Character Building  by Booker T. Washington

Chapter 10 European Impressions

Some people here in America think that some of us make too much ado over the matter of industrial training for the Negro. I wish some of the skeptics might go to Europe and see what races that are years ahead of us are doing there in that respect. I shall not take the time here to outline what is being done for men in the direction of industrial train-ing in Europe, but I shall give some account of what I saw being done for women in England.

Mrs. Washington and I visited the Agricultural College for women, at Swanley, England, where we found forty intelligent, cultivated women, who were most of them graduates from high schools and colleges, engaged in studying practical agriculture, horticulture, dairying and poultry raising. We found the women in the laboratory and classrooms, studying agricultural chemistry, botany, zoology, and applied mathe-matics, and we also saw these same women in the garden, planting vegeta-bles, trimming rose bushes, scattering manure, growing grapes and raising fruit in the hot-houses and in the field.

As another suggestion for our people, I might mention that while I was in England I knew of one of the leading members of Parliament leaving his duties in that body for three days to preside at a meeting of the National Association of Poultry Raisers, which was largely attended by people from all parts of the United Kingdom.

In the trip which Mrs. Washington and I made through Holland, we saw much which may be of interest to you. It has been said that, God made the world, but the Dutch made Holland. For one to fully realize the force of this one must see Holland for himself. One of the best ways to see the interior of Holland, and the peasant life, is to take a trip, as we did, on one of the canal boats plying between Antwerp, in Belgium, and Rotterdam, in Holland.

It was especially interesting for me to compare the rural life in Holland with the life of the country colored people in the South. Holland has been made what it is very largely, by the unique system of dykes or levees which have been built there to keep out the water of the ocean, and thus enable the people to use to advantage all the land there is in that small country.

The great lesson which our colored farmers can learn from the Dutch, is how to make a living from a small plot of ground well culti-vated, instead of from forty or fifty acres poorly tilled. I have seen a whole family making a comfortable living by cultivating two acres of land there, while our Southern farmers, in too many cases, try to till fifty or a hundred acres, and find themselves in debt at the end of the year. In all Holland, I do not think one can find a hundred acres of waste land; every foot of land is covered with grass, vegetables, and grain or fruit trees. Another advantage which our Southern farmers might have in trying to pattern after the farmers of Holland, would be that they would not be obliged to go to so much additional expense for horse or mule power. Most of the cultivating of the soil there is done with a hoe and spade.

I saw the people of Holland on Sunday and on week days, but I did not see a single Dutch man, woman or child in rags. There were practi-cally no beggars and no very poor people. They owe their prosperity, too, very largely to their thorough and intelligent cultivation of the soil.

Next to the thorough tilling of the soil, the thing of most interest there, from which the colored people in America may learn a lesson, is the fine dairying which has made Holland famous throughout the world. Even the poorest family has its herd of Holstein cattle, and they are the finest specimens of cattle that it has ever been my pleasure to see. To watch thousands of these cattle grazing on the fields is worth a trip to Holland. As the result of the attention which they have given to breeding Holstein cattle, Dutch butter and cheese are in demand all through Europe. The most ordinary farmer there has a cash income as the result of the sale of his butter and milk.

Many of these people make more out of the wind that blows over the fields than our poor Southern people make out of the soil. The old-fashioned windmill is to be seen on every farm. This mill not only pumps the water for the live stock, but, in many cases, is made to operate the dairy, to saw the wood, to grind the grain, and to run the heavy machinery. These people are, however, not unlike our Southern people in one respect, and that is in having their women and children work in the fields. This, I think, is done in a larger measure even than in the South among the colored people.

An element of strength in the farming and dairying interests of these people is to be found in the fact that many of the farmers have received a college or university training. After this they take a special course in agri-culture and dairying. This is as it should be. Our people in the South will prosper in proportion as a larger number of university men take up agri-culture and kindred callings after they have finished their academic education.

In the matter of physical appearance, including grace, beauty, and carriage of the body, I think our own people are far ahead of the Dutch. But the Dutch are a hardy, rugged, industrious race of people. In our trip in the canal boat we saw the men at the landings in large numbers, in their wooden shoes, and the women and children in their beautiful, old-fash-ioned head -dresses, each community having its own style of head -dress, which has been handed down from one generation to another.

We were in Rotterdam over Sunday. The free and rather boisterous commingling of the sexes on the street was noteworthy. In this, also, our people in the United States could set an example to the Dutch.

The foundation of the civilization of these people is in their regard for and respect for the law, and their observance of it. This is the great lesson which the entire South must learn before it can hope to receive the respect and confidence of the world. Europeans do not understand how the South can disregard its own laws as it so often does. If you ask any man on that side of the Atlantic why he does not emigrate to the Southern part of the United States, he shrugs his shoulders and says, "No law; they kill." I pray God that no part of our country may much longer have such a reputation as that in any part of the world.

From Holland we went to Paris. On a beautiful, sunny day, if you could combine the whirl of fashion and gaiety of New York City, Boston and Chicago on a prominent avenue, you would have some idea of what is to be seen in Paris upon one of her popular boulevards. Fashion seemed to sway everything in that great city; for example, when I went into a shoe store to purchase a pair of shoes, I could not find a pair large enough to be comfortable. I was gently told that it was not the fashion to wear large shoes there.

One of the things I had in mind when I went to France was to visit the tomb of Toussaint L'Ouverture, but I learned from some Haitian gentlemen residing in Paris that the grave of that general was in the northern part of France, and these same gentlemen informed me that his burial place is still without a monument of any kind. It seems that it has been in the minds of the Haitians for some time to remove his body to Haiti, but thus far it has been neglected. The Haitian Government and people owe it to themselves; it appears to me, to see to it that the rest-ing place of this great hero is given a proper memorial, either in France or on the island of Haiti.

Speaking of the Haitians, there are a good many well educated and cultivated men and women of that nationality in Paris. Numbers of them are sent there each year for education, and they take high rank in schol-arship. It is greatly to be regretted, however, that some of these do not take advantage of the excellent training which is given there in the colleges of physical science, agriculture, mechanics and domestic science. They would then be in a position to return home and assist in developing the agricultural and mineral resources of their native land. Haiti will never be what it should be until a large number of the natives receive an educa-tion which will enable them to develop agriculture, build roads, start manufactories, build railroads and bridges, and thus keep on the island the large amount of money which is now being sent outside for produc-tions which these people themselves could supply.

In all the European cities which we visited, we compared the conduct of the rank and file of the people on the streets and in other places with that of our own people in the United States, and we have no hesitation in saying that, in all that marks a lady or gentleman, our people in the South do not suffer at all by the comparison. Even at the camp-meetings and other holiday gatherings in the South, the deportment of the masses of the colored people is quite up to the standard of that of the average European in the larger cities which we saw.

I should strongly advise our people against going to Europe, and especially to Paris, with, the hope of securing employment, unless forti-fied by strong friends and a good supply of money. In one week, in Paris, three men of my race called to see me, and in each case I found the man to be practically in a starving condition. They were well-meaning, indus-trious men, who had gone there with the idea that life was easy and work sure; but notwithstanding the fact that they walked the streets for days, they could get no work. The fact that they did not speak the language, nor understand the customs of the people, made their life just so much the harder. With the assistance of other Americans, I secured passage for one of these men to America. His parting word to me was, "The United States is good enough for me in the future."