Up From Slavery

Up From Slavery Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-17

Chapter 16: Europe

In 1893, Washington married Miss Margaret James Murray, who was then acting as Lady Principal. She not only greatly supported his work with the school, but also led a mothers' meeting in Tuskegee and did plantation work on a plantation outside of town. These two latter activities not only directly helped the beneficiaries, but also provided lessons to students who might wish to do this kind of work. She also managed a women's club at the school and led several other women's organizations. His daughter Portia learned dressmaking, plays music, and has begun to teach at Tuskegee. His middle child, Booker Taliaferro, has nearly mastered the brickmason's trade. Washington was most proud when he received a letter from his son saying he wished to work at his trade all day and earn as much as he could. His youngest son, Ernest Davidson, wants to be a physician, and has begun to apprentice in a doctor's office. Washington regrets that he does not have more time to spend with his family, as he greatly enjoys his time at home. He also enjoys meeting his students, teachers, and their families in the chapel each evenings.

In the spring of 1899, Washington attended a meeting in Boston where several attendees noted that he looked unusually tired. A few days later, he learned that some friends in Boston had raised enough money to pay all of the expenses for him and his wife to visit Europe for three or four months. At first he argued that Tuskegee could not survive financially in his absence, but when he learned that enough money had been raised to keep the school in operation during that time, he agreed to go.

The trip seemed like a dream, born as he was in slavery. However, he was concerned that people might think they were "stuck up" and trying to "show off". He also worried that he wouldn't be able to be happy while not working, as it seemed to him a selfish thing to do when there was so much work to be done. He didn't actually know how to take a vacation, having worked ever since he could remember.

Despite these preoccupations, the couple set off on May 10 for Europe. They had one of the most comfortable rooms on an ocean steamer, where everyone treated them with great kindness. Washington slept for many hours a day and started to understand how tired he really was.

Washington and his wife first toured Holland, traveling much of the way on canal boats, where he was impressed by the agriculture and the excellence of the Holstein cows. They traveled through Belgium and then to Paris, where he spoke at a banquet full of dignitaries. He declined most other invitations to speak, although he did give a talk in an American chapel. He met a number of important men and saw a good deal of the African American painter, Henry O. Tanner, whom he had met earlier in the U.S. Tanner's success reinforced his belief that any man will be recognized and rewarded in proportion to his ability to do something better than anyone else, regardless of his race.

Washington was impressed by the French love of pleasure and excitement, which were greater than that of his race. The French did things more thoroughly than his own race due to competition and the stresses of life, but he felt his own race would come to the same point. However, he felt that blacks were equal or better than the French in terms of morality, honor, and kindness to animals. He left France with even more faith in the American black man.

In London, the couple had many letters of introduction and received numerous invitations to attend social events and give speeches. He met a number of distinguished people, including members of parliament, the American ambassador, and author Mark Twain. Washington names a number of others who hosted them or with whom they spent some time. He spoke at a woman's club and at the commencement address for the Royal College for the Blind, and he was invited to have tea with Queen Victoria with a party that included Susan B. Anthony.

He visited a number of Englishmen at their homes, where he was impressed by the way in which everything moved like clockwork and by the deference that servants showed their masters. He was also impressed by the high regard everyone held for the law, and the time Englishmen took for even simple things such as eating. He gained a better appreciation for the nobility, as he had previously not known how well loved they were nor how much time and money they put into philanthropy. It was harder for him to speak to English audiences, as Englishmen were so serious as not to laugh at stories that would have cracked up an American audience. However, he felt that English friendships were incredibly satisfactory and strong. One of his new friends was the Duchess of Sutherland, said to be the most beautiful woman in England.

After three months they sailed in a steamship with a fine library, where Washington found a biography of Frederick Douglass. He was especially interested in the way he had been treated on a ship during the first or second of his visits to England, where he had not been permitted to enter the cabin. Shortly after reading this account, Washington received a request to deliver an address at a concert the next evening, where passengers raised enough money to support several scholarships at Tuskegee. This contrast convinced him that racial feelings were improving.

In Paris, Washington received an invitation to be honored in his home state of West Virginia. The invitation came from the City Council, the state officers, and important citizens of both races in the city of Charleston, near where he had grown up. He accepted and was given a public reception attended by many important people of both races. Not long afterwards, he attended similar receptions in Atlanta and New Orleans.


This chapter is primarily about Washington's trip to Europe, arranged and paid for by northern donors. He spends a fair bit of the chapter name-dropping, perhaps to highlight just how far he had come in the "rags-to-riches" story of his life; for instance, he even had tea with the queen of England. Again, he reminds the reader of his humble beginnings to make his success that much more noteworthy.

The African American artist Henry O. Tanner serves as a symbol of Washington's belief that individual merit is rewarded regardless of race. Tanner's work was being displayed in the Luxembourg Palace, and few people even stopped to consider the artist's race; they simply knew he was able to produce paintings that the world wanted.

Washington also shares some of his impressions of European culture. It is ironic that Washington, a former slave himself, writes of how he was impressed by the deference shown by servants to their masters and mistresses.

On the ship home, Washington comes across "a life of Frederick Douglass," which he eagerly reads. This is most likely his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, as there were many similarities between the opening paragraphs of that text and Up from Slavery. Douglass, an abolitionist leader, was arguably the most famous African-American at the time, although he had recently passed away in 1895. Washington may have drawn from Douglass's work as a way to emulate a role model or, perhaps, to draw parallels between himself and the famous leader for readers familiar with both of their books.

Chapter 17: Last Words

Before going to Europe, several surprising events occurred. First, General Armstrong visited Tuskegee, six months before he died. The owners of Tuskegee Railroad ran a special train for him out of the main station, and a thousand students and teachers greeted him with lighted pine torches. Although Armstrong could barely speak or walk, he spent two months living with Washington and helping in any way he could. He repeated that it was the duty of the country to elevate not only the southern Negro, but also the poor white man as well. A few weeks later, General Armstrong passed away and Washington was pleased to become acquainted with Dr. Hollis Frissell, Armstrong's successor as principal of Hampton.

By far the greatest surprise in Washington's life, however, occurred in 1896, when he received a letter from Harvard University telling him the institute wished to confer on him an honorary degree. His former life passed before his eyes - his life as a slave, working in the coal mine, times without food or clothing, sleeping under the sidewalk, struggling for an education, trying days at Tuskegee, times he didn't know where to turn for money for the school, and the ostracism of his race. He never sought fame, he explains, although he is content to have it if it helps him to effect good, just as wealthy people use their money as an instrument for good. Washington was greatly honored and reprinted a portion of his speech, in which he promised to continue lifting up his people and improving relations between the races. As it was the first time an American Negro had received an honorary degree, there were many newspaper editorials, a number of which he reprinted to share the enthusiasm and admiration of his audience and the high opinions others held of him.

Washington had long aspired to make Tuskegee so important in its service to the country that the President of the United States would visit. In November 1897, a member of President McKinley's cabinet delivered an address at the opening of an agricultural building. In the fall of 1898 he heard the president was likely to visit Atlanta to take part in the Peace Jubilee exercises, and he traveled to Washington, D.C. to request that McKinley come to Tuskegee as well. The next month he returned, at a time when race riots were occurring throughout the south. With the encouragement of Washington and several prominent whites, McKinley agreed to visit the institute.

The white citizens of Tuskegee arranged to decorate the town and help the school to receive the president. On the day of his visit, the entire school passed before the President. Each student carried a stalk of sugar cane with cotton attached. Following the students, each department displayed its work on a float with exhibits that contrasted the old and new methods of doing things. McKinley addressed the students and congratulated all for the excellent work they were doing, singling out Washington for particularly high praise, and other dignitaries were equally effusive in their remarks. Washington reprinted the letter sent afterwards by McKinley's secretary, offering his own congratulations on the success of the visit.

Washington had started Tuskegee twenty years before in a broken-down shanty and a hen house, with just one teacher and thirty students. Now the school owned 2300 acres of land, of which students cultivated a thousand; 66 buildings, all but four constructed by students; and thirty industrial departments. Their biggest problem was that they could only supply half the number of graduates for which there was demand, and they had the resources to accept only half of the students who applied for admission.

The staff at Tuskegee keep three things in mind with regards to industrial teaching: first, that students should be able to meet current needs in the area of the south where they live; second, that they should have enough skill, intelligence, and moral character to make a living; and third, that they should graduate with the sense that labor is dignified and beautiful. They train men in agriculture and women in domestic employments; however, they have also begun training girls in gardening, growing fruit, keeping bees and chickens, and other agricultural pursuits. There is also a bible training school to prepare students for the ministry, although even there they spend half a day at some industry.

The property is now valued at over $700,000, with an endowment of one million dollars. The annual current expenses are around $150,000, which Washington raises by going door to door. The number of students has grown to 1400, from 27 states and territories as well as a number of foreign countries, taught by 110 officers and instructors. Altogether there are around 1700 people living on the grounds. Students follow a rigid schedule, rising at 5am and retiring at 9:30pm. In between, they clean their rooms, work, study, and attend chapel. There are at least 6000 graduates working in the south, who are each showing others of their race how to improve themselves and demonstrating to whites the value of educating Negros.

Ten years ago, Washington organized the first Negro Conference at Tuskegee. This annual gathering now brings eight or nine hundred men and women to consider the conditions of the race and make plans for improvement and has spawned a number of similar state and local gatherings. In 1900, he organized the National Negro Business League, which brought together a large number of colored businessmen from different parts of the country. He also still speaks to audiences in both the north and the south, and writes his opinions of matters that pertain to both races. For instance, he wrote an open letter to the Louisiana State Constitutional Convention pleading for justice with regards to the practice of lynching.

Washington now feels extremely hopeful for his race. He continues to believe in the power of individual merit, writing that "The great human law that in the end recognizes and rewards merit is everlasting and universal" (122). He also appreciates the struggle in which both southern whites and former slaves are engaged to free themselves from racial prejudice.

He closes the book while in Richmond, Virginia, where twenty-five years earlier he was forced to sleep under a sidewalk. This time he is an honored guest, having come to deliver an address at the Academy of Music. It was the first time colored people were allowed to use the hall. The address was attended by the entire City Council and state legislature, along with hundreds of citizens of both races. His message was hopeful, and he was most grateful for this welcome back to the state of his birth.


The final chapter shows how far both Washington and Tuskegee have come since their humble beginnings. He highlights several honors, such as an honorary degree from Harvard and a visit to Tuskegee by President McKinley, and reprints a number of editorials full of praise. Similarly, he lists the successes of his beloved institute, showing how large and wealthy it has become and how far-reaching its influence. Washington includes his mentor General Armstrong in the praise, telling of how a thousand students and teachers greeted the decrepit Armstrong with pine torches when he made his last visit to Tuskegee.

In this chapter Washington briefly alludes to the "evil habit of lynching" (122), referring to a letter that he wrote to the Louisiana State Constitutional Convention pleading for racial justice. Interestingly, his earlier autobiography (intended primarily for a black audience) included the entire letter, but he does not dwell on the issue here. While he clearly does not approve of racial violence, he also may not wish to antagonize any of his supporters - past, present, or future - by focusing on controversial issues about which they may not share his views.

Washington ends the book by describing a celebration in Richmond, VA, the state where he was born and the city in which he once had to sleep under the sidewalk. This conclusion suggests that he has achieved a significant life goal - the approval of others, which he has won through a lifetime of hard work and perseverance.