Character Building  by Booker T. Washington

Chapter 30 Object Lessons

NOT long ago an old colored man living in this State said to me: "I's done quit libin' in de ashes. I's got my second freedom."

That remark meant, in this case, that that old man by economy, hard work and proper guidance, after twenty years of struggle, had freed himself from debt, had paid for fifty acres of land, had built a comfort-able house, and was a tax-payer. It meant that his two sons had been educated in academic and agricultural branches, that his daughter had received mental training in connection with lessons in sewing and cooking. Within certain limitations here was a Christian, American home, the result of industrial effort and philanthropy. This Negro had been given a chance to get upon his feet. That is all that any Negro in America asks. That is all that you in this school ask.

What position in State, in letters, or in commerce and in busi-ness the offspring of that man is to occupy must be left to the future and the capacity of the race. What position you are to occupy must be left to your future and to your capacity. During the days of slavery we were shielded from competition. To-day, unless we prepare ourselves to compete with the world, we must go to the wall as a race.

If I were to go into certain communities in the United States and say that the German is ignorant, I should be pointed to the best paying truck-farm in that neighborhood, owned and operated by a German. If I said that the German is without skill, I should be shown the largest machine-shop in the city, owned and operated by a German. If I said the German is lazy, I should be shown the largest and finest residence on the most fashionable avenue, built from the savings of a German who began life in poverty. If I said that the German could not be trusted, I should be introduced to a man of that race who is the pres-ident of the largest bank in the city. If I said that the German is not fitted for citizenship, I should be shown a German who is a respected and influential member of the city government.

Now, when your critics say that the Negro is lazy, I want you to be able to show them the finest farm in the community owned and operated by a Negro. When they ask if the Negro is honest, I want you to show them a Negro whose note is acceptable at the bank for $5,000. When they say that the Negro is not economical, I want you to show them a Negro with $50,000 in the bank. When they say that the Negro is not fit for citizenship, I want you to show them a man of our race paying taxes on a cotton factory. I want you to be able to show them Negroes who stand in the front in the affairs of State, of religion, of education, of mechanics, of commerce and of household economy. You remember the old admonition: "By this sign we shall conquer." Let it be our motto.

There are people in the North who have been aiding in the matter of Negro education in the South during the last ten, twenty, or even thirty years. It is in part the money of those people that has made this institution possible. Those people have a right, as a plain matter of business, to ask," what are the results," of this aid they have been giving. What evidences can we present to prove to them that their invest-ments in this direction have been paying ones? It is, in no small measure, the duty of you, as students of Tuskegee Institute, to answer, and to answer satisfactorily, such a question as that.

We have reached a point, largely through the aid which the North has given to the South during the last thirty years, where there is little opposition in the South to the people of the Negro race receiving any form of education. You can go out from here and plant a school in. any county in the South, which will not meet with opposition from the white residents of the community. What is more, in many cases it will receive encouragement, and in some a hearty sympathy and support. Not long ago I received fifty dollars from a white man in Mississippi to pay for the education of a black boy. This man was formerly a slave-holder, and at first he was not inclined to encourage the education of the Negro, but he stated to me frankly, in his letter, that he now believes that Tuskegee and similar institutions are doing the work that the Negro most needs to have done. He wanted to show the people of the North, he said, that Southern white men are as deeply interested in the development of the Negro as they are. I have in mind another case, of a Southern white man in Alabama who during the last year contributed out of his own pocket nearly $2,OOO for the building and maintenance of a Negro school in his county. Still another Southern white man, Mr. Belton Gilreath, of Birmingham, Alabama, recently sent, the Institute his check for $500-up to that time the largest sum which the school had received from a Southern man-with this letter:

"As a Southern man and the son of one of the largest slave owners of the South, I am anxious for our people to do all that can reason-ably be expected of them for the education of the Negroes, thereby making them more content and useful citizens and friends.

"Furthermore, I think the time has come in the South for all our people to consider more fully than they have ever done before the question of the education of all of our population; and, wherever prac-ticable, to give attention in our schools to teaching the art of saving also."

More recently still, Mr. H. M. Atkinson, of Atlanta, one of the most successful business men in the entire South, came to Tuskegee Institute and made a thorough inspection of our work. After he returned to Atlanta I received a letter from him from which I quote one paragraph: " I enclose my check for $ion, for the benefit of your school, to be used as your judgment dictates. I was very much impressed by what I saw. I will not forget it."

These white people are beginning to see the difference between the value of an educated Negro and one who is not educated. It is for you to demonstrate to them this value more and more clearly every year.