old colored man expressed it, "I

ain't got but six feet of land, and I is got to die to git dat."

The little school taught in a cabin lasted only three or four

months in the year. The religion was largely a matter of the

emotions, with almost no practical ideas of morality. It was the

white man for himself and the negro for himself, each in too many

cases trying to take advantage of the other. The situation was

pretty well described by a black man who said to me: "I tells you

how we votes. We always watches de white man, and we keeps

watchin' de white man. De nearer it gits to 'lection-time de more

we watches de white man. We keeps watchin' de white man till we

find out which way he gwine to vote; den we votes 'zactly de odder

way. Den we knows we is right."

Now how changed is all at Snow Hill, and how it is gradually

changing each year! Instead of the hopelessness and dejection

that were there a few years ago, there are now light and buoyancy

in the countenances and movements of the people. The negroes are

getting out of debt and buying land, ceasing to mortgage their

crops, building houses with two or three rooms, and a higher moral

and religious standard has been established.

Last May, on the day that the school had its closing exercises,

there were present, besides the hundreds of colored-people, about

fifty of the leading white men and women of the county, and these

white people seemed as much interested in the work of the school

as the people of my own race.

Only a few years ago in the State of Alabama the law in reference

to the education of the negro read as follows: "Any person or

persons who shall attempt to teach any free person of color or

slave to spell, read, or write shall, upon conviction thereof by

indictment, be fined in a sum not less than two hundred and fifty

dollars nor more than five hundred dollars."

Within half a dozen years I have heard Dr. J. L. M. Curry, a

brave, honest ex-Confederate officer, in addressing both the

Alabama and Georgia State legislatures, say to those bodies in the

most emphatic manner that it was as much the duty of the State to

educate the negro children as the white children, and in each case

Dr. Curry's words were cheered.

Here at Snow Hill is the foundation for the solution of the legal

and political difficulties that exist in the South, and the

improvement of the industrial condition of the negro in Cuba and

Porto Rico. This solution will not come all at once, but

gradually. The foundation must exist in the commercial and

industrial development of the people of my race in the South and

in the West Indian Islands.

The most intelligent whites are beginning to realize that they

cannot go much higher than they lift the negro at the same time.

When a black man owns and cultivates the best farm to be found in

his county he will have the confidence and respect of most of the

white people in that county. When a black man is the largest

taxpayer in his community his white neighbor will not object very

long to his voting, and having that vote honestly counted. Even

now a black man who has five hundred dollars to lend has no

trouble in finding a white man who is willing to borrow his money.

The negro who is a large stockholder in a railroad company will

always be treated with justice on that railroad.

Many of the most intelligent colored people are learning that

while there are many bad white men in the South, there are

Southern whites who have the highest interests of the negro just

as closely at heart as have any other people in any part of the

country. Many of the negroes are learning that it is folly not to

cultivate in every honorable way the friendship of the white man

who is their next-door neighbor.

To describe the work being done in connection with the public

schools by graduates of Tuskegee and other institutions in the

South, at such places as Mount Meigs, under Miss Cornelia Bowen;

Denmark, South Carolina; Abbeville and Newville, Alabama;

Christiansburg, Virginia, and numbers of other places in the Gulf

States, would be only to repeat in a larger or smaller degree what

I have said of Snow Hill.

Not very long after the last national election I visited a town in

the South, to speak at a meeting which had for its object the

raising of money to complete the school-house. The audience was

about equally divided between white men and women and black men

and women. When the time for the collection came it was intensely

satisfactory to observe that the white side of the audience was

just as eager to make its small contributions as were the members

of my own race. But I was anxious to see how the late election

had been conducted in that community. I soon found out that the

Republican party, composed almost wholly of the black people, was

represented by an election officer in the person of one of the

best-educated colored men in the town, that both the Democratic

and Populist parties were equally well represented, and that there

was no suspicion of unfairness.

But I wished to go a little deeper, and I soon found that one of

the leading stores in this community was owned by a colored man;

that a cotton-gin was owned by a colored man; that the sawmill was

owned by another colored man. Colored men had mortgages on white

men's crops, and vice versa, and colored people not only owned

land, but in several cases were renting land to white men. Black

men were in debt to white men, and white men were in debt to black

men. In a word, the industrial and commercial relations of the

races were interwoven just as if all had been of one race.

An object-lesson in civilization is more potent in compelling

people to act right than a law compelling them to do so. Some

years ago a colored woman who had graduated at Tuskegee began her

life-work in a Southern community where the force of white public

sentiment was opposed to the starting of what was termed a "nigger

school." At first this girl was tempted to abuse her white

sister, but she remembered that perhaps the white woman had been

taught from her earliest childhood, through reading and

conversation, that education was not good for the negro, that it

would result only in trouble to the community, and that no amount

of abuse could change this prejudice.

After a while this colored teacher was married to an educated

colored man, and they built a little cottage, which, in connection

with her husband's farm, was a model. One morning one of the

white women who had been most intense in her feelings was passing

this cottage, and her attention was attracted to the colored woman

who was at work in her beautiful flower-garden. A conversation

took place concerning the flowers. At another time this same

white woman was so attracted by this flower-garden that she came

inside the yard, and from the yard she went into the sitting-room

and examined the books and papers.

This acquaintance has now ripened and broadened, so that to-day

there are few people in that community more highly respected than

this colored family. What did it all? This object-lesson. No

one could explain that away. One such object-lesson in every

community in the South is more powerful than all the laws Congress

can pass in the direction of bringing about right relations

between blacks and whites.

A few months ago an agricultural county fair, the first ever held

in that county, was organized and held at Calhoun, Alabama, by the

teachers in the Calhoun School, which is an offshoot of the

Hampton Institute. Both the colored people and numbers of white

visitors were astonished at the creditable exhibits made by the

colored people. Most of these white people saw the school work at

Calhoun for the first time. Perhaps no amount of abstract talk or

advice could have brought them to this school, but the best hog,

the largest pumpkin, or the most valuable bale of cotton possessed

a common interest, and it has been a comparatively easy thing to

extend their interest from the best hog to the work being done in

the school-room. Further, this fair convinced these white people,

as almost nothing else could have done, that education was making

the negroes better citizens rather than worse; that the people

were not being educated away from themselves, but with their

elevation the conditions about them were being lifted in a manner

that possessed an interest and value for both races.

It was after speaking, not long ago, to the colored people at such

a county fair in North Carolina that I was asked the next morning

to speak to the white students at their college, who gave me as

hearty a greeting as I have ever received at Northern colleges.

But such forces as I have described--forces that are gradually

regenerating the entire South and will regenerate Cuba and Porto

Rico--are not started and kept in motion without a central plant--

a power-house, where the power is generated. I cannot describe

all these places of power. Perhaps the whole South and the whole

country are most indebted to the Hampton Institute in Virginia.

Then there is Fisk University at Nashville, Tennessee; Talladega

College at Talladega, Alabama; Spelman Seminary, Atlanta

University, and Atlanta Baptist College at Atlanta; Biddle

University in North Carolina; Claflin University at Orangeburg,

South Carolina; and Knoxville College at Knoxville, Tennessee.

Some of these do a different grade of work, but one much needed.

At Tuskegee, Alabama, starting fifteen years ago in a little

shanty with one teacher and thirty students, with no property,

there has grown up an industrial and educational village where the

ideas that I have referred to are put into the heads, hearts, and

hands of an army of colored men and women, with the purpose of

having them become centers of light and civilization in every part

of the South. One visiting the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial

Institute to-day will find eight hundred and fifty students

gathered from twenty-four States, with eighty-eight teachers and

officers training these students in literary, religious, and

industrial work.

Counting the students and the families of the instructors, the

visitor will find a black village of about twelve hundred people.

Instead of the old, worn-out plantation that was there fifteen

years ago, there is a modern farm of seven hundred acres

cultivated by student labor. There are Jersey and Holstein cows

and Berkshire pigs, and the butter used is made by the most modern


Aside from the dozens of neat, comfortable cottages owned by

individual teachers and other persons, who have settled in this

village for the purpose of educating their children, he will find

thirty-six buildings of various kinds and sizes, owned and built

by the school, property valued at three hundred thousand dollars.

Perhaps the most interesting thing in connection with these

buildings is that, with the exception of three, they have been

built by student labor. The friends of the school have furnished

money to pay the teachers and for material.

When a building is to be erected, the teacher in charge of the

mechanical and architectural drawing department gives to the class

in drawing a general description of the building desired, and then

there is a competition to see whose plan will be accepted. These

same students in most cases help do the practical work of putting

up the building--some at the sawmill, the brick-yard, or in the

carpentry, brickmaking, plastering, painting, and tinsmithing

departments. At the same time care is taken to see not only that

the building goes up properly, but that the students, who are

under intelligent instructors in their special branch, are taught

at the same time the principles as well as the practical part of

the trade.

The school has the building in the end, and the students have the

knowledge of the trade. This same principle applies, whether in

the laundry, where the washing for seven or eight hundred people

is done, or in the sewing-room, where a large part of the clothing

for this colony is made and repaired, or in the wheelwright and

blacksmith departments, where all the wagons and buggies used by

the school, besides a large number for the outside public, are

manufactured, or in the printing-office, where a large part of the

printing for the white and colored people in this region is done.

Twenty-six different industries are here in constant operation.

When the student is through with his course of training he goes

out feeling that it is just as honorable to labor with the hand as

with the head, and instead of his having to look for a place, the

place usually seeks him, because he has to give that which the

South wants. One other thing should not be overlooked in our

efforts to develop the black man. As bad as slavery was, almost

every large plantation in the South during that time was, in a

measure, an industrial school. It had its farming department, its

blacksmith, wheelwright, brickmaking, carpentry, and sewing

departments. Thus at the close of the war our people were in

possession of all the common and skilled labor in the South. For

nearly twenty years after the war we overlooked the value of the

ante-bellum training, and no one was trained to replace these

skilled men and women who were soon to pass away; and now, as

skilled laborers from foreign countries, with not only educated

hands but trained brains, begin to come into the South and take

these positions once held by us, we are gradually waking up to the

fact that we must compete with the white man in the industrial

world if we would hold our own. No one understands his value in

the labor world better than the old colored man. Recently, when a

convention was held in the South by the white people for the

purpose of inducing white settlers from the North and West to

settle in the South, one of these colored men said to the

president of the convention: "'Fore de Lord, boss, we's got as

many white people down here now as we niggers can support."

The negro in the South has another advantage. While there is

prejudice against him along certain lines,--in the matter of

business in general, and the trades especially,--there is

virtually no prejudice so far as the native Southern white man is

concerned. White men and black men work at the same carpenter's

bench and on the same brick wall. Sometimes the white man is the

"boss," sometimes the black man is the boss.

Some one chaffed a colored man recently because, when he got

through with a contract for building a house, he cleared just ten

cents; but he said: "All right, boss; it was worth ten cents to be

de boss of dem white men." If a Southern white man has a contract

to let for the building of a house, he prefers the black

contractor, because he has been used to doing business of this

character with a negro rather than with a white man.

The negro will find his way up as a man just in proportion as he

makes himself valuable, possesses something that a white man

wants, can do something as well as, or better than, a white man.

I would not have my readers get the thought that the problem in

the South is settled, that there is nothing else to be done; far

from this. Long years of patient, hard work will be required for

the betterment of the condition of the negro in the South, as well

as for the betterment of the condition of the negro in the West


There are bright spots here and there that point the way. Perhaps

the most that we have accomplished in the last thirty years is to

show the North and the South how the fourteen slaves landed a few

hundred years ago at Jamestown, Virginia,--now nearly eight

millions of freemen in the South alone,--are to be made a safe and

useful part of our democratic and Christian institutions.

The main thing that is now needed to bring about a solution of the

difficulties in the South is money in large sums, to be used

largely for Christian, technical, and industrial education.

For more than thirty years we have been trying to solve one of the

most serious problems in the history of the world largely by

passing around a hat in the North. Out of their poverty the

Southern States have done well in assisting; many more millions

are needed, and these millions will have to come before the

question as to the negro in the South is settled.

There never was a greater opportunity for men of wealth to place a

few million dollars where they could be used in lifting up and

regenerating a whole race; and let it always be borne in mind that

every dollar given for the proper education of the negro in the

South is almost as much help to the Southern white man as to the

negro himself. So long as the whites in the South are surrounded

by a race that is, in a large measure, in ignorance and poverty,

so long will this ignorance and poverty of the negro in a score of

ways prevent the highest development of the white man.

The problem of lifting up the negro in Cuba and Porto Rico is an

easier one in one respect, even if it proves more difficult in

others. It will be less difficult, because there is the absence

of that higher degree of race feeling which exists in many parts

of the United States. Both the white Cuban and the white Spaniard

have treated the people of African descent, in civil, political,

military, and business matters, very much as they have treated

others of their own race. Oppression has not cowed and unmanned

the Cuban negro in certain respects as it has the American negro.

In only a few instances is the color-line drawn. How Americans

will treat the negro Cuban, and what will be the tendency of

American influences in the matter of the relation of the races,

remains an interesting and open question. Certainly it will place

this country in an awkward position to have gone to war to free a

people from Spanish cruelty, and then as soon as it gets them

within its power to treat a large proportion of the population

worse than did even Spain herself, simply on account of color.

While in the matter of the relation of the races the problem

before us in the West Indies is easier, in respect to the

industrial, moral, and religious sides it is more difficult. The

negroes on these islands are largely an agricultural people, and

for this reason, in addition to a higher degree of mental and

religious training, they need the same agricultural, mechanical,

and domestic training that is fast helping the negroes in our

Southern States. Industrial training will not only help them to

the ownership of property, habits of thrift and economy, but the

acquiring of these elements of strength will go further than

anything else in improving the moral and religious condition of

the masses, just as has been and is true of my people in the

Southern States.

With the idea of getting the methods of industrial education

pursued at Hampton and Tuskegee permanently and rightly started in

Cuba and Porto Rico, a few of the most promising men and women

from these islands have been brought to the Tuskegee Normal and

Industrial Institute, and educated with the view of having them

return and take the lead in affording industrial training on these

islands, where the training can best be given to the masses.

The emphasis that I have placed upon an industrial education does

not mean that the negro is to be excluded from the higher

interests of life, but it does mean that in proportion as the

negro gets the foundation,--the useful before the ornamental,--in

the same proportion will he accelerate his progress in acquiring

those elements which do not pertain so directly to the


Phillips Brooks once said, "One generation gathers the material,

and the next builds the palaces." Very largely this must be the

material-gathering generation of black people, but in due time the

palaces will come if we are patient.

RECONSTRUCTION SOJOURNER TRUTH, THE LIBYAN SIBYL facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail