Table of Contents
My Larger Education by Booker T. Washington
Chapter 10 Meeting High and Low in Europe
I HAVE gotten an education by meeting all classes of people in the United States. I have been fortunate in getting much education by coming into contact with different classes of people in Europe.
In the course of my journey across Europe I visited, in the fall of 1910, the ancient city of Cracow, the former capital of Poland. It was evening when we reached our destination, and, as we had been traveling all day without sighting an American or anyone who spoke English, I began to feel more at sea than I had ever felt, before in my life. I was a little surprised, therefore, as I was getting out of the omnibus, to hear some one say in an unmistakable American accent: "Excuse me, but isn't this Booker T. Washington?" I replied that it was, and added that I was very glad to hear that kind of a voice in this remote corner of Europe. In a few minutes I was exchanging notes with a man who once lived, he said, in the same part of the country I came from, in West Virginia. He had come originally from Poland and was, I suspect, a Polish Jew, one of that large number of returned immigrants whom one meets in every part of Eastern and Southern Europe.
The next day I met a very intelligent American lady, though of Polish origin, who turned out to be the wife of the Polish count who was the owner and proprietor of the hotel. It was this lady who advised me to go and visit, while I was in Cracow, the tomb of the Polish patriot, Kosciuszko, whose name I had learned in school as one of those revolu-tionary heroes who, when there was no longer any hope of liberty for their own people in the old world, had crossed the seas to help establish it in the new:
I knew from my school history what Kosciuszko had done for America in its early struggle for independence. I did not know, however, until my attention was called to it in Cracow, what Kosciuszko had done for the freedom and education of my own people.
After his second visit to this country in 1797 Kosciuszko, I learned, made a will in which he bequeathed part of his property in this country in trust to Thomas Jefferson to be used for the purpose of purchasing the freedom of Negro slaves and giving them instruction in the trades and otherwise.
Seven years after his death a school of Negroes, known as the Kosciuszko school, was established in Newark, N.J. The sum left for the benefit of this school amounted to thirteen thousand dollars.
The Polish patriot is buried in the cathedral at Cracow, which is the Westminster Abbey of Poland, and is filled with memorials of the honored names of that country. Kosciuszko lies in a vault beneath the marble floor of the cathedral. As I looked upon his tomb I thought how small the world is after all and how curiously interwoven are the interests that bind people together. Here I was in this strange land, farther from my home than I had ever expected to be in my life, and yet I was paying my respects to a man to whom the members of my race owed one of the first permanent schools for them in the United States.
When I visited the tomb of Kosciuszko I placed a rose on it in the name of my race. A few days later I took a day's journey by train and wagon into a remote part of the country districts of Poland in order to see something of the more primitive peasant life of that region. Away up in the mountains we stopped at a little group of thatched-roof cottages. As I wanted to see what their homes looked like inside, I knocked at the door of one of them and made some inquiry or other in English, not expecting to get a reply that I could understand. I was surprised to hear a man answer me in fairly good English. He told me that he had lived for a long time in Detroit, Mich. My companion, Dr. Robert E. Park, who had also lived in that city, was soon talking familiarly with him about a famous rebel priest, Kolisinski, who had been a leader of the Polish colony in that city.
A week before that I had visited, in the wildest part of Sicily, the sulphur mines of Campo Franco. In the deepest part of these mines I discovered a man who had been a miner in West Virginia, in the same region in which, years before, I had myself learned to mine coal.
These incidents were characteristic of a kind of experience I had everywhere in Europe. In the most remote parts of the country, where I expected to meet people who had, perhaps, never heard of America, I found people who not only spoke my own language, but welcomed me almost as a fellow countryman. All this led me to realize, as I had not been able to do before, the close and intimate way in which the life, the problems, and the people of Europe were touching and influencing America. But it led me also to notice and study the curious and to me surprising reflex influence of America on Europe.
I have made in all three visits to Europe. On my first visit, a number of years ago, I made the journey with no very definite purpose in mind. I kept in the main line of travel and saw what I may call the polite and official side of life in England and some portions of the continent. In London, for example, I was entertained by the American ambassador, Hon. Joseph H. Choate, had the privilege of attending one of the queen's luncheons at Windsor Castle, and made the acquaintance of Hon. James Bryce, the present ambassador to the United States, besides meeting a number of distinguished men whose names were familiar to me in connection with some important phase of the world's work in which they were engaged.
On my last trip I made up my mind to leave, as far as possible, the main highways of travel and see something of the condition of the poorer people, whose lives are neither polite nor picturesque nor pleasant to look at. My purpose in making this trip was to compare, as far as I was able, the condition of the masses of my own people in this country with the masses of the people in Europe, who are in relatively the same situation in political and economic opportunity. I believed that if the black people in America knew something of the burdens and difficulties under which the masses of the people in Europe live and work, they would see that their own situation was by no means so hopeless as they have been sometimes taught to believe.
I had another reason for desiring to get acquainted with the situation of people at the bottom in Europe. For a number of years I have been convinced that there is a very intimate relation between the work I have been trying to do at Tuskegee Institute for the masses of the Negroes in the South and the work that was being done for the poorer classes of the people in the different parts of Europe. Different as has been the history of the black man in the South and the white man in Europe, there were, I was convinced, many points in which the life of the one would compare with the life of the other. In the case of the Negro we have a black people struggling up from slavery to freedom: in the other case we have a white man making his way upward through a milder form of subjection and servitude to a position of political and economic independence; and, in each case, the means by which the long journey has been made, in the one instance by a race, in the other by a class, has been, in many respects, the same.
But aside from all that, I was interested in these people for their own sake. An individual or a race that has come up from slavery cannot but feel a peculiar interest and sympathy with any other individual or race that has traveled that same journey or any part of it.
I arrived in London in the late summer. At that time all the polite world, all the distinguished and all the wealthy people, were away in some other part of the world upon their vacations, and the city, as far as these people were concerned, was like a winter residence which had been closed for the summer. But the other six million, whose acquaintance I had determined to make upon this trip, were there.
In one way or another I saw a good deal of the life of the poorer classes, particularly in that vast region inhabited almost wholly by people of the poorer and working classes, which goes under the name of East London. I tramped about at night, visiting the darkest corners of the city I could find. One night I interviewed, on the Thames Embankment, those dreary outcasts of the great city who wander up and down the bank of the river all day and sleep upon the pavement at night. At another time I visited the alehouses and the bar rooms, where men and women of the poorer classes congregate at night to drink and gossip. I went several times to the police courts in some of the poorer parts of the city, where I had a chance to observe the methods by which the police courts of London deal with the failures and unfortunates of the city who in one way or other fall into the hands of the police. It had been my plan to give as large a part of my time as possible to getting acquainted with the working classes in the farming regions of Austria, Italy, and Denmark.
To a certain extent the condition of the urban laborers in London connected itself in my mind with the condition of the rural population in other countries I have mentioned, since London represents the largest city population in the world, and England is the country in which the masses of the people have been most completely detached from the land, while Austria, Italy, and Denmark are distinctly agricultural countries, and leaving out Russia, represent the parts of Europe where the people, to a greater extent than elsewhere, live close to the soil.
It is impossible for me to describe in detail what I learned in regard to the condition of the masses of the people in the different parts of Europe I visited. As a rule I suppose the man on the soil has always represented the most backward and neglected portion of the population. This class has everywhere, until recent years, had fewer opportunities for education than the similar classes in the cities and, where the people who tilled the soil have not succeeded in getting possession of the soil-as is especially true in certain parts of Austria Hungary, and lower Italy. They have remained in a condition of greater or less subjection to the landowning classes. In lower Italy, where the masses of the farming population have neither land nor schools, they have remained in a position not far removed from slavery. In Denmark, on the contrary, where the farming class is, for the most part, made up of independent landowners, not only has agriculture been more thoroughly developed and organized than elsewhere, but farmers are a dominating influence in the political life of the country.
In England, which is the home of political liberty, the working classes have all the political privileges of other Eng-lishmen, although the bulk of the land is in the hands of a comparatively few landowners. On the other hand, the majority of the laborers in the cities have not increased their economic independence. In fact, the English city laborer, from all that I could observe, seemed to be in a position of greater dependence upon his employer and upon the capitalist than is true of any other country I visited.
I recall one incident of my stay in London which emphasized this fact in my mind: I noticed one day a man who was standing, with his hands in his pockets, looking vaguely into the street, one of those types of the casual laborer of whom one meets so many examples in London. I asked if work was plentiful about this time of the year.
"No," he replied. "It is hard to get anything to do; so many people are out of town."
This man looked to me like a dock laborer. I met him somewhere, I think, on or near Mile End Road, in the East End, which is in the centre of a district of over a million inhabitants made up entirely of working people. I told him I could not understand how the absence of a few hundred or a few thousand individuals from a great city like London could make much difference to him. "It makes a great dif-ference, sir," he replied. "Everything seems to stop when they go away."
This man was to be sure, a casual laborer, one who had, perhaps, been crowded out by competition from the regular avenues of employment. But there are an enormous number of these casual laborers in England. They seem to be a product of the system.
A week or ten days later I met at Skibo Castle in the Highlands of Scotland, Lord John Morley, at that time secretary of state for India. During the time that I was there the question of the condition of the laboring classes was several times touched upon in conversation and some reference was made to the condition I have referred to. I recall that Lord Morley listened to the discussion for some time without making any comment. Then he said very positively that, in spite of all that had been said, the English laborer was, in his opinion, in a greatly better position today than he had ever been before in his history. I was the more impressed with this statement because it came from a man who has a world wide reputation as a scholar and a writer, and who is at the same time a member of what is the most democratic government that has ever ruled in England, a government, also, that has sought to do more than any other to improve the living conditions of the laboring classes.
The experience I had among the poorer classes in London helped me to realize, as I had not done before, the opportunity that the Negro, in spite of the discriminations and injustices from which he suffers, has in America today, and particularly in the Southern States, where there is still opportunity to get land, to live in God's open country and in contact with simple, natural things, compared with that of the people in the crowded English cities, where hundreds of thousands of them live practically from hand to mouth and where one tenth of the population, according to an investigation some years ago, are living either in poverty or on the edge of destitution.
At the present moment the national government, in conjunction with the city of London, is spending immense sums of money in laying out parks, in building public baths, model tenements and lodging houses in some of the poorer quarters of the city. Better than all else, they are building out in the suburbs, on some of the vacant land outside the city, beautiful garden cities, rows and rows of model houses, each with its little garden in front of it, and each provided with every convenience that modern invention and science can suggest to make it healthful, convenient, and comfortable. As a result of this improvement, thousands of working people are being removed every year from the dark, gloomy, and unhealthy regions of the overcrowded city to these free, open spaces, where they have an opportunity to get in contact with God's free air and sunlight.
I confess that I marveled at the time and interest and money that have been expended not only by the government, but by the philanthropic people of London, in attempting to ameliorate and to raise the level of life among the poorer working classes. I am convinced that if one half or one tenth of the money, interest, and sympathy that have been expended for the education and uplifting of the poorer classes in London were spent upon the Negro in the South, the race problem in our country would be practically solved.
After visiting London, I went, as I have said, to Austria and spent some time in the city of Prague, in Bohemia; in Vienna, Austria, and Budapest, Hungary. While there I had opportunity several times to go out into the country districts and see something of the condition of the farm laborers. From there I went to Sicily. I saw something of the condition of the small farmers in the region of Palermo. I visited the sulphur mines at Campo Franco in the mountainous region of the interior. I passed several days at Catania and saw the grape harvest and the men bare legged treading the wine in the same way I have read in the Bible. From there I returned and passed several days in Austrian Poland and visited the salt mines. I went out into the country districts and saw the condition of the people in the small country towns in the region around Cracow. I crossed the frontier into Russian Poland and visited a Russian village. From, there I went to Copenhagen and gained new acquaintance with the wonderful things that have been accomplished in the way of organizing and developing agricultural life in that little state.
In thinking over all that I saw and learned during my trip abroad, it seemed to me that I could clearly discern, in all those parts of Europe where the people are most backward, the signs of a great, silent revolution. Everywhere, with perhaps the exception of lower Italy and Sicily, I thought I could see that the man at the bottom was making his way upward and, in doing so, was lifting the level of civilization.
Directly and indirectly, this revolution has, to a very considerable extent, been brought about through the influence of the United States. For example, one of the results of the opening up of the great grain fields in the central part of the United States was to break up the whole system of agriculture in every part of Europe where the products of American agriculture come in competition with those of Europe. It was this same competition with American agriculture that provoked the immigration from Austria, Hungary, and southern Italy. I found that wherever the condition of farm labor was particularly bad in Southern Europe the emigration from that part of Europe to America was especially large and increasing. On the other hand, in Denmark, where the agricultural crisis had been overcome by more intensive and intelligent methods of farming, emigration to the United States had almost ceased.
A secondary effect has been to bring about a reorganization of agriculture in such a way as to improve the condition of the farmer. In several countries efforts have been made to break up the large estates and increase the number of small landowners. There has been a very general improvement in the character of the rural schools. The states of Europe, having discovered that their rural population is one of the most important of the natural resources, have begun to take practical measures to educate and improve the neglected masses.
To a large extent, it seemed to me that the older civilization had been built up on the ignorance and the oppression of the masses of the people who were at the bottom. The welfare of the few was obtained at the expense of the many. On the other hand, at the present time, wherever any of these countries are successful and are making progress, they are seeking to do so, not by oppressing and holding down the masses of the people, but by building them up, making them more intelligent, more independent, better able to think and care for themselves.
It was first of all, the competition with America which brought this result about. It was, in the second place, the contact of the masses of the people with life in America which has made the change. I met everywhere in Southern Europe, among the laboring classes of the people, those who had been to America and who had returned. Frequently they had returned with money which they had earned at common labor in America, and had bought and improved property. The number of small landowners has increased greatly in Hungary, Poland, and in southern Italy as the result of the emigration to America. These people came back, sometimes with money, but always with new ideas and new ambitions. They refused to work for the same wages that they had previously worked for. The result was that the price of farm labor has greatly increased, both in Italy and in other parts of Southern Europe.
On the other hand, this compelled the greater use of farm machinery, compelled more intensive and rational methods of agriculture. But nowhere did I find, as some people had expected, that this emigration had had a deter-rent effect upon the development of the country. For the laboring masses, particularly in the rural parts of Southern Europe, the journey to America has been a sort of higher education; it has taught them not only to work better and more efficiently, but to have confidence in themselves and to hope and believe in a better future for themselves and their children. In this way the silent revolution to which I refer in Europe has come about.
Now if there is any lesson to be drawn from these facts, it seems to me it is this: that more and more, at the present day, education must take the place of force in the affairs of men. The world is changing. The greatest nation to-day is not the nation with the greatest army, not the nation that can destroy the most, but the nation with the most efficient laborers and the most productive machinery; the nation that can produce the most.
But if labor is to be efficient, it must be trained and it must be free. The school teacher to-day is more important to the state than the soldier, and the aim of the highest statesmanship should be the improvement not so much of the army as of the school.
Although I started out on my last visit to Europe with the determination of getting acquainted with the people at the bottom and made that my main business while I was there, I did, incidentally, have opportunity to see something, also, of the people at the top. In fact, some of the pleasantest and most profitable moments I had during my stay in Europe were those spent in conversation with people who were either interested or actively engaged in some kind of public service which connected itself with the work that I have been trying to do for my own people in America.
For example, I made the acquaintance through my friend, Mr. Jacob Riis, of Mr. V. Cavling, the editor of one of the most important papers in Denmark, the Politiken. It was largely through him that I was able to see and learn as much as I did, during the short time that I was there, of the life of the country people and of the remarkable schools that have been established for their benefit in the country districts. While I was in Copenhagen I was introduced by the American ambassador, Mr. Maurice E Egan, to the king and queen of Denmark. I learned to my surprise that their majesties were perfectly familiar with the work that we are doing at Tuskegee and I found them anxious to talk with me about the possibility of a similar work for the Negroes in the Danish West India Islands, where there are about thirty thousand people of African descent. The queen told me that she had read not only my earlier book "Up From Slavery," but the volume I had just completed, "The Story of the Negro." What surprised me most was to find the king and queen of Denmark so much better informed in regard to the actual condition and progress of the Negro in America than so many Americans I have met.
At another time, I was the guest of Mr. Andrew Carnegie at his summer home in Scotland. Three of the most interesting and restful days I have ever had were spent at Skibo Castle. Although Skibo is situated in the wildest and most Northern part of Scotland, farther removed from the world, it seemed to me, than any other place I had ever visited, I never felt nearer the centre of things than I did while I was there. All kinds of people find their way to Skibo Castle, and apparently anyone who has something really valuable to contribute to the world's welfare or progress finds a welcome there.
Naturally, among guests of that sort, conversation and discussion took a wide range. For three days I had an opportunity of hearing great world questions discussed familiarly by men who knew them at first hand. At the time that I met Lord John Morley at Skibo Castle he was still secretary of state for India. I had never been able to get any definite conception, from what I had read in the newspapers, of the actual situation as between the two races in India, the English and the native Indians, and I was very glad to hear Lord Morley comment on that puzzling and perplexing problem. What he said about the matter was the more interesting because he was able to draw parallels between racial conditions in the Eastern and the Western world, between the Indians in India and the Negroes in the United States.
After I returned from the south of Europe I made two addresses in London, one under the auspices of the Anti slavery and Aborigines Protection Society, and the other at the National Liberal Club. At these meetings I had an opportunity to see face to face people who, as missionaries, writers, or government officials, had both in Africa and at home, labored for the welfare and the salvation of the members of my race in parts of the world I had never seen.
For example, at the luncheon given me under the auspices of the Anti slavery and Aborigines Protection Society, Sir T. Folwell Buxton, grandson of the noted abolitionist and statesman who did so much for the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies, was the presiding officer.
It happened that, at this time, the Society of Friends, which has been from the beginning to the present day, both in England and America, the best friend the Negro has ever had, was holding its annual meeting, and many of the members of this sect were present the day I spoke. Among others I remember, who have distinguished themselves by what they have done for the Negro in Africa were Sir Harry H. Johnston, the noted African explorer; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mr. E. D. Morel, and Rev. J. H. Harris, secretary of the Anti slavery and Aborigines Protection Society, all of whom have had so large a part in the struggle to bring about reform in the Congo Free State.
Among the many pleasant surprises of this luncheon were a large number of letters from distinguished persons who were unable to be present. Among them, I remember, was a very cordial note from the Prime Minister of England, the Rt. Hon. Herbert Henry Asquith, and among others were two from distinguished personal friends which expressed so generous an appreciation of the work I have attempted to do that I am tempted to reproduce them here. These letters were addressed to John H. Harris, secretary of the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society, and were as follows:
SKIBO CASTLE, DORNECH SUTHERLAND, SEPT. 19th, 1910.
DEAR MR. HARRIS:
I regret exceedingly to miss any opportunity of doing honor to one of the greatest men living, Booker Washington. Taking into account his start in life, born a slave, and now the acknowledged leader of his people, I do not know a parallel to the ascent he has made. He has marched steadily upward to undisputed leadership, carrying with this the confidence and approval of the white race, and winning the warm friendship of its foremost members a double triumph.
Booker Washington is to rank with the few immortals as one who has not only shown his people the promised land, but is teaching them to prove themselves worthy of it-a Joshua and Moses combined.
Very truly yours,
(Signed) ANDREW CARNEGIE.
The other letter, from the Archbishop of Canterbury, was as follows:
It is a great disappointment to me that paramount engagements far away from London render it impossible for me to be present at the gathering which is to give greeting and Godspeed to Mr. Booker T. Washington's acquaintance, and I share with all those who know the facts, the appreciation of the services he has rendered and is rendering to the solution of one of the gravest and most perplexing problems of our time. He is a man who, in every sense, deserves well of his contemporaries, and I believe that, when hereafter the story is written of Christian people's endeavor in our day to atone for and to amend the racial wrongdoing of the past, Mr. Booker T. Washington's name will stand in the very forefront of those for whom the world will give thanks.
It was a great pleasure and satisfaction to me to meet and speak to these distinguished people and the many others whom I met while I was in London. What impressed me through it all was the wide outlook which they had upon the world and its problems. Questions which we in America are inclined to look upon as local and peculiar to our own country assume in the eyes of Englishmen whose interests are not confined to any single country or continent the character of world problems. I learned in England to see that the race problem in the United States is, as Mr. Herbert Samuels, the English postmaster-general said, "A problem which faces all countries in which races of a widely divergent type are living side by side."
The success of the Negro in America and the progress which has been made here in the solution of the racial problem gained wider and deeper meaning for me as a result of my visit to Europe.