THE AWAKENING OF THE NEGRO





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.





STRIVINGS OF THE NEGRO PEOPLE THE BOUQUET facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Feedback