Immediately after the close of the Spanish-American war the Tuskegee Institute started a movement to bring a number of Cuban and Porto Rican students to Tuskegee, for the purpose of receiving training. The idea was pretty generally endorsed, and within a reasonably short time enough funds were donated by individuals throughout the country to provide for the education of ten students from Cuba and Porto Rico. These students are now at Tuskegee taking the regular courses of training and are making a creditable record. It is the plan to have them return to their island homes and give their people the benefit of their education.
Perhaps no single agency has been more potent
during the last ten years in assisting the Negro to better his condition than the John F. Slater Fund,
to which I have already referred. The trustees of this fund are among the most successful and
generous business men in the country, and they are using the fund very largely as a means of
pointing the proper direction of the education of the Negro. During 1898 the Slater Fund trustees
made an appropriation which was to be used in enabling Mrs. Washington and myself to go into
all of the Southern cities and deliver lectures to our people, especially in the large cities, speaking
to them plainly about their present material, financial, physical, educational and moral needs, and trying to point
out a way by which they could improve. We spent a portion of the summer of 1898 in going into cities in North
and South Carolina. Meetings were held in Greensboro, Wilmington, Columbia and Charleston, and everywhere we spoke the
houses were packed full. We spoke four or five times in Charleston, and the audience rooms were crowded at
every meeting with representatives of both races. We have the satisfaction of feeling that these meetings
accomplished a great deal of good, and everywhere we were overwhelmed with thanks from the people for our
words. The newspapers gave us all the space we desired and not only helped through their news columns, but were
generous in their editorial mention.
Mrs. Olivia Davidson Washington.
Girls at Tuskegee Engaged at Floriculture.
When the Spanish-American war closed there was great rejoicing throughout the country, and many cities vied with each other in their effort to celebrate the return of peace on a scale that would command the attention of the whole country. The city of Chicago, however, seemed to have been the most successful in these celebrations. Chicago was fortunate in securing the President of the United States, together with nearly all the members of his cabinet, and various foreign ministers and other important officials. This gave the celebration in Chicago a national importance such as attached to the celebration held by no other city.
I was asked by President William R. Harper, of the University of Chicago, chairman of the committee on invitations, to deliver one of the addresses in Chicago. I accepted the invitation and delivered, in fact, two addresses, during the jubilee week in Chicago. The principal address which I delivered on this occasion was on Sunday evening, October 16. The meeting was held in the Chicago Auditorium, and was the largest audience that I have ever spoken to in any part of the country. Besides speaking in the main auditorium, I addressed, on the same evening, two overflow audiences held in different portions of the city. It is said there were 16,000 people in the Auditorium, and it seems to me there were at least 16,000 on the outside trying to get into the building. In fact, without the aid of a policeman, it was impossible for any one to get anywhere near the entrance. The meeting was attended by President William McKinley, the members of his cabinet, foreign ministers and a large number of army and navy officers, many of whom had distinguished themselves during the Spanish-American war. The speakers, besides myself, on Sunday evening, were Rabbi Emil G. Hirsch, Father Thomas P. Hodnett and Dr. John H. Barrows.
The speech which I delivered on Sunday evening was as follows:
"Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen:
"On an important occasion in the life of the Master, when it fell to Him to pronounce judgment on two courses of action, these memorable words fell from his lips: 'And Mary hath chosen the better part.' This was the supreme test in the case of an individual. It is the highest test in the case of a race or nation. Let us apply the test to the American Negro.
"In the life of our Republic, when he has had the opportunity to choose, has it been the better or worse part? When in the childhood of this nation the Negro was asked to submit to slavery or choose death and extinction, as did the aborigines, he chose the better part, that which perpetuated the race.
"When in 1776 the Negro was asked to decide between British oppression and American independence, we find him choosing the better part, and Crispus Attucks, a Negro, was the first to shed his blood on State street, Boston, that the white American might enjoy liberty forever, though his race remained in slavery.
"When in 1814, at New Orleans, the test of patriotism came again, we find the Negro choosing the better part, and Gen. Andrew Jackson himself testifying that no heart was more loyal and no arm more strong and useful in defense of righteousness.
"When the long and memorable struggle came between union and separation, when we knew that victory on one hand meant freedom, and defeat on the other his continued enslavement, with a full knowledge of the portentous meaning of it all, when the suggestion and temptation came to burn the home and massacre wife and children during the absence of the master in battle, and thus insure his liberty, we find him choosing the better part, and for four long years protecting and supporting the helpless, defenseless ones entrusted to his care.
"When in 1863 the cause of the union seemed to quiver in the balance, and there were doubt and distrust, the Negro was asked to come to the rescue in arms, and the valor displayed at Fort Wagner and Port Hudson and Fort Pillow testifies most eloquently again that the Negro chose the better part.
"When a few months ago the safety and honor of the republic were threatened by a foreign foe, when the wail and anguish of the oppressed from a distant isle reached his ears, we find the Negro forgetting his own wrongs, forgetting the laws and customs that discriminated against him in his own country, again choosing the better part--the part of honor and humanity. And if you would know how he deported himself in the field at Santiago, apply for an answer to Shafter and Roosevelt and Wheeler. Let them tell how the Negro faced death and laid down his life in defense of honor and humanity, and when you have gotten the full story of the heroic conduct of the Negro in the Spanish-American war-- heard it from the lips of Northern soldiers, and Southern soldiers, from ex-abolitionists 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.
"In the midst of all the complaints of suffering in the camp and field, suffering from fever and hunger, where is the official or citizen that has heard a word of complaint from the lips of a black soldier? The only request that has come from the Negro soldier has been that he might be permitted to replace the white soldier when heat and malaria began to decimate the ranks of the white regiment, and to occupy at the same time the post of greatest danger.
"This country has been most fortunate in her victories. She has twice measured arms with England and has won. She has met the spirit of rebellion within her borders and was victorious. She has met the proud Spaniard, and he lays prostrate at her feet. All this is well, it is magnificent. But there remains one other victory for Americans to win--a victory as far-reaching and important as any that has occupied our army and navy. We have succeeded in every conflict, except the effort to conquer ourselves in the blotting out of racial prejudices. We can celebrate the era of peace in no more effectual way than by a firm resolve on the part of Northern men and Southern men, black men and white men, that the trenches that we together dug around Santiago shall be the eternal burial place of all that which separates us in our business and civil relations. Let us be as generous in peace as we have been brave in battle. Until we thus conquer ourselves, I make no empty statement when I say that we shall have a cancer gnawing at the heart of the republic that shall one day prove as dangerous as an attack from an army without or within.
"In this presence and on this auspicious occasion, I want to present the deep gratitude of nearly ten millions of my people to our wise, patient and brave Chief Executive for the generous manner in which my race has been recognized during this conflict--a recognition that has done more to blot out sectional and racial lines than any event since the dawn of our freedom.
"I know how vain and impotent is all abstract talk on this subject. In your efforts to 'rise on stepping stones of your dead selves,' we of the black race shall not leave you unaided. We shall make the task easier for you by acquiring property, habits of thrift, economy, intelligence and character, by each making himself of individual worth in his own community. We shall aid you in this as we did a few days ago at El Caney and Santiago, when we helped you to hasten the peace we here celebrate. You know us; you are not afraid of us. When the crucial test comes, you are not ashamed of us. We have never betrayed or deceived you. You know that as it has been, so it will be. Whether in war or in peace, whether in slavery or in freedom, we have always been loyal to the Stars and Stripes."
I shall not attempt to burden the reader with newspaper comments on this address, but shall content myself with giving a description that appeared at the time in the Chicago Times-Herald.
"Booker T. Washington's address at the Jubilee Thanksgiving services at the Auditorium contained one of the most eloquent tributes ever paid to the loyalty and valor of the colored race, and at the same time, was one of the most powerful appeals for justice to a race which has always chosen the better part.
"The speaker, who is the recognized leader of the colored race, reviewed the history of his people from the childhood of the nation to the present day. He pictured the Negro choosing slavery rather than extinction; recalled Crispus Attucks, shedding his blood at the beginning of the American revolution that white Americans might be free, while black Americans remained in slavery; rehearsed the conduct of the Negroes with Jackson at New Orleans; drew a vivid and pathetic picture of the Southern slaves protecting and supporting the families of their masters while the latter were fighting to perpetuate black slavery; recounted the bravery of colored troops at Port Hudson and Forts Wagner and Pillow, and praised the heroism of the black regiments that stormed El Caney and Santiago to give freedom to the enslaved people of Cuba, forgetting for the time being the unjust discrimination that law and custom make against them in their own country.
"In all of these things the speaker declared that his race had chosen the better part. And then he made his eloquent appeal 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, heard it from the lips of Northern soldier and Southern soldier, from ex-abolitionists 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.'
"When Americans conquer race prejudice, the speaker declared, they will have won a victory greater than can be obtained through the achievements of arms. He likened the effect of race discrimination, especially in the Southern States, to a cancer gnawing at the heart of the republic, 'as dangerous as an attack from an army within or without.'
"This is not a threat, but a warning, and one to which the white race should give heed. The only solution of the 'Negro problem' which will remove all menace to the tranquillity and interest of the country, is a universal recognition of the Negro's civil rights. When law and custom cease to degrade him and place obstacles in the way of his advancement; when we cease by unjust discrimination to fill his heart with despair and hatred, but instead, give him hope and aid in his efforts to fully emancipate himself, he will solve the problem now fraught with vexation and danger.
"The race is fortunate in having a Booker T. Washington and other comparatively great men as living evidence of what education and the development of natural faculties have accomplished for the colored man, as well as what can be accomplished in the future.
"Only through the defeat of race prejudice can the colored man hope to acquire his full proportions as a citizen. And in conquering race prejudice, the white race will achieve a greater victory than both races won in the late war. They will be choosing the better part."
The portion of the speech which seemed to raise the wildest and most sensational enthusiasm was the part where I thanked the President for his recognition of the Negro in his appointments during the Spanish-American war. The President occupied a seat in a box to the right of the platform. When I addressed the President I turned toward him, and as I closed the sentence thanking him for his generosity, the whole audience arose and cheered for some time. The cheering continued with waving of hats, handkerchieves and canes until the President himself arose in his box and bowed to me two or three times. This kindled anew the enthusiasm and the demonstration was almost beyond description.
I shall not go into all the details relating to the attention which was shown me during this three days' visit to Chicago. I would say that from the Mayor of the city down, every official connected with the Peace jubilee seemed to give me the greatest attention, and completely put me at my ease on every occasion. I was given a position on the President's stand during the review of the parade, and dined twice with the President's party.
My address was reported in all portions of the country through the associated press dispatches. One portion of it seemed to have been misunderstood, however, by the Southern press, and some of the Southern newspapers took exception to some things that I said and criticised me rather strongly for what seemed to them a reflection upon the South. These criticisms continued for several weeks, when I received a letter from the editor of the Age-Herald, published in Birmingham, Alabama, asking me if I would say just what I meant to say in my address. I replied in the following letter, which seemed to put an end to all criticism on the part of the Southern press, and to satisfy the South:
"To the Editor of the 'Age-Herald:'
"Replying to your communication of recent date regarding my Chicago speech, I would say that I have made no change whatever in my attitude towards the South or in my idea of the elevation of the colored man. I have always made it a rule to say nothing before a Northern audience that I would not say before a Southern audience. I do not think it necessary to go into any extended explanation of what my position is, for if my seventeen years of work here in the heart of the South is not a sufficient explanation, I do not see how mere words can explain. Each year more and more confirms me in the wisdom of what I have advocated and tried to do.
"In Chicago, at the Peace Jubilee, in discussing the relations of the races, I made practically the same plea that I did in Nashville this summer the Young People's Society of Christian Endeavor, where I spoke almost wholly to a Southern white audience. In Chicago I made the same plea that I did in a portion of my address at the opening of the Atlanta Exposition, for the blotting out of race prejudice in 'commercial and civil relations.' What is termed social recognition a question I never discuss. As I said in my Atlanta address, 'The wisest among my race understand that the agitations of questions of social equality is the extremest folly, and that progress in the enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing.' God knows that both--we, of the black race and the white race--have enough problems pressing upon us for solution without obtruding a social question, out of which nothing but harm would come.
"In my addresses I very seldom refer to the question of prejudice, because I realize that it is something to be lived down, not talked down, but at that great meeting which marked, in a large measure, the end of all sectional feeling, I thought it an opportune time to ask for the blotting out of racial prejudice as far as possible in 'business and civil relations.'
"In a portion of my address which was not sent out by the Associated Press, I made the request that the Negro be given every opportunity in proportion as he makes himself worthy. At Chicago I did not refer wholly to the South or to the Southern white people. All who are acquainted with the subject will agree that prejudice exists in the North as well as in the South. I naturally laid emphasis upon the South, because, as we all know, owing to the large proportion of blacks to whites in the South, it is in the South mainly that the problem is to be worked out. Whenever I discuss the question of race prejudice I never do so solely in the interest of the Negro; I always take higher ground. If a black man hates a white man, it narrows and degrades his soul. If a white man hates a black man it narrows and degrades his soul.
"Both races will grow stronger in morals, and prosper in business, just in proportion as in every manly way they cultivate the confidence and friendship of each other. Outbreaks of race feelings and strained relations not only injure business, but retard the moral and religious growth of both races; and it is the duty among the intelligent of both races to cultivate patience and moderation.
"Each day convinces me that the salvation of the Negro in this country will be in his cultivation of habits of thrift, economy, honesty, the acquiring of education, Christian character, property and industrial skill."
I have always made it a rule never to say anything in an address in the North that I would not say in the South. I have no sympathy with any policy which would leave one to suppose that he can help matters in the South by merely abusing the Southern white man. What the South wants is help and not abuse. Of course, when individuals, communities or states in the South do a wrong thing, they should be criticised, but it should be done in a dignified, generous manner. Mere abuse of a man because he is white or because he is black amounts to nothing and ends in harm. I have said more than once, and I here repeat, that I can sympathize as much with a white man as with a black man; I can sympathize as much with a Southern white man as with a Northern white man. I do not propose that my nature shall be lowered by my yielding to the temptation to hate a man because he is white or because he happens to live in the South. The Negro who hates a white man is usually little and narrow. The white man who hates a Negro is usually little and narrow. Both races will grow strong, useful and generous in proportion as they learn to love each other instead of hating each other. The Negro race, of all races in the world, should be the last to cultivate the habit of hating an individual on account of his race. He will gain more by being generous than by being narrow. If I can do anything to assist a member of the white race I feel just as happy as if I had done something to assist a member of the Negro race. I think I have learned that the best way to lift one's self up is to help some one else.
While writing upon this subject, it is a pleasure for me to add that in all my contact with the white people of the South, I have never received a single personal insult. The white people in and near Tuskegee, to an especial degree, seem to count it a privilege to show me all the respect within their power, and often go out of their way to do this.
Not very long ago, I was making a journey between Dallas, Texas, and Houston. In some way it became known in advance that I was on the train. At nearly every station at which the train stopped, numbers of white people, including in most cases the officials of the town, came aboard and introduced themselves and thanked me heartily for the work that I was trying to do for the South.
On another occasion, in Georgia, I found in a Pullman car two ladies from Boston whom I knew well. These ladies, being ignorant of the customs of the South, insisted that I take a seat with them in their section. After some hesitation I consented. One of them, without my knowledge, ordered supper to be served to the three of us. When I found that supper had been ordered, I tried to excuse myself, but the ladies insisted that I must eat with them. I finally settled back in my seat with a sigh, and said to myself: "I am in for it now, sure."
At last the meal being over, I went into the
smoking-room, where most of the men by that time were. In the meantime, however, it had
become known in some way throughout the car who I was. When I went into the smoking-room
nearly every man came up and introduced himself to me and thanked me earnestly for the work
that I was trying to do for the whole South.
Birds-Eye View of Crowds and Reviewing Stand at Tuskegee, December,
When Pres. McKinley and Party Visited the Institute.
Waiting for the Procession to Pass at the Time of President McKinley's
Visit to Tuskegee, December 16, 1898.