booker t. washington portrait

A Tribute From Grenada, B.W.I.

Unsigned draft probably read at the funeral of Dr. Washington
November, 1915
Division of Manuscripts, Library of Congress


"This meeting, representative of the race to whose upliftment Booker T. Washington dedicated his life, mourns the loss of the great leader, and sends the sympathy of Grenada to his sorrowing widow and the Institution that was his life work.

"Coloured Grenadians and the wide body of sympathizers with Negro Advancement in our midst pray that there may be found for Tuskegee a Principal whose shoulders will capably bear the mantle of the great departed."

It is altogether consistent with the proposition, tribute to whom tribute belongs, that we should come together this afternoon and with all that force that springs from sincere hearts, honor the memory of Booker Washington. Were we to do less, we would convict ourselves as derelict in a most sacred duty. For, although the world proudly claimed him as one of its shining stars, or, to quote ex-president Roosevelt, 'one of its most useful citizens', still he was peculiarly ours. Although his life was devoted to the betterment of the whole world, peculiarly did the trials and tribulations of our people, his people, all but consume his life.

The life of his name is not dependent on us for its immortality. He, himself, indelibly chiseled it high over the portals of the world, where neither time or storm can erase it. Posterity will, without any aid or suggestion from us, always love and honor his memory, for what he was, for what he did for his fellow-man, but we can, by putting ourselves on record, from time to time in gatherings of this sort, commend ourselves to posterity as a people not lacking in their day, a proper appreciation of their great men. And that he was great, no one can gainsay. Along the line of thought, once expressed by our immortal Douglas, I say, when it is considered the depths from which he rose, history has few if any men to offer as his equal. It was his type of man that inspired Longfellow to say:

"Lives of great men all remind us, we can make our lives sublime and departing leave behind us, foot-prints on the sands of time."

I count it one of the privileges of my life, the opportunity to have known him intimately; to have been permitted to study him at that close range afforded in the home life. This being, in my opinion, one had only to see him thus to understand his selection of "Labor" and "Humility" as a motto for Tuskegee. He was a prodigious worker. Time and fatigue alike seemed strangers to him. His home was a most unhappy place for drones. To me he always suggested a little rhyme my father taught me as a small boy;

"The lark is up to meet the sun,
The ant its labors has begun,
The words for music ring,
Shall birds and bees and ants be wise,
While I my moments waste?
Up! Up! And with the morning's sun
unto your duty haste."

His private life was beautifully simple, almost childlike. To see him thus made it hard, almost impossible, to recognize him, the platform orator who, with his simple eloquence, moved at his will vast audiences of the elite all over the land.

I have often felt that a word—Charity should appear in Tuskegee's motto. He possessed it in such abundance. He came nearer to that principle—"Love thine enemies"—than any man I have ever known. I can honestly say—I said it while he lived; I say it now he's dead—I never heard him speak ill of any one—not even of those who abused him most. He seemed to work on the principle, if you can't speak well of a person, say nothing.

He was unselfish, or at least tried to be, and he succeeded in this effort, as well as anyone I have ever known. He died poor, in the present day sense of the word. Let me site you just one incident offering competent proof of this: Andrew Carnegie, as you probably know, at one time gave $650,000 to Tuskegee. This gift was held up for some time, due to his insistence that $500,000 only of the gift should go to the school and $150,000 to Mr. Washington personally. Mr. Carnegie felt the private income of Mr. Washington should be sufficient to make it certain that personal financial worries should detract from his great work. Mr. Washington persisted that the entire 650,000 should go to the school. As a compromise, it was finally agreed, all of it should go to the school, with the proviso however, that the income from the $150,000 should go to Mr. Washington during his lifetime. What did he then do? Immediately he notified his board of trustees he would no longer accept any salary from the school. How many us would have done this? Could anyone but an unselfish man, who put his work above himself?

He called me—"friend" and the thought of it thrills me with joy as I stand here. He knew I loved, admired and respected him, and this thought sustains me now. Nothing I can say or do here will benefit him now. I gave him what I could while he was quick and could appreciate it; and after all, "a single rose perfumed with love in life, is worth a dozen wreaths on a casket lid."

He's gone! And though we can ill afford to lose him, in this critical hour we must remember, "God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform." Then too, human life is not property but rather a gift of the Almighty and of such duration only as in his infinite and undisputed wisdom may seem right and proper.

I know not to what creed Booker Washington belonged; I don't know that he belonged to any, but this I do know: if it is true, "by their deeds ye shall know them": then I know that Booker Washington was a disciple of Jesus Christ.

They have buried him at Tuskegee, and what could be more befitting than that they should lay him to rest in the ground upon which he offered his life, there to sleep, till the Arch-Angel shall sound the trump of God and shake this globe to pieces.

"Asleep in Jesus, blessed sleep, from which none are to rise to weep".