booker t. washington portrait

An Essay: Solidarity

The Tuskegee Student
November 25, 1907

What does the Negro need most?

The colored people of this country need a great many things.

What is it that we need most? If I were to answer this question quite frankly, seeking to put my meaning in its most comprehensive form, I should say that the thing that the colored people of this country need most at this time is Solidarity.

We need as a race to learn to pull together.

We have made as individuals enormous progress in this country. Despite much talk to the contrary, the Negroes are going steadily forward. The race owns today an acreage of land in the United States that is equal to the combined acreage of the two entire states of Europe, Holland and Belgium. Negroes own more houses, more stores, more banks this year than they did last, and they will own more next year than they do this year.

There used to be a question as to whether or not the Negro could be educated—that is, in the ordinary sense in which we understand education. There is no longer such a question in the minds of any people whose opinion is worth considering. During the last forty years the American Negro has convinced the world that he could be educated in literature, science, mathematics, agriculture, mechanics and the household arts, and in the professions. We have won this victory not by depending on empty talk, not by depending on abstract argument, not by abuse of someone, but by actually doing the thing, by tilling every public school, every college, every industrial and professional school, that has ever been opened for us. We have won this victory by having living, tangible object lessons in every part of the United States that within themselves were indisputable evidences of our ability to receive education. When proof is asked of our ability to receive education, we can point to the little bareheaded and bare-footed boy in the Mississippi log cabin school, or we can point to the Negro youth in the cap and gown in Oxford University, England. So much is settled.

To a large extent this progress has been made, as I have said by individuals. But there are ten million Negroes in this country. WE ARE A NATION WITHIN A NATION. There is within this ten million individuals a vast latent power, a power which can be awakened only by united action—united action along business, along educational and along religious lines.

Now to accomplish results such as this, we must be united in a business way. By this I do not mean that we should trade at a Negro store simply because it is a Negro store and not a White store; I do not mean that we should place our money in a Negro bank simply because it is a Negro bank. But I mean that we should take a pride in the business conducted by our people; that we should take particular care to see that they are conducted just as neatly and as orderly as the store of a White man; that we should take particular care that they do not suffer from the fact that they are dealing with Negro people for the reason, as is sometimes said, that Negro people do not pay their bills as promptly as other people. On the other hand, the Negro business man, on his side should feel a pride in dealing as justly, as fairly and giving as much and as good quality for the money as any other store, or as if he were dealing with any other people. Negro people can do much for each other at this time. And this is the sort of unity that I believe should prevail among us, a unity that I may characterize as a solidarity of purpose and of interest.

The same thing is true as to education. We do not accomplish as much in our schools at the present time as we could if we were more united—more united inside of our schools and more united out of them.

we waste too much time in discussing and emphasizing sectarian matters, in emphasizing those things which divide us instead of those things in regard to which we are united

I might say the same thing about religion. Here, too, we waste too much time in discussing and emphasizing sectarian matters, in emphasizing those things which divide us instead of those things in regard to which we are united. Civilization in any people is to a large extent the ability of the individuals of that people to combine their efforts for the good of the whole; it is the ability while holding fast to individual differences of opinion and sentiment on minor matters, to be able to put these differences in the background whenever it is necessary to unite for the benefit of the whole community or the whole state.

In this direction—in the direction of this solidarity of which I spoke—we are making progress. This is evident by the large number of organizations of all kinds which have grown up among us in recent years. It is evident, also, by the number of Negro banks now in existence. These banks and these large business organizations indicate there is a growing confidence among our people in their own business men and their own business institutions. We need to encourage this confidence. We want to see it grow and extend. All the more important is it that the greatest possible care should be exercised in the control and in the administration of these organizations. If through neglect or the dishonesty or incapacity of any of their officers this growing confidence and this growing business solidarity should be destroyed, the loss to our people would be immense.

But finally we need unity in another direction; we need a clearer, more definite and more harmonious conception of our duty and our policy as people and as part of these great United States.

In reference to our interest and our duties as a people and as a part of these great United States we have too frequently mistaken the shadow for real substance. Too frequently we have wasted our strength and our efforts on trivial and unimportant issues that have caused division among ourselves in regard to important things. For one thing, we should make our platform broad enough, so that all good men Black and White, North and South, can stand upon it with us. It would be fatal to our future to proceed in a way to discourage and alienate our friends, to unite the whole or even the majority of the White race of this country against us. And it is not necessary. Our interests as a people are one with the deepest interests of the country and of humanity. Let us steer our course by the stars and not be led away by false lights. The main thing is that, in our relations with the world, we ourselves should be right. It is not so necessary that we should convince the world that our opponents are wrong. Eventually the world will find that out for itself.

In the meantime, should I interpret and analyze the feelings and ambition of the Black men in America it is this: he is not seeking to dominate over others in matters of government, nor is he seeking to intermingle with others in strictly social matters where he is not wanted or asked, but he is allying that in every community and state where he resides that equal justice be meted out to him in the courts and elsewhere, and that at all times his family and property shall be protected by those who administer the laws. This I believe, in the end, the great American people will grant to ten million of their citizens.

Booker T. Washington