booker t. washington portrait

A Speech Before The National Negro Business League

Reported by the Atlanta Constitution, August 29, 1906

Law-Breaking Negroes Worst Menace to Race


That the worst enemies of the Negro race are those Negroes who commit crimes, which are followed by lynching, and that the South is after all the best place for black men who are willing to work, was the key note of the address of Booker T. Washington to the National Negro Business League last night. He said in part:

It is well that the National Negro Business League holds this session right here in the heart of the South where the great body of our people live, and where their salvation is to be worked out. This organization does not undertake to concern itself with all the interests of the race, for there are other organizations that deal with the political, religious and educational interests of our people.

"From the first, and I hope this meeting will prove no exception, the National Negro Business League has steadfastly held to the policy of stimulating the activities of our people in the direction of agriculture, industrial and business enterprises. It is the policy of this organization to hold up before the race its advantages, rather than its disadvantages, its successes, rather its failures, to call the attention of the world to the efforts of our friends, rather than to those of our enemies.

We believe that while the world may pity a crying, whining race, it seldom respects it. In a word, the National Negro Business League, while not overlooking or justifying injustice or wrong or failing to recognize the value of other methods seeking to reach the same end, feels that the race can make progress and secure the greatest protection by its efforts in progressive, constructive directions, by constantly presenting to the world tangible, and visible evidences of our worth as a race. We believe that the influence of one great success in really accomplishing something that the world respects will go furthest in promoting our interests. Let constructive progress be the dominant note among us in every section of America. An inch of progress is worth more than a yard of fault-finding. The races that have grown strong and useful have not done so by depending upon finding fault with others, but by presenting to the world evidences of their progress in agriculture, industrial and business life, as well as through religious, educational and civic growth.

Right here in Georgia we have abundant evidence that the Negro in spite of difficulties, is learning this lesson at a rapid rate. It is safe to say that the Negro in Georgia owns at least $20,000,000 worth of taxable property and that our people in other sections of the South have made almost equal progress. With the past year I have inspected and studied the conditions and progress of our people in the Northern and Western states as I have never done before, and I have no hesitation in reaffirming my former opinion that the Southern states offer the best permanent abode for the masses of our people. While many individuals may find prosperity outside of the South, and have the right to make the effort, yet laying the foundation for growth in life essentials, which this organization seeks first of all to promote, I know no section of this country where our people are making more progress, and where the future is more full of promise than right here in the South. In thus expressing myself, I do not overlook the fact that we have a large number of Negroes in the North and West whose success is in the highest degree creditable, nor do I overlook those things in the South, which often discourage many of our people.

In connection with our future here in the South I do not share the fear that immigration will retard or prevent our progress. The millions of unoccupied and unused acres in the South have yet to by used by someone, and the present scarcity of all forms of labor upon which business prosper in a large measure rests, cannot always remain unsatisfied. A few thousand, strong, sturdy, thrifty foreigners in each county will go far toward quickening our energy and sharpening our wits, by bringing their healthy competition, which is very much needed in many sections of the South. Our salvation is to be found not in our ability to keep another race out of territory but in our learning to get as much out of the soil, out of the occupations, or business, as any other race can get out of theirs.

The more I study our conditions and needs, the more I am convinced that there is no surer road by which we can reach civic, moral, educational, and religious development than by laying the foundation in the ownership and cultivation of the soil, the saving of money, commercial growth, and the skillful, conscientious performance of any duty with which we are entrusted. This policy does not mean the limiting or circumscribing of the activities or ambitions of the race. Progress through this method means the exercise of patience, faith, courage and eternal vigilance; but there is no escape from it. It is the road that all nations have traveled, which have gotten upon their feet.

There is much that the brave, intelligent, patriotic White men of America can do for us; there is much that we can do for ourselves. The executive authorities should see to it that every law is enforced, regardless of race or color, that the weak are protected against injustice from the strong. We have examples in several southern states that this is being done in an encouraging degree. Without this encouragement and protection of the law it is not possible for the Negro to succeed as a laborer, or in any line of business.


"On the Negro's part we have a duty. Our leaders should see to it that the criminal Negro is gotten rid of whenever possible. Making all allowances for mistakes, injustice and the influence of racial prejudice, I have no hesitation in saying that one of the elements in our present situation that gives me most concern is the large number of crimes that are being committed by members of our race. The Negro is committing too much crime North and South. We should see to it, as far as our influence extends, that crimes are fewer in number; otherwise the race will permanently suffer. The crime of lynching everywhere and at all times should be condemned, and those who commit crimes of any nature should be condemned. Our southland today has no greater enemy to business progress than lynchers and those who provoke lynching.

In this same connection let us bear in mind that every man, White or Black, who takes the law into his hands to lynch or burn or shoot human beings supposed to be, or guilty of crime is insulting the executive, judicial and lawmaking bodies of the state in which he resides. Lawlessness in one direction will inevitably lead to lawlessness in other directions. This is the experience of the whole civilized world.

In this connection let us consider the classes of Negroes that do not commit crime and are seldom charged with crime. They are those who own homes, who are tax-payers, who have a trade or other regular occupation; they are those who are in professional service; those who have received education, and such business men and women as those who compose this organization. "I think I would be safe in saying that no graduate of Clark University, Atlanta Baptist College, Atlanta University Morris Brown College or Spelman Seminary has been arrested for any crime in Atlanta during the last twelve months.

In this we have a strong, practical demonstration right here at home in favor of education of the classes of our citizenship. Ignorance will always mean crime, and crime will mean an unwieldy burden fastened about the neck of the South. The only safety for both races is in the direction of education, industry and high character.

I have named the classes that do not commit crime. Which is the class that is guilty, as a rule, of criminal action? They are the loafers, the drunkards and gamblers, men for the main part without permanent employment, who own no homes, who have no bank account, who glide from one community to another without interest in any one spot. One of the practical courses that men such as those who compose this business league, our leaders in the pulpit and every sphere of life, should pursue is to try to get hold of the floating class of our people and see to it that their lives are so changed as to make them cease to disgrace our race and disturb our civilization. We cannot be too frank or too strong in discussing the harm that the committing of crime is doing to our race. Let us stand up straight and speak out and act in no uncertain terms in this direction. Let us call upon the Whites to do their part.

Let us never grow discouraged as a race. Right here in the South there are more things upon which the race agree, than upon which they disagree. Let us not be so much absorbed in our grievances that we fail to remember our successes and opportunities.

In the southern states the Negro has organized and is now conducting thirty-three banks. He has in the United States over one hundred drug stores. Almost every town and city in the South has its Negro grocery store and other places of business. There is practically no section of the South where the Negro farmer, mechanic, merchant and banker cannot find encouragement, opportunity and prosperity. In this respect let us not overlook the fact that many similar opportunities are at our door.

At a very conservative figure the Negro is now paying taxes upon over $300,000,000 worth of property and I suppose the Negro imitates other races in not always paying taxes upon all of his belongings.

What we have accomplished in the past, in the face of many difficulties is a guarantee of what we can attain to in the future.

Finally, let us cultivate a spirit of racial pride. Let us learn to be as proud of our race as the Frenchman, German, the Japanese, or the Italian is of his. The race that has faith and pride in itself will eventually win the respect, the confidence and cooperation of the rest of the world."


The following is excerpted from a, letter from Booker T. Washington to Timothy Thomas Fortune in January 20, 1911 about the riot that ensued when Dubois appeared in Atlanta.

"DuBois did run away from Atlanta. All the time that the riot was going on, DuBois was hiding at the Calhoun School in Alabama—a school which I was responsible for establishing some fifteen years ago. He remained there until the riot was over and then came out and wrote a piece of poetry bearing upon those who were killed in the riot.

There are some curious things going on. It seems strange that our friends Villard and John E. Milholland (two of the White men who founded the NAACP) are attempting to run and control the destinies of the Negro race through DuBois".