booker t. washington portrait

To the Editor

The Boston Transcript
January 11, 1908

from William Lloyd Garrison, Jr.
Lexington, Mass.

To the Editor: There exists in Boston a group of colored men possessing a weekly organ conspicuous for its hostility to Booker T. Washington. Viewing him as a self-seeker influenced by unworthy motives, they lose no opportunity to criticize his acts and asperse his character. Agreeing with them, concerning the value of agitation to rectify wrongs, and uncompromisingly demanding for the Negro equal civil and political rights, I nevertheless, protest against the unfair spirit of their attacks upon Mr. Washington. To my mind it betrays a personal animosity and a distorted vision.

This condition of things, beginning with a lawless attempt to interfere with free speech in a public meeting, which culminated in the arrest of the ringleader, has reached the proportion of a scandal, grieving many steadfast friends of the race. Affecting to see in Mr. Washington's recent address at the Whittier celebration in Amesbury indications of veering in the direction favored by the paper in question, the editor thus insultingly declares: "In all of his speeches we have noticed the results of the flogging which it has been our painful duty to inflict, 'many a time and oft'." In the number of the paper containing these words, I was made inferentially to appear in harmony with such an attitude, detached quotations from Mr. Washington and myself being printed in contrast and with the prominent headlines: "William Lloyd Garrison vs. Booker T. Washington." Disclaiming the antagonism, and expressing my plain opinion of the proceeding, I wrote a dissenting letter to the editor. As its publication was refused, I am constrained to give it publicity through other channels. Excepting the introductory paragraph, the following is substantially the rejected communication:

"The assumption that such critics are actuated by a superior fidelity to principle is unwarranted. Had Mr. Washington ever betrayed a purpose to sacrifice principles for the prosperity of his institution, these frequent attacks upon him by members of his race would be intelligible. But upon the two distinct points of censure—those limiting the Negro to industrial pursuits and an indifference to the suffrage—Dr. Washington speaks with a no uncertain sound. He sets no metes or bounds to the Negro's aspiration for learning, nor does he acquiesce in the annulment of the Fifteenth Amendment. While naturally giving emphasis to the particular field which Tuskegee covers, he is careful to demand for the race every right conceded to White fellow-citizens.

"There is cruelty in these aspersions. Mr. Washington is working in the most inflammable portion of the South. He not only carries the burden of a great university, but upon his shoulders has fallen the mission to disarm sectional hostility, to draw support from Southern Whites with inherited prejudices that must be allayed, ever to keep a hopeful front under circumstances which at times chill his heart, to discern events in their proper proportion, never to allow discouragement to blind him to the real signs of promise, and to preserve a serenity and poise that are a marvel to his friends and a confusion to his enemies. What unusual qualities meet and blend in one capable of such achievement!

"How easy for colored men with academic advantages, secure in the stronghold of anti-slavery sentiment, to affect disdain and indulge in bitter speech! It cost nothing and is no evidence of courage. Where an occasional office is tossed to a colored man by way of reward for political service, how quickly, as is the case with the White office-holder, do circumspection and subservience overtake him? He may be eloquent in denouncing the rendition of fugitive slaves when the law demanded it, and yet evince no scruple in helping to deport poor Chinamen for the crime of seeking larger opportunity and freedom in Boston. And a salaried position under the City Government insures his support of a corrupt administration. Yet Booker Washington is held to an ideal standard which not one of his critics would dream of realizing in the same situation.

"To twist my statement of expressed conviction into an intended reproach on this leader of his race is to convey a false impression. I wonder at his patience, wisdom, courage and sagacity. For myself, with no restraint of speech, save those of fealty to truth and the requirements of justice, I am able to wield a free lance. He, on the contrary, lives in a region where a whisper at times precipitates the avalanche. That he is permitted to declare himself with the frankness that he does, is only explicable on the ground that his sincere purpose and upright character compel public respect and confidence.

"But, however the colored people may differ with each other regarding methods and policies, there is room enough for all to help in the regenerating work without the unseemly strife that divides and weakens their efforts. Personally, I beg to be spared further employment of my words to discredit one who, in the consideration of the thinking civilized world, is the most remarkable living American, Black or White, and to whom both races owe an immeasurable debt."

The first sentence is referring to William Monroe Trotter, his newspaper and his cohorts.