Table of Contents
Character Building by Booker T. Washington
Chapter 8 On Getting a Home
Every colored man owes it to himself and to his children as well, to secure a home just as soon as possible. No matter how small the plot of ground may be, or how humble the dwelling placed on it, something that can be called a home should be secured without delay.
A home can be secured much easier than many imagine. A small amount of money saved from week to week, or from month to month, and carefully invested in a piece of land, will soon secure a site upon which to build a comfortable house. No individual should feel satisfied until he has a comfortable home. More and more the Southern States are making one of the conditions for voting, the ownership of at least $300 worth of property, so that persons who own homes will not only reap the benefits that come from owning a home, in other directions, but will also find themselves entitled to cast their ballot.
Care should be taken as to the location of the land. It is of little advantage to secure a lot in some crowded, filthy alley. One should try to secure a lot on a good street, a street that is carefully and well worked, so that the surroundings of the home will be enjoyable. Even if one has to go a good ways into the country to secure such a lot, it is much better than to buy a building spot on an unsightly, undesirable alley.
I believe that our people do best, as a rule, to buy land in the country instead of in the city; but in either-case we should not rest until we have secured a home in one place or the other. No man has a right to marry and run the risk of leaving his wife at his death without a home.
I notice with regret that there are many of our people who have already bought homes, who, after they have secured the land, paid for it and built a cabin containing two or three rooms, do not seek to go any further in the improvement of the property. In the first place, in too many cases, the house and yard, especially the yard, are not kept clean. The fences are not kept in repair. Whitewash and paint are not used as they should be. No matter if the house is paid for, the greatest care should be exercised to see that it is kept in first -class repair; that the walls of the house and the fences are kept neatly painted or whitewashed; that no palings are allowed to fall off the fence, or if they do falloff, to remain off. If there is a barn or a henhouse, these should be kept in repair, and should, like the house, be made to look neat and attractive by paint and white-wash.
Paint and whitewash add a great deal to the value of a house. If persons would learn to use even a part of the time they spend in idle gossip or in standing about on the streets, in whitewashing or painting their houses, it would make a great difference in the appearance of the buildings, as well as add to their value.
Only a short time ago, near a certain town, I visited the house- I could not call it a home - of a presiding elder, a man who had received considerable education, and who spent his time in going about over his district preaching to hundreds and thousands of colored people; and yet the home of this man was almost a disgrace to him and to his race. The house was not painted or whitewashed; the fence was in the same con-dition; the yard was full of weeds; there were no walks laid out in the yard; there were no flowers in it. - In fact everything on the outside of the house and in the yard presented a most dismal and discouraging appearance. So far as I could see there was not a single vegetable around this house, nor did I see any chickens or fowls of any kind.
This is not the way to live, and especially is it not the way for a minister or a teacher to live, for they are men who are supposed to lead their people not only by word but by example. Every minister and every teacher should make his home, his yard, and his garden, models for the people whom he attempts to teach and lead. I confess that I have no confidence in the preaching of a minister whose home is in the condi-tion of the one I have described. There is no need why, as a race, we should get into the miserable and unfortunate habit of living in houses that are out of repair, that are not whitewashed or painted, that are not comfortable, and above all else, in houses that we do not own. There is no reason why we should not make our homes not only comfortable, but attractive, so that no one can tell from the outside appearance, at least, whether the house is occupied by a white family or a black family.
After a house has been paid for, it not only should be improved from year to year and kept in good repair, but, as the family grows, new rooms should be added. The house should not only be made comfort-able, but should be made convenient. fu soon as possible there should be a sitting room, where books and papers can be found, a room in which the whole family may read and study during the winter nights. I do not believe that any house is complete without a bathroom. As soon as possible every one of our houses should be provided with a bath-room, so that the body of every member of the family can be baptized every morning in clean, invigorating, fresh water. Such a bath puts one in proper condition for the work of the day, and not only keeps one well physically, but strong morally and religiously.
Another important part of the home is the dining-room. The dining room should be the most attractive and most comfortable room in the house. It should be large and airy, a room into which plenty of sunlight can come, and a room that can be kept comfortable both in the summer and in the winter.
These suggestions are made to you with the hope that you will put them into practice, and also that you will influence others to do the same.
They are all suggestions that we, as a race, notwithstanding our poverty, in most cases can find a way to put into practice. Every one of them should be taken up by our teachers, our ministers and by our educated young people. They should be taught and urged in school, in church, in farmers' meetings, in women's meetings, and, in fact, wher-ever the people of the race come together.