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An Address At The Unveiling Of The Robert Gould Shaw Monument


[Note 23: An address by Booker T. Washington, A. M., delivered on
the occasion of the unveiling of the Robert Gould Shaw Monument, Boston,
Mass., May 31, 1897.]

Mr. Chairman and Fellow Citizens:

In this presence, and on this sacred and memorable day, in the deeds and
death of our hero, we recall the old, old story, ever old yet ever new,
that when it was the will of the Father to lift humanity out of
wretchedness and bondage, the precious task was delegated to Him who,
among ten thousand, was altogether lovely, and was willing to make
himself of no reputation that he might save and lift up others.

If that heart could throb and if those lips could speak, what would be
the sentiment and words that Robert Gould Shaw would have us feel and
speak at this hour? He would not have us dwell long on the mistakes, the
injustice, the criticisms of the days

"Of storm and cloud, of doubt and fears,
Across the eternal sky must lower;
Before the glorious noon appears,"

he would have us bind up with his own undying fame and memory and retain
by the side of his monument, the name of John A. Andrews, who, with
prophetic vision and strong arm, helped to make the existence of the
54th Regiment possible; and that of George L. Stearns, who, with hidden
generosity and a great sweet heart, helped to turn the darkest hour into
day, and in doing so, freely gave service, fortune, and life itself to
the cause which this day commemorates. Nor would he have us forget those
brother officers, living and dead, who by their baptism in blood and
fire, in defense of union and freedom, gave us an example of the highest
and purest patriotism.

To you who fought so valiantly in the ranks, the scarred and scattered
remnant of the 54th Regiment, who, with empty sleeve and wanting leg,
have honored this occasion with your presence, to you, your commander is
not dead. Though Boston erected no monument and history recorded no
story, in you and the loyal race which you represent Robert Gould Shaw
would have a monument which time could not wear away.

But an occasion like this is too great, too sacred for mere individual
eulogy. The individual is the instrument, national virtue the end. That
which was 300 years being woven into the warp and woof of our democratic
institutions could not be effaced by a single battle, as magnificent as
was that battle; that which for three centuries had bound master and
slave, yea, North and South, to a body of death, could not be blotted
out by four years of war, could not be atoned for by shot and sword, nor
by blood and tears.

Not many days ago in the heart of the South, in a large gathering of
the people of my race, there were heard from many lips praises and
thanksgiving to God for His goodness in setting them free from physical
slavery. In the midst of that assembly there arose a Southern white man
the former owner of many slaves, gray of hair and with hands which
trembled, and from his quivering lips, there came the words; "My
friends, you forget in your rejoicing that, in setting you free, God was
also good to me and my race in setting us free." But there is a higher
and deeper sense in which both races must be free than that represented
by the bill of sale. The black man who cannot let love and sympathy go
out to the white man is but half free. The white man who would close the
shop or factory against a black man seeking an opportunity to earn an
honest living is but half free. The white man who retards his own
development by opposing a black man is but half free. The full measure
of the fruit of Fort Wagner and all that this monument stands for will
not be realized until every man covered with a black skin shall, by
patience and natural effort, grow to that height in industry, property,
intelligence, and moral responsibility, where no man in all our land
will be tempted to degrade himself by withholding from his black brother
any opportunity which he himself would possess.

Until that time comes this monument will stand for effort, not victory
complete. What these heroic souls of the 54th Regiment began, we must
complete. It must be completed not in malice, not in narrowness; nor
artificial progress, nor in efforts at mere temporary political gain,
nor in abuse of another section or race. Standing as I do to-day in the
home of Garrison and Phillips and Sumner, my heart goes out to those who
wore gray as well as to those clothed in blue; to those who returned
defeated, to destitute homes, to face blasted hopes and a shattered
political and industrial system. To them there can be no prouder reward
for defeat than by a supreme effort to place the Negro on that footing
where he will add material, intellectual, and civil strength to every
department of State.

This work must be completed in public school, industrial school, and
college. The most of it must be completed in the effort of the Negro
himself, in his effort to withstand temptation, to economize, to
exercise thrift, to disregard the superficial for the real--the shadow
for the substance, to be great and yet small, in his effort to be
patient in the laying of a firm foundation, so to grow in skill and
knowledge that he shall place his services in demand by reason of his
intrinsic and superior worth. This is the key that unlocks every door of
opportunity, and all others fail. In this battle of peace the rich and
poor, the black and white, may have a part.

What lesson has this occasion for the future? What of hope, what of
encouragement, what of caution? "Watchman, tell us of the night; what
the signs of promise are." If through me, an humble representative,
nearly ten millions of my people might be permitted to send a message to
Massachusetts, to the survivors of the 54th Regiment, to the committee
whose untiring energy has made this memorial possible, to the family who
gave their only boy that we might have life more abundantly, that
message would be, "Tell them that the sacrifice was not in vain, that
up from the depth of ignorance and poverty, we are coming, and if we
come through oppression out of the struggle, we are gaining strength. By
the way of the school, the well-cultivated field, the skilled hand, the
Christian home, we are coming up; that we propose to invite all who will
to step up and occupy this position with us. Tell them that we are
learning that standing-ground for the race, as for the individual, must
be laid in intelligence, industry, thrift, and property, not as an end,
but as a means to the highest privileges; that we are learning that
neither the conqueror's bullet nor fiat of law could make an ignorant
voter an intelligent voter, could make a dependent man an independent
man, could give one citizen respect for another, a bank account, a foot
of land, or an enlightened fireside. Tell them that, as grateful as we
are to artist and patriotism for placing the figures of Shaw and his
comrades in physical form of beauty and magnificence, that after all,
the real monument, the greater monument, is being slowly but safely
builded among the lowly in the South, in the struggles and sacrifices of
a race to justify all that has been done and suffered for it."

One of the wishes that lay nearest Colonel Shaw's heart was, that his
black troops might be permitted to fight by the side of white soldiers.
Have we not lived to see that wish realized, and will it not be further
realized in the future? Not at Wagner, not with rifle and bayonet, but
on the field of peace, in the battle of industry, in the struggle for
good government, in the lifting up of the lowest to the fullest
opportunities. In this we shall fight by the side of white men, North
and South. And if this be true, as under God's guidance it will, that
old flag, that emblem of progress and security, which brave Sergeant
Carney never permitted to fall on the ground, will still be borne aloft
by Southern soldier and Northern soldier, and, in a more potent and
higher sense, we shall all realize that

"The slave's chain and the master's alike are broken;
The one curse of the race held both in tether;
They are rising, all are rising--
The black and the white together."

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