booker t. washington portrait

Solving the Race Problem

The World
Sunday, August 2, 1903

Responding to the World's request for his solution of the race problem, in view of the many recent lynchings, Booker T. Washington, President of the Tuskegee Institute, prepared the following statement for the Sunday World:

Patience and Self-Control Needed

In the midst of the present deep interest growing out of matters connected with our race, it can be stated that recent events, as regrettable as they are, have tended to simplify the problem in one direction, at least.

The events to which I refer show that the questions pertaining to our race are each day more and becoming national open rather than local and sectional ones.

When we can carry the question up into the atmosphere where men of all races , North and South, will discuss it with calmness, with absence of passion and sectional feelings, I believe shall have made a distinct advance.

One thing of which I feel absolutely sure is that without mutual confidence and co-operation, there is little hope for the progress which we all desire.

Passing Through Critical Period.

No one should seek to close his eyes to the truth that the race is passing through a very serious and trying period of its development, a period that calls for the use of our ripest thought, our most sober judgment and frequent appeals to Him who has promised strength to the weak.

During the season through which we are now passing, I wish to ask with all the emphasis I am able to command, that each individual of the race keep a calm mind and exercise the greatest degree of self-control, and that we all keep a brave heart.

Let nothing lead us into extremes of utterance or action. By this method of procedure we shall be able to justify the faith of our friends and confound our enemies.

In the affairs of a race, as with great business enterprises, it is the individual of few words and conservative action who commands respect and confidence. Vastly, more courage is often shown in one's ability to suffer in silence or to keep the body under when sorely tempted than in acting through the medium of a mob. In the long run it is the race or individual that exercises the most patience, forbearance and self-control in the midst of trying conditions that wins its course and the respect of the world.

Will Earn Support of Good Men

Such a course will, in the end, draw to our side all men, North and South, whose good will and support is worth having. Let nothing induce us to descend to the level of the mob, but rather direct our course in a dignified atmosphere.

In advocating this policy, I am not asking that the Negro act the coward; we are not cowards. The part which we have played in defending the flag of our country in every war in which we have been engaged is sufficient evidence of our courage, when the proper time comes to manifest it.

The recent outbreaks of government by the mob emphasize two lessons, one for our race and one for the other citizens of our country, South and North, for it is to be noted, I repeat, that the work of the lyncher is not confined to one section of the country.

Must Give No Cause for Reproach

We should see to it that, so far as the influence of parent, of school, of pulpit and of the press is concerned, no effort will be spared to impress upon our own people, especially the youth, that idleness and crime should cease and that no excuse be given to the world to label any large proportion of the race as idiots and criminals, and that we show ourselves as anxious to bring to punishment as any other class of citizens those who commit crime when proper legal procedure is safe. We should let the world know on all proper occasions that we consider no legal punishment too severe for the wretch of any race who attempts to outrage a woman.

The lesson for the other portion of the patron to learn is that both in the making and in the execution the same laws should apply to the negro as to the white man. There should be meted but equal justice to the black man whether it relates to citizenship, the protection of property, the right to labor or the protection of human life.

Mob Judgment Not Unerring

To show how far we have already been led astray by those who disregard the majesty of the law, and would insult governors and badges, by those who would uphold the law in one sense, and trample it underfoot in another, we have but to call attention to the lamentable fact that the most careful and systematic investigation into the subject of lynching that has never been made in this country shown that only 25 percent of those lynched have been charged with violence to women. To attempt to say that all 25 percent were guilty would be to argue that the judgment of the mob is more unerring than that of the court. We cannot, and should not, escape the punishment for our side of commission or of omission.

It is with a nation as with an individual; whatsoever we sow that shall we also reap, if we sow crime, we shall reap lawlessness. If we break the law where a helpless negro is concerned, it will not be very long before the same law is disregarded when a white man is concerned. Out of the present conditions, there is one sign more encouraging than all others, and that is that in the South as well as in the North the voice of the press is speaking out as never before in favor of upholding the majesty of the law.

Forms Vital Element of Labor.

The Negro in this country constitutes the most compact, reliable and peaceful element of labor-one which is almost the sole dependence for production in certain directions-and I believe that, if for no higher reason than the economic one, the people will aim that it is worthwhile to keep so large an element of labor happy, contented and prosperous by surrounding and guarding it with every protection and encouragement of the laws. In the long run nothing is more empty and satisfactory than discontented, unhappy and restless labor. Few people are wise enough to learn the economics value of justice!

In our efforts to go forward we should keep in mind the difference between the problem presented previous to the civil war and that now confronting us. Before our freedom a giant tree was growing in the garden, which all considered injurious to the progress of the whole nation. The work to be done was direct and simple. Destroy the hurtful tree. The work before us now is not the destruction of a tree, but the growing of one slavery presented a problem of destruction; freedom presents one of construction. This requires time, patience, preparation of the sail, watering, pruning and the most careful purging.

South Offers Opportunities

Let us not neglect to thy stress upon the opportunities open to us, especially here in the South, for constructive growth in labor, business and education lack of all complaint, all denunciation, must be evidence of solid, indisputable accomplishment in the way of high moral character and economic foundation, an inch of compliment is worth more than a yard of complaint.

I appreciate from the bottom of my heart the tremendous and trying strain that is now upon us, and how difficult it is for us to make progress under such circumstances; but I believe the momentous period through which we are now passing will draw to our assistance in larger numbers the good will, the sympathy and helpful co-operation of white men in the South as well as in the North, if we only intertwine due patience, self-control, and patience.