Table of Contents
My Larger Education by Booker T. Washington
Chapter 8 My Educational Campaigns Through the South and What They Taught Me
SEVERAL years ago, in company with a few personal friends, most of them Negro business men of Little Rock, Ark., I made a week's journey through Arkansas and Oklahoma, visiting most of the principal cities, speaking, wherever I had time and opportunity along the route, to audiences of both races.
In order to cover as much ground as possible in the eight days we had allotted to the trip, and in order to make the journey as comfortable as possible, we secured a special car in St. Louis and on the night of November 17, 1905, I think it was, we started out on what was one of the most interesting and memorable journeys I have ever made.
For several years my friend, Mr. John E. Bush, receiver of public moneys at Little Rock, and at that time head of the local Negro Business League in that city, had been urging me to come and see for myself the progress which Negroes were making in Little Rock and the neighboring city of Pine Bluff. After I had finally decided to accept his invitation, I made up my mind that I would take advantage of the opportunity to see something, also, of the progress Negroes were making in the neighboring state of Oklahoma and in what was then the Indian Territory.
At that time thousands of Negroes were pouring into this new country from the South. Some of my own students were either in business or teaching school in different parts of the present state of Oklahoma and from them, and from other sources, I had heard much of the progress that colored people were making, particularly at Muskogee and in the booming little Negro town of Boley, where, within a few years, a flourishing little city, controlled entirely by Negroes, and without a single white inhabitant, had sprung into existence.
In the course of my journey I visited not only Little Rock and Pine Bluff, Ark., but Oklahoma City, Guthrie, Muskogee, South McAlester, and several other towns in Oklahoma, and I confess that I was surprised to note the enterprise which these colored immigrants had shown and the progress they were making, particularly in material and business directions. I met successful farmers, who, having sold their farms in Texas or in Kansas at a considerable advance, had come out into this new country to reinvest their money. I made the acquaintance in nearly every part of the state, of successful merchants, bankers, and professional men. At South McAlester I stayed at the home of E. E. McDaniels, a successful railway contractor, the first Negro I ever happened to meet who was engaged in that business. At Oklahoma City I remember meeting Albert Smith, who is known out there as the "Negro cotton king" because he gained the prize at the Paris Exposition in 1900 for the best bale of cotton. It was a great satisfaction to me to be able to talk with these men, to hear from their own lips the stories of their struggles, of their difficulties, mistakes, and successes. It seemed to me that, after talking with them around the fireside and in the close and intimate way I have suggested, I gained a deeper insight into the forces that were making for the up building of my race than I could have possibly gained in any other way.
One thing that particularly impressed me was the difference between the condition of the colored people who were pouring into this new portion of the Southwest and the condition of those who some thirty years before had poured into Kansas at the time of the famous "exodus." At that time some forty thousand bewildered and helpless colored people, coming for the most part from the plantations of Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi, made their way to Kansas in the hope of finding there greater opportunity and more freedom. It was people from these same regions who, with much the same purpose, were at this time pouring into Oklahoma. The difference was that these later immigrants came with a definite notion of where they were going; they brought a certain amount of capital with them, and had a pretty clear idea of what they would find and what they proposed to do when they reached their destination. The difference in these two movements of the population seemed to me the most striking indication I had seen of the progress which the masses of the Negro people had made in a little more than thirty years.
During the next five years, in company with different parties of Negro business and professional men, I made similar journeys of observation through Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Delaware, and portions of Virginia and West Virginia. In several instances we made use of special trains to make these trips, and this enabled us to cover longer distances and make the journey practically on our own time. On each of these journeys I took advantage of my opportunities, not only to meet and talk with the people individually, but also to speak to large audiences of white and colored people about many matters which concerned the interests of both races and particularly about the importance to both races, of increasing the efficiency of the Negro schools. In fact, I had not made more than two or three of these trips before they came to be regarded by both white and colored people as the beginning, in each of the states I visited, of a movement or campaign in the interest of Negro education.
Perhaps I can best indicate the character of these campaigns and the sort of information and insight that they gave me in regard to the condition of the colored people in the states I visited by giving a more extended account of my journey in Mississippi in 1908. As an indication of the general interest in the purpose and the success of my visit I ought to say that, while the journey was made under the direction of the Negro Business League of Mississippi, representatives of nearly every important interest among Negroes in the state either accompanied the party for a portion of the journey or assisted in making the meetings successful at the different places at which we stopped. For instance, as I remember, there were not less than eight presidents of Negro banks and many other successful business men in the course of the eight day trip. Among them were Charles Banks, president of the Negro Business League of Mississippi, and one of the most influential colored men of the state. It was he who was more directly responsible than anyone else for organizing and making a success of our journey. Not only the business men, but the representatives of different religious denominations and of the secret organizations, which are particularly strong in Mississippi, united with the members of the business league to make the meetings which we held in the different parts of the state as successful and as influential as it was possible to make them.
It is a matter of no small importance to the success of the people of my race in Mississippi that business men, teachers, and the members of the different religious denominations are uniting disinterestedly in the effort to give the colored children of the state a proper and adequate education, and that they are using their influence to encourage the masses of the people to get property and build homes.
Dr. E. C. Morris, for instance, who was a member of the party, represents the largest Negro organization of any kind in the world-the National Baptist Convention, which has a membership of more than two millions;]. W Straughter, as a member of the finance committee of the Negro Pythians, represented an organization of about seventy thousand persons, owning about three hundred and twenty-two thousand dollars' worth of property. The African Methodist Episcopal Review, of which Dr. H. T. Kealing, now president of the Negro college at Quindaro, Kan., is editor, is probably the best edited and one of the most influential periodicals published by the Negro race. It has been in existence now for more than twenty five years.
I have mentioned the names of these men and have referred to their positions and influence among the Negro people as showing how widespread at the present time is the interest in the moral and material up building of the race.
I had heard a great deal, indirectly, before I reached Mississippi, of the progress that the colored people were making there. I had also heard a great deal through the newspapers of the difficulties under which they were laboring. There are some portions of Mississippi, for instance, where a large part of the colored population has been driven out as a result of white capping organizations. There are other portions of the state where the white people and the colored people seem to be getting along as well as, if not better than, in any other portion of the Union.
After leaving Memphis, the first place at which we stopped was Holly Springs, in Marshall County. Holly Springs has long been an educational centre for the colored people of Mississippi. Shortly after the war the Freedman's Aid and Southern Educational Society of the Methodist Church established here Rust University. Until a few years ago the State Normal School for Training Negro Teachers was in existence In Holly Springs, when it was finally abolished by former Governor Vardaman. The loss of this school was a source of great disappointment to the colored people of the state, as they felt that, in vetoing the appropriation, the governor was making an attack upon the Negro education of the state. Under the leadership of Bishop Cottrell, a new industrial school and theological seminary has grown up to take the place of the Normal Training School and do its work. During the previous two years Bishop Cottrell had succeeded in raising more than seventy five thousand dollars, largely from the colored people of Mississippi, in order to erect the two handsome modern buildings which form the nucleus of the new school. In this city there had also been recently established a Baptist Normal School, which is the contribution of the Negro Baptists of the state in response to the abolition of the State Normal School.
The enthusiasm for education that I discovered at Holly Springs is merely an indication of the similar enthusiasm in every other part of the state that I visited. At Utica, Miss., I spoke in the assembly room of the Utica Institute, founded October 27, 1903, by William H. Holtzclaw, a graduate of Tuskegee. After leaving Tuskegee he determined to go to the part of the country where it seemed to him that the colored people were most in need of a school that could be conducted along the lines of Tuskegee Institute. He settled in Hinds County, where there are forty thousand colored people, thirteen thousand of whom can neither read nor write. In the community in which this school was started the Negroes outnumber the whites seven to one. He began teaching out in the forests. From the very first he succeeded in gaining the sympathy of both races for the work that he was trying to do. In the five years since the school started he has succeeded in purchasing a farm of fifteen hundred acres. He had at that time erected three large and eleven small buildings of various kinds for school rooms, shops, and homes. On the farm there were one large plantation house and about thirty farm houses. He told me that a conservative estimate of the property which the school owned would make the valuation something more than seventy-five thousand dollars. In addition to this, he has already started an endowment fund in order to make the work that he is doing there permanent, and to give aid by means of scholarships to worthy students who are not fully able to pay their own way.
At Jackson, Miss., there are two colleges for Negro students. Campbell College was founded by the African Methodist Episcopal Church; Jackson College, which had just opened a handsome new building for the use of its students, was established and is supported by the Baptist denomination. At Natchez I was invited to take part in the dedication of the beautiful new building erected by the Negro Baptists of Mississippi at a cost of about twenty thousand dollars.
Perhaps I ought to say that, while there has been considerable rivalry among the different Negro churches along theological lines, it seems to me that I can see that, as the leaders of the people begin to realize the seriousness of the educational problem, this rivalry is gradually dying out in a disinterested effort to educate the masses of the Negro children irrespective of denominations. The so called denominational schools are merely a contribution of the members of the different sects to the education of the race.
Nothing indicates the progress which the colored people have made along material lines so well as the number of banks that have been started by colored people in all parts of the South. I have made a special effort recently to learn something of the influence of these institutions upon the mass of the colored people. At the present time there are no less than fifty six Negro banks in the United States.
All but one or two of them are in the Southern States. Of these fifty six banks, eleven are in the state of Mississippi. Not infrequently I have found that Negro banks owe their existence to the secret and fraternal organizations. There are forty two of these organizations, for example, in the state of Mississippi, and they collected $708,670 in 1907, and paid losses to the amount of$522,757. Frequently the banks have been established to serve as depositories for the funds of these institutions. They have then added a savings department, and have done banking business for an increasing number of stores and shops of various kinds that have been established within the last ten years by Negro business men.
A special study of the city of Jackson, Miss., made shortly before I visited the city, showed that there were ninety three businesses conducted by Negroes in that city. Of this number, forty-four concerns did a total annual business of about three hundred and eighty-eight thousand dollars a year. But, of this amount of business, one contractor alone did one hundred thousand dollars' worth. As near as could be estimated, about 73 per cent of the colored people owned or were buying their own homes. It is said that the Negroes, who make up one half of the population, own one third of the area of the city of Jackson. The value of this property, however, is only about one eleventh of the taxable value of the city.
As nearly as could be estimated at that time, Negroes had on deposit in the various banks of the city almost two hundred thousand dollars. Of this amount, more than seventy thousand was in the two Negro banks of the city. I learned that most of these businesses had been started in the previous ten years, but, as a matter of fact, one of the oldest business men in Jackson is a colored man, with whom I stopped during my visit to that city. H. T. Risher is the leading business man in his particular line in Jackson. He has had a bakery and restaurant in that city, as I understand, for more than twenty years. He has one of the handsomest of the many beautiful residences of colored people in Jackson, which I had an opportunity to visit on my journey through the state.
Among the other business enterprises that especially attracted my attention during my journey was the drug store and offices of Dr. A. W Dumas, of Natchez. His store is located in a handsome two story brick block, and although there are a large number of Negro druggists in the United States, I know of no store which is better kept and makes a more handsome appearance.
According to the plan of our journey, I was to spend seven days in Mississippi, starting from Memphis, Tenn., going thence to Holly Springs, Utica, Jackson, Natchez, Vicksburg, Greenville, Mound Bayou, and then, crossing the Mississippi, to spend Sunday in the city of Helena, Ark. As a matter of fact, we did stop at other places and I had an opportunity to speak to audiences of colored people and white people at various places along the railroad, the conductor kindly holding the train for me to do this at several points, so that I think it is safe to say that I spoke to forty or fifty thousand people during the eight days of our journey. Everywhere, I found the greatest interest and enthusiasm among both the white people and colored people for the work that we were attempting to do. In Jackson, which for a number of years had been the centre of agitation upon the Negro question, there was some opposition expressed to the white people of the town attending the meeting, but I was told that among the people in the audience were Governor Noel; Lieutenant-Governor Manship; Major R. W Milsaps, who is said to be the wealthiest man in Mississippi; Bishop Charles B. Galloway, of the Methodist Episcopal Church (South), who has since died; United States Marshal Edgar S. Wilson; the postmaster of Jackson, and a number of other prominent persons.
At Nachez, the white people were so interested in the object of the meeting that they expressed a desire to pay for the opera house, in which I spoke, provided that the seating capacity should be equally divided between the two races. At Vicksburg I spoke in a large building that had been used for some time for a roller skating rink. I was informed that hundreds of people who wished to attend the meeting were unable to find places. At Greenville I delivered an address in the courthouse; and there were so many people who were unable to attend the address that, at the suggestion of the sheriff, I delivered a second one from the steps of the courthouse.
The largest and most successful meeting of the trip was held at Mound Bayou, a town founded and controlled entirely by Negroes. This town, also, is the centre of a Negro colony of about three thousand people. Negroes own thirty thousand acres of land in direct proximity to the town.
Mound Bayou is in the centre of the Delta district, where the colored people outnumber the whites frequently as much as ten to one; and there are a number of Negro settlements besides Mound Bayou in which no white man lives. My audience extended out into the surrounding fields as far as my voice could reach. I was greatly impressed with the achievements and possibilities of this town, where Negroes are giving a striking example of success in self government and in business.
From what I was able to see during my visit to Mississippi, and from what I have been able to learn from other sources, I have come to the conclusion that more has been accomplished by the colored people of that state during the last ten years than was accomplished by them during the whole previous period since the Civil War. To a large extent this has been due to the fact that the colored people have learned that in getting land, in building homes, and in saving their money they can make themselves a force in the communities in which they live. It is generally supposed that the colored man, in his efforts to rise, meets more opposition in Mississippi than anywhere else in the United States, but it is quite as true that there, more than anywhere else, the colored people seem to have discovered that, in gaining habits of thrift and industry, in getting property, and in making themselves useful, there is a door of hope open for them which the South has no disposition to close.
As an illustration of what I mean, I may say that while I was in Holly Springs I learned that, though the whites outnumbered the blacks nearly three to one in Marshall County, there had been but one lynching there since the Civil War. When I inquired of both white people and colored people why it was that the two races were able to live on such friendly terms, both gave almost exactly the same answer. They said that it was due to the fact that in Marshall County so large a number of colored farmers owned their farms. Among other things that have doubtless helped to bring about this result is the fact that the treasurer of the Odd Fellows of Mississippi, who lived in Holly Springs, frequently had as much as two hundred thousand dollars on deposit in the local banks.
My purpose in making the educational campaigns to which I have referred was not merely to see the condition of the masses of my own people, but to ascertain, also, the actual relations existing between the races and to say a word if possible that would bring about more helpful relations between white men and black men in the communities which I visited.
Again and again in the course of these journeys I noticed that, almost invariably, as soon as I began to inquire of some colored school teacher, merchant, banker, physician, how it was he had gotten his start, each one began at once to tell me of some prominent white man in their town who had befriended them. This man had advised them in their business transactions, had, perhaps, loaned them money, or had pointed out to them where they could invest their savings to advantage, and in this way had managed to get ahead. In some cases the very men who had privately befriended these individual colored men were persons who in their public life had the reputation, outside of the community in which they lived, of being the violent opponents and enemies of the Negro race.
These experiences have been repeated so often in my journeys through the South that I have learned that public speeches and newspaper reports are a very poor indication of the actual relations of the races. Somehow when a Southern politician gets upon a platform to make a public speech it comes perfectly natural to him to denounce the Negro. He has been doing it so long that it is second nature.
Now one of the advantages of the educational campaigns I have described is that they have given an opportunity to Southern men to stand up in public and say what was deep down in their hearts with regard to the Negro, to express a feeling toward the Negro that represents another and higher side of Southern character and one which, as a result of sectional feelings and political controversies, has been too long hidden from the world.
After returning from my last educational trip through North Carolina I received letters from prominent people in all parts of the state expressing their approval of what I had said and of the work that my visit was intended to accomplish. These letters came from business men, from men who were or had been in public life, as well as from school superintendents. For example, Charles L. Coon, superintendent of public schools at Wilson, N.C., whose paper before the educational conference in Atlanta, in 1909, was the most convincing plea for the Negro schools I have ever read, wrote as follows:
I write to express my personal appreciation of your visit and its effects here in Wilson. You had a good audience representing all classes of our white and colored population. Numbers of the best white people in town have told me that your address was the very best ever made here. Many of them say you must come back. Some want to get a warehouse so that everybody can hear you.
The Negro school here is stronger in the affections of the colored people, the white people are prouder of it, than before you came. I was delighted that we had a school building in which you could speak. The Negro school will get better each year. It is not doing nearly all it ought to do, but we are moving forward. There will be slight opposition from now on. I am more than ever convinced that white people will believe in and stand for the education of the Negro children, if the matter is put to them in the right shape. Our Negro school has more colored than white opposition. In fact, the last white man in town who counts one was converted by you! I rejoice over this sinner's making his peace with me.
I have quoted Superintendent Coon's letter because it represents the attitude toward Negro education and toward the Negro of an increasing number of thoughtful and earnest men of the younger generation in the South. Perhaps I can give no better idea of how many of the older generation of the Southerners feel toward the Negro than by quoting the words of Judge Bond, of Brownsville, Tenn., in the course of a few remarks he made at the close of my address in his city.
Judge Bond said, according to a short hand report taken at the time and afterward published in the Boston Transcript:
I was born and reared here in the South and have been associated all my life with Negroes. I feel that as a Southern white man I owe a debt to the Negro that I can never pay, that no Southern white man can ever pay. During the war the Southern white man left his home, his wife, and his children to be taken care of by the Negroes, and I have yet to hear of a single instance where that trust was betrayed or where they proved unfaithful; and ever since that time I have sworn by the Most Divine that I shall ever be grateful to the colored people as long as I shall live, and that I shall never be unfair to that race. I have always since thought that a white man is not a man who does not admit that he owes a duty in the sight of God to the colored people of this country; he is not a man if he is not willing at all times and under all circumstances to do all he can to acquit himself of that duty. If there was ever a people in this country who owed a debt to any people, it is the Southern white man to the Southern colored man. The white man who lives on the other side of the Ohio River owes him a debt, too, but, by my honest conviction in the sight of God, his obligation is nothing compared to that of the Southern white man to the colored people, and I have often wondered what will be the judgment on the Southern white man and his children and his grandchildren in failing to discharge his duty toward the old Negro, his children, and his grandchildren for their many years faithful and true service. My mother died at my birth. Now I am growing old. An old black mammy, who, thank God, is living today, took me in her arms and nursed me and cared for me and loved me until I grew strong and to manhood; and there has never been a day since that she has not been willing to do the same for my wife and children, even in spite of her years.
I remember some time ago very well, when I was sitting in a darkened room nursing my youngest child, who was confined with the dreaded disease small pox, my wife in a most distressing manner appeared at the head of the stairs (we had been separated because of our little girl's condition and we were kept from the rest of the family upstairs). My wife called down to me and informed me that she feared another of our children had fallen victim to the small pox. We were in a predicament, you may easily see. It was necessary at once to remove the child from the rest, but there still remained a doubt as to her being a victim, so we could not bring her into the room in which we were and it was also necessary that she be taken out of the room in which she was. She must be kept in a separate room and neither was it safe for her mother or myself to be in the room in which she would be taken. She must remain in this room all night without care or attention from either, but just about that time the old black mammy, this same black mammy who nursed and cared for me, appeared. Black mammy was heard from. "Small pox or no small pox, that child cannot stay in that room by herself to night or no other night, even if I takes the small pox and dies tomorrow"; and she did go into that room and stayed in that room until morning, and was willing to stay there as long as it was necessary. God bless her old soul!
I am glad to see Mr. Washington here and to have him speak to us. He is a credit to his race, and would be a credit to any race. I wish we had many more men like him all over this country.
Mr. Washington, I pray to God that the Spirit may ever guide you in your purpose to lift up your people and that you may inspire all Southern white men as well as Southern colored men to lift up and elevate your race.
These expressions of interest in the welfare of my race and of hearty sympathy with work which others and myself have been trying to do for the up building of the Negro have come to me in recent years from every part of the South. Almost from the beginning of my work in Alabama, however I have had the support and the encouragement, both public and private, not only of my neighbors, but of the best white people everywhere in the South who were acquainted with what I was trying to do. When I have been inclined to be discouraged, the expressions of good will have given me faith. They have taught me that in spite of wrongs and injustices to which members of my race are frequently subjected to, look with confidence to the future and to believe that the Negro has the power within himself to become an indispensable part of the life of the South, not feared and merely tolerated, but trusted and respected by the members of the white rice by whom he is surrounded.