Chapter 13: Two Thousand Miles For A Five-Minute Speech
Many students applied to Tuskegee who had no money to pay even the small fees required. Not wishing to refuse these applicants, in 1884 they opened a night school based on the model used at Hampton. Students were required to work for ten hours during the day and study academics for two hours in the evenings, with nearly all of their earnings given to the treasury to use to pay their board in the day school once they were able to transfer. At this point, they studied academics four days a week and worked at their trade for two days. They also typically worked over the summer months. The school grew from 12 students at its opening to 457 at the time of the book's writing.
The school also provided religious training. It was non-denominational but Christian and offered preaching services, prayer meetings, Sunday school, and several Christian societies and missionary organizations.
In 1885, Washington married Olivia Davidson, who had been working for some time at the school and traveling north to fundraise. She gave birth to two sons, Booker Taliaferro and Ernest Davidson, the older of whom mastered the brickmaker's trade at Tuskegee. After just four years of marriage, however, she passed away, having worn herself out.
Washington reflects on his life as a public speaker, a vocation he never intended to have. However, when he went north with General Armstrong, Thomas Bicknell, President of the National Educational Association, heard him speak and invited him to deliver an address at the next meeting of the association in Madison, WI. This address began Washington's public-speaking career. There were around 4,000 people present, many from Alabama and some even from Tuskegee. While many of these southerners expected him to speak poorly of the south, he instead praised southern whites for their help in starting the school. He had long before decided never to say anything in the north that he would not be willing to say in the south. When he does need to call attention to wrongdoings, he feels the proper place to do so is in the south.
In this address, Washington explained his view on race relations: that the best policy is to bring the races together and to encourage friendly relations. In terms of voting, the Negro should consider the interests of his community, rather than seeking to please someone far away. Washington explained that the Negro's future depended on his ability to make himself of value to his community, and that by learning to do something better than anyone else a man could solve his problem regardless of his race. He gave the example of a graduate who had learned to produce five times as much food from an acre of land than what was average; the white farmers respected him for his skill and came to him for advice. The Negro did not have to work forever in agriculture, but succeeding in this industry would lay the foundations for his children and grandchildren to achieve more.
Rather than feeling ill will against anyone who speaks unkindly or tries to oppress the black man, Washington says he now pities such people, as they are trying to stop the progress of the world.
After his Madison address, Washington began receiving offers to speak at other places. In the North, his purpose was primarily to raise funds for Tuskegee; when speaking to colored audiences, his purpose was to impart the importance of industrial and technical training in addition to book learning. In 1893, he had the chance to speak at a meeting of Christian Workers in Atlanta. He had other engagements in Boston at the time, but he realized he could take a train from Boston to Atlanta that would allow him to arrive half an hour ahead of time, and then return to Boston on the next train. The address would be just five minutes long, but the audience would be composed of influential whites, and it would be an excellent opportunity to publicize the work of Tuskegee. He therefore made the trip.
This address opened the door to speak at the opening of the Atlanta Cotton states and International Exposition in September 1895. In the spring of that year, he was asked to accompany a mostly white committee from Atlanta to Washington, D.C. to solicit government support for the Exposition. There he emphasized that the Exposition would allow both races to show how they had advanced since the end of the Civil War and encourage them to make further progress. He felt that while blacks should not be unjustly deprived of the right to vote, political activism was not the answer; rather, they needed to acquire property, skill, intelligence, and character. The Exposition could therefore be of lasting value to both races.
The committee made a favorable report, and the Exposition received funding from Congress. The directors decided to erect a large building devoted to black progress since freedom, entirely designed and constructed by Negro mechanics. The officials wanted Washington to take care of the exhibit, but he felt he didn't have the time due to his obligations at Tuskegee. He recommended Mr. I. Garland Penn to do so in his stead. The exhibit was successful, with the most attention going to exhibits from the Hampton and Tuskegee Institutes.
Since Negros had been asked to play a prominent part in the Exposition, the Board of Directors decided to invite a black man to speak on the opening day as a representative of the Negro race. They unanimously voted to extend this honor to Washington. He felt a great deal of responsibility at receiving the invitation. It was the first time a Negro had been asked to speak from the same platform as southern white men and women on an important occasion. In addition, his audience would be comprised of whites from the north and the south, as well as many men and women of his own race.
Washington felt a great deal of pressure to say the right thing. He knew he could jeopardize the success of the Exposition or prevent a similar invitation from being extended to a black man for years to come. He wanted to be true to his own race, but also to the North and to the best element of the white South. There was a lot of discussion in the papers as the speech drew near, and a number of southern white papers were unfriendly to the idea. Nervous, he rehearsed in front of his wife and the teachers at Tuskegee, all of whom thought well of what he said.
Traveling to Atlanta with his wife and children, he met a white farmer who summarized the enormity of his situation: "Washington, you have spoken before the Northern white people, the Negroes in the South, and to us country white people in the South; but Atlanta, to-morrow, you will have before you the Northern whites, the Southern whites, and the Negroes all together. I am afraid that you have got yourself in a tight place" (81). Many people of both races came to the train to point him out and discuss what was about to happen.
Atlanta was packed with people from all parts of the country, as well as representatives from abroad. The papers forecasted the next day's proceedings, adding to Washington's tension. He slept little that night. The next morning, he kneeled down and asked God to bless his efforts. He always tries to make special preparations for each address, as no two audiences are exactly alike.
The next morning, a committee escorted him to his place in the procession that would march into the Exposition grounds. The procession included prominent colored citizens in carriages, as well as Negro military organizations; Washington noticed that all were treated well. The procession lasted around three hours, during which the sun was extremely hot. By the time they reached the grounds, he felt nearly ready to collapse. The room where he would speak was packed. There were vigorous cheers from blacks, and faint cheers from whites. He had been told that there would be many people in the audience who were present for the purpose of watching him make a fool of himself. One of his friends, William Baldwin, was so nervous that he didn't even enter the building until after the opening exercises were over.
This chapter primarily tells the story of how Washington came to speak at the Atlanta Exposition, arguably the high point of his career. As before, small, incremental steps eventually lead to great success; in this case, touring the north with General Armstrong eventually led to a speaking engagement in Atlanta, which, though it required many hours of travel for just five minutes of speaking, opened the door to his monumental speech at the Exposition.
Washington gives a great deal of detail in explaining the lead-up to this address. This slowing down and "zooming in" with visual and auditory imagery helps the reader to understand the magnitude of the event, and the reader can even feel some of Washington's emotions during the days and moments before the speech. Interestingly, Washington shares more about his emotional state at this point than when relating his wives' deaths, which he does with a calm detachment.
Indeed, while we may marvel at the lack of details about Washington's personal life, he is nothing if not consistent, pursuing industrial education for blacks with an almost missionary zeal. When introducing his children, he proudly notes that his older son has already mastered the brickmaker's trade; and when telling of his wife's death, his praise centers on her unselfish work for Tuskegee. The book's message is unwavering and clear: industrial education and hard work among blacks is the way to create harmonious race relations and progress for his race.
Chapter 14: The Atlanta Exposition Address
Washington's address can be summarized as follows: One-third of the population of the south is black; thus, it is important to include blacks when considering the welfare of this region. This Exposition has done an excellent job recognizing the value of the American Negro, a recognition that will cement the friendship between the races. This opportunity will also begin a new era of industrial progress. It isn't surprising that when blacks were ignorant and inexperienced, they were more interested in becoming politicians than learning a trade.
A ship lost at sea asked a friendly vessel for water, as they were dying of thirst. The answer came back: "Cast down your bucket where you are." After asking three more times and receiving the same answer every time, the captain finally cast down his bucket and received fresh, sparkling water from the Amazon River. To those of his race who expect to better themselves in another land or underestimate the importance of cultivating friendship with the southern white man, Washington says, "Cast down your bucket where you are." Do so in agriculture, mechanics, commerce, domestic service, and in professions. It is in the south that the Negro has a chance in the business world. The biggest danger is to overlook the fact that most of the race needs to live by working with their hands, and that they will prosper in proportion with the degree to which they glorify common labor.
To those of the white race who look to foreigners to bring prosperity to the south, he also says, "Cast down your bucket where you are." Cast it down among the millions of Negros you already know, who have proven their loyalty to you and tilled your fields, cleared your forests, built your railroads and cities, and retrieved treasures from the earth, without going on strike. If you do so, you will find they will buy your surplus land, make your waste fields grow, and run your factories. You can be assured you will be surrounded by the most patient, faithful, and unresentful people there are. Just as we have proven our loyalty to you in the past, nursing your children and parents, we will stand by you in the future, ready to lay down our lives in defense of yours. We can be separate in our social lives, but work together for mutual progress.
There can be no security except in the intelligence and development of all. If there are efforts to curtail the Negro's growth, let these be turned into encouraging him to be the most useful and intelligent that he can be. Such investment will earn a thousand percent interest. The races are inescapably entwined; the black race can lead upwards or downwards. They can constitute a third of southern crime, or contribute a third to the economic prosperity of the region.
You must not expect too much, as the progress we have made would not be possible without the constant support for education from southern states and northern philanthropists.
The wisest of the race understand it is foolish to agitate for social equality, and that enjoying full privileges must come as the result of hard work and struggle. No race that has something to contribute will be ostracized for long. It is important to have legal rights, but it is more important to be prepared to exercise those privileges. It is far more important now to be able to earn than to spend.
In conclusion, nothing in thirty years has given the black race as much hope as this Exposition. In your effort to work out the problems of the south, you will have the help of the race. Yet more important than material benefits will be the ceasing of racial animosities and an obedience of all to the law. This, along with material prosperity, will bring to the south "a new heaven and a new earth" (85).
After concluding his speech, Washington received many hearty congratulations. The next morning, crowds of men who wished to shake hands surrounded him. The same thing happened at each station as he traveled back to Tuskegee by train. Papers around the country published the address, and for months there were complimentary editorial references, several of which he quotes verbatim. Washington began to receive propositions from lecture bureaus and editors to speak and to write articles. One lecture bureau offered him $50,000 to work for them for a certain amount of time. However, he responded that his life work was at Tuskegee, and that he would not do anything that simply placed a commercial value upon his work.
Washington sent a copy of his address to Grover Cleveland, then president of the US. Cleveland responded with a heartfelt letter of support, reprinted in the book. Washington later met Cleveland at the Atlanta Exposition, where he spent an hour in the Negro Building. Washington expresses his admiration for the man, who shook hands with many blacks and gave them his autograph. The two became friends and Cleveland did much for Tuskegee, including making personal donations and using his influence to secure donations from others. Washington believes Cleveland does not have any racial prejudice, and that such prejudice is limited to narrow people who do not open their minds and souls. The happiest people are those who do the most for others, he believes, while the most miserable are those who do the least.
The colored people and papers at first seemed to be pleased with the speech, but after a time some felt they had been hypnotized. They felt he had not spoken strongly enough for black "rights". However, later those who felt this way seemed to change their minds and believe as Washington did.
Another example of a change in public sentiment came when Dr. Lyman Abbott, editor of Outlook Magazine (where the book was initially published), asked Washington to give his opinion of the condition of colored ministers in the south. He answered honestly, painting a rather bleak picture. Many condemned him, and some organizations even advised parents to cease sending their children to Tuskegee. However, when church leaders began investigating, they found he was right. Public sentiment then demanded that better men be placed in the pulpit, and many who had originally condemned Washington then thanked him. He now has many warm friends among the clergy.
Soon after the Atlanta speech, Washington was invited to be one of the judges at the Department of Education in Atlanta. He became secretary of his group of jurors, whites from both the north and the south, and judged the white exhibits as well as the black ones.
Washington spends the remainder of the chapter expanding on his political views. He believes that eventually the southern Negro will be given all of the political rights to which he is entitled, based on his ability, character, and material possessions. Such rights will not come through artificial forcing, but rather will be given by southern whites themselves, as soon as they no longer feel they are being forced to do something they do not wish to do. He feels that the Atlanta officials invited a Negro to speak at the Exposition and to be a member of the board of jurors because they wished to do so, and that this likely would not have happened had there been demands from outside. Therefore, he believes that blacks should not agitate for political rights, but rather should depend on gaining them slowly as they acquire property, intelligence, and high character. They should not cease voting, but they should let themselves be influenced by intelligent neighbors of good character, such as southern white men who have helped them to succeed economically.
Washington believes it is unjust to allow a poor and ignorant white man to vote but to deny a black man in the same condition from voting. Such a law would encourage the Negro to become educated and get property, while the white man would remain ignorant and poor. He thinks that friendly race relations will cause the cheating at southern ballots to stop, as it will become clear that a southern white man who cheats a black man out of his vote will learn to do the same to a white man, and then may commit bigger crimes such as theft. He believes the south will eventually encourage everyone to vote, as it is wiser to have a healthy political life than the political stagnation that results from half the population having no share or interest in the government. However, at present he feels it is justified to protect the ballot at least for a while by an education test, a property test, or both, provided that such tests are applied equally to both races.
The Atlanta Exposition speech is Washington's most famous speech, and the only one he considered important enough to reprint in its entirety within the book. It is also known as the "Atlanta Compromise," a term coined by outspoken critic W.E.B. Du Bois, as it posited that blacks would not agitate for social or political equality but would work hard to become educated and make themselves valuable in society. As he expanded on later in the chapter, Washington believed political rights would be granted naturally as blacks rose out of poverty and contributed to their communities. His views are extremely practical, given that slavery had been abolished just 30 years prior and southern whites were unlikely to grant blacks full equality without a fight. Thus he focused on that which he felt was most foundational - economic opportunity - rather than social or political equality, which he felt would naturally come later. His views are eloquently expressed in an oft-quoted metaphor: "In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress" (84).
The speech was very well received by whites, but less so by members of his own race. Washington claims that most blacks later changed their views to mirror his, but it is likely that he is exaggerating. In fact, he was a financial supporter of a number of black newspapers, allowing him to influence their editorials and news coverage. Thus, it is more likely that these blacks simply found it expedient to be less vocal about their dissent. Not everyone was so diplomatic, of course. In an influential 1903 essay, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote, "So far as Mr. Washington preaches thrift, patience, and industrial training for the masses, we must hold up his hands and strive with him...But so far as Mr. Washington apologizes for injustice, North or South, does not rightly value the privilege and duty of voting, belittles the emasculating effects of caste distinction and opposes the higher training and ambition of our brighter minds -- so far as he, the South, or the Nation, does this -- we must unceasingly and firmly oppose them."
To be fair, Washington did not actually oppose higher education, social integration, or voting rights for blacks; he merely felt it was important to build skills and obtain rights by starting with the foundations. In a sense, he was advocating for members of his race to follow the rags-to-riches trajectory that his own life had followed, as well as the life of Tuskegee. In supporting the requirement of a property and/or education test for voting (applied equally to members of both race), he showed his faith in the power of individual merit in lifting blacks out of poverty, minimizing the importance of societal barriers which may have prevented them from doing so.
It is interesting to compare this climax of Washington's book with that of typical slave narratives. While the climax in such a narrative typically involves escape, Washington's climax is conciliatory - rather than breaking free from his former enslavers, he attempts to bond with them. His efforts are clearly successful, as he develops a friendship with the president of the United States and sees his own political power grow.
Chapter 15: The Secret of Success in Public Speaking
Washington opens the chapter with an editorial by James Creelman published in the New York World. Creelman described Washington as a "Negro Moses," his "face lit up with the fire of prophecy" (91). With vivid imagery, he described the event and the massively enthusiastic response by the audience.
When he could spare the time, Washington accepted other invitations to speak publicly, with the understanding that he would be free to talk about his life work and the needs of his people. He never really understood why people came to hear him speak. Once, a fierce snowstorm occurred shortly before an address he was giving in Madison, WI; yet even so, the church where he was to speak was packed. He always gets nervous before speaking, and afterwards he usually feels some sort of regret, as he fears he has left out the main thing he wanted to say. However, after about ten minutes he would feel he had mastered his audience and was completely connected. He could identify anyone who did not share his views, and go straight at him to "thaw him out" (93).
Washington believes there is no sense in speaking for its own sake, but rather that one should speak only if he has a message to deliver. While there are certain things that help, such as pauses, breathing, and pitch, nothing can take the place of soul when public speaking. Washington likes to forget all about the rules of language when he speaks, and to make his audience forget as well. Because he gets thrown off balance when someone leaves the room, he tries to make his address so interesting and full of facts that no one can leave.
His favorite kinds of audiences are comprised of strong businessmen, such as can be found in northern cities like Boston and New York, as they are quick to understand a point and very responsive. After dinner is the best time to speak, although it can be tortuous to have to sit through a long meal before giving an address. When he takes part in these long dinners, he often wishes he could put himself back in the cabin where he was a slave boy getting molasses from the "big house" once a week. He would tip his plate to spread the molasses out, believing there would be more of it that way. Those two spoonfuls of molasses were far more enjoyable than a fourteen-course dinner after which he had to speak.
His next favorite audience is southern people of either race, separate or together, as they are highly enthusiastic and responsive. After that, he enjoys delivering addresses at a college.
When Washington speaks about Tuskegee, he usually arranges meetings with various organizations ahead of time. Three years ago, he received funding from the Slater Fund to hold meetings with his wife among colored people in large centers of Negro population, particularly southern cities. They have done so for a few weeks each year, with Washington speaking to ministers, teachers, and professional men, his wife speaking to the women, and then Washington addressing everyone in the evening. Members of both races have attended the meetings, and Washington feels he accomplished a lot of good. They were also an opportunity to see the conditions of black people in their homes, churches, workplaces, prisons, and so on, and to witness the relations between the races. The meetings have given him a lot of hope.
Someone has noted that 90% of Negro women are not virtuous, but Washington is sure this is a falsehood.
In 1897, Washington accepted an invitation to speak at the dedication of the Robert Gould Shaw monument in Boston. The event was full of distinguished people from the former anti-slavery movement. He includes a report from the Boston Transcript describing the event, full of praise and imagery detailing the excitement of the audience and their emotional response. Washington addressed members of the fifty-fourth regiment, the first all-black regiment in the north during the Civil War, and the black color-bearer rose and raised the flag. The effect was dramatic, and the audience nearly lost control.
Washington also spoke at a peace celebration in Chicago following the close of the Spanish-American war. He addressed at least sixteen thousand people, his largest audience yet, including President McKinley and many other dignitaries. Again, he lets a newspaper report tell the story, this time quoting from the Chicago Times-Herald. In his speech, he recalled the many ways that Negros had supported whites even as the latter perpetuated slavery, helping, too, to free the enslaved people of Cuba even as they faced unjust discrimination back home. He then appealed to the consciences of white Americans: "When you have gotten the full story of the heroic conduct of the Negro in the Spanish-American war, have heard it from the lips of Northern soldier and Southern soldier, from ex-abolitionist and ex-masters, then decide within yourselves whether a race that is thus willing to die for its country should not be given the highest opportunity to live for its country" (97-8). He received some criticisms from southern papers about a portion of the address, but his response seemed to satisfy his critics. He said that he had argued for eliminating prejudice in "commercial and civil relations" (98), but that he had made no mention of social recognition.
In meeting crowds of people, Washington dreads the crank, whom he can now recognize at a distance. He met one of these fellows in Chicago, who said he had a way to keep Indian corn for a few years that could settle the entire race question if the southern Negro would adopt the process as a whole. Another had a scheme to close all the national banks in the country. There are many other people who try to consume his time for no reason, such as a man who came to his hotel to say, "I rather liked your talk, and so I came in this morning to hear you talk some more" (99).
One reason Washington is able to take so much time away from Tuskegee to speak is because the school is so well organized that it does not need any given individual to be present in order to run. The executive council meets twice a week, a financial committee meets weekly, and at least once a month there is a meeting of the instructors. Washington has arranged a system of reports so that he receives a record of the school's work each day, no matter where he is. These reports detail the school's income and expenditures, what food was served, what students are excused, and so on.
Washington tries to do any routine work early in the day, so that he can do more advanced work afterwards. He clears his desk each day and seeks to keep in complete control of his work. He also prepares himself for unpleasant occurrences. In nineteen years he took just one vacation, when friends forced him and his wife to spend three months in Europe. He tries to keep his body in good condition, and consults a physician if something is the slightest bit wrong. If he has an exceptionally difficult question to decide, he tries to sleep on it or consult with his wife and friends. He enjoys reading newspapers, which he does most while traveling. He also enjoys biographies, and has read nearly everything he can about Abraham Lincoln. He spends about half the year away from Tuskegee, giving him a break from unimportant details and letting him see the school's big picture. The traveling also lets him connect with the best educators in the country.
He gets the most rest, however, when he can sit down with his wife and three children after dinner and read or take turns telling a story, or walk with them outdoors on Sunday afternoons. He enjoys working in his garden and gains strength and inspiration from nature. He also raises pigs and fowls, but has little interest in games.
In this chapter, Washington primarily reflects on his public speaking experience: how he connects with his audience, "thaws out" those who don't agree with his views, makes his speeches so interesting that nobody will want to leave, and so on. He singles out each of the three groups to which the book is directed - northern whites, southern whites, and southern blacks - and acknowledges them all as being his favorite kinds of audiences.
There is a fair bit of religious imagery. For instance, one reporter described Washington as a "Negro Moses," and noted that when he "stood on the platform... his whole face lit up with the fire of prophecy" (91). Washington seems to want to present himself as modest, yet his inclusion of such praiseworthy editorials suggest otherwise. In fact, he even engaged in some dictatorial behaviors, such as blocking blacks with whom he didn't agree from getting positions and trying to shut down black newspapers that didn't share his views. His need to be kept abreast daily of all news at the school - from financial dealings to student absences and even what they ate for dinner - supports this view of Washington as controlling.
As he does throughout the book, Washington is careful to juxtapose images from his past with those of his successful present, this time sharing the anecdote of being a slave boy getting molasses from the "big house" to remind the reader of his humble beginnings. He is, in a sense, the epitome of the "American dream," working his way up from poverty to become arguably the most powerful African American in the country.
He briefly mentions and refutes the claim that Negro women are not virtuous. Despite earlier claiming that he fills his speeches with facts, however, he offers no facts to back himself up, merely the assertion that "there never was a baser falsehood uttered concerning a race, or a statement made that was less capable of being proved by actual facts" (95).
Washington spends a fair amount of time describing his speech at the peace celebration in Chicago, in which he highlighted the contributions made by blacks in the Spanish-American War. He does not, however, emphasize it nearly as much as he did in his first autobiography, intended for a mostly black audience. In that book, he included the text of the entire speech - a testament to black achievement - and even put in an illustration of the event. Some have argued that leaving out this detail in Up from Slavery supports a less positive image of blacks as poor, ignorant, and uneducated, in need of the panacea he offers in the form of industrial education.
Washington alludes to criticisms about this address, but leaves out the details. In fact, the offending words were the following: Americans "have succeeded in every conflict except the effort to conquer ourselves in the blotting out of racial prejudices. ... Until we thus conquer ourselves, I make no empty statement when I say that we shall have a cancer gnawing at the heart of this republic that shall some day prove to be as dangerous as an attack from an army within or without." Washington never retracted his words, suggesting that as much as he appeared to pander to whites, he was firmly opposed to racial prejudice in all of its forms. At the same time, it is likely that he did not wish to draw attention to these views in Up from Slavery for fear of losing support.
At the end of the chapter, Washington gives us a glimpse of his family life, portraying himself as a family man who enjoys reading and taking walks with his children. In so doing he may be showing his white readers how similar they are to one another, as his family life resembles that of a wealthy white family far more than the poor black families he describes earlier in the book.