booker t. washington portrait

An Address Before The National Negro Business League

Symphony Hall, Boston, Massachusetts

August 18, 1915
This was the last speech delivered by Dr. Washington. He passed away 3 months later, Nov. 14th, at his beloved Tuskegee.

"At the beginning of my annual address as President, to this the sixteenth meeting of the National Negro Business League, let me emphasize, in so far as mere human words can, the deep depth of gratitude, which all of us owe to our Secretary, Mr. Emmett J. Scott, for the continued success of this organization. In a large measure, it is the hard work, the loyalty, unselfishness, and resourcefulness of Mr. Scott which make and keep this League the power for good that it is. Nor should I overlook the steadfastness and helpful interest and generosity of all the members of the Executive Committee, as well as the several officers.

In this catalogue there should not be omitted the name of our active and devoted National Organizer, Mr. Charles H. Moore. The loyalty and activity of many of the Local Leagues is a matter of constant surprise and gratification.

The difficult and practical work which has been done by the Boston Local league, together with the Cambridge League, and the citizens of Boston as a whole, to make this meeting a success, is also cause for congratulations and deep gratitude.

I wish now again, as in other years to thank the Colored Press throughout the country for its more than liberal constant support of the work of this League. We of the Negro Race and of the White Race know little of the self-sacrificing and patriotic work that is constantly being done by the Negro Press.

This National Negro Business League was organized in the city of Boston fifteen years ago with a mere handful of men. The League during the fifteen years of its life has grown in power, in influence, and in usefulness, until, either through its local leagues or individual members, it reaches practically every part of the country in which there are any considerable number of colored people. After fifteen years of testing useful service and growth, it is fitting that we should return to Boston, the place which gave us birth.

From the first, this National Negro Business League has clung strictly to the object for which it was founded. It was not founded to take the place of other organizations, nor was this league as a league ever intended to go into business as an organization or to become a closed, hide-bound concern, with grips and signs and pass words. We have such organizations and they are doing their work well, but the central purpose of this National Negro Business league has been from the first to foster and to create industrial, business and commercial enterprises among our people in every part of the country. How well we have succeeded, I shall let the facts tell the story later on.

The founders and promoters of the league fully recognize the fact that it cannot meet all the needs of the race, nor satisfy all its ambition. We fully and frankly recognize the fact that there is need for the particular and distinct work to be done by the religious, the educational, the political, the literary, the secret, and the fraternal bodies, as well as those that deal with the civil rights of our people.

All of these have their place and with none of them would we seek to interfere; bit the history of civilization, throughout the world, shows that without economic and commercial success there can be no lasting or commanding success in other fields of endeavor. This League then has for one of its objects not the tearing down or weakening of other organizations, but rather to give them strength and stability.

Since our last annual meeting, there have been happenings that are of peculiar interest to our race. Among these has been the observance of a National Health Week which was promoted very largely by this Business League, acting in co-operation with the Virginia Organization Society. Health week is perhaps more generally observed by all classes of our people in the South and in the North than has ever been true of any similar movement in the history of the race. Until ten years ago, the death-rate among our people was alarming, but the importance of good health and long life has been called to the attention of the race in so many ways during the last ten years that the death-rate has already been reduced by four percent in certain parts of the country. It is the wish of many that the Health Week be observed again this year. Since our last meeting the United States Supreme Court has rendered a decision in an Oklahoma case which is of far-reaching value and importance to our race. The main value of this decision, rendered by a Southern Supreme court Justice and an ex-confederate soldier and ex- slave-holder, consists in the fact that it makes plain the idea, once and for all by the Supreme Court of the land, that neither color nor race can debar a man in this country from full citizenship.

I regret to note that the number of lynchings, during the first six months of the calendar year, has increased as compared with the same period a year ago. While the number of Black people lynched is smaller; the number of White people lynched is larger. The increase in the total number lynched should not discourage but should make us renew our energies and double our determination to blot out the crime of lynching from our civilization, whether the man be a White man or a Black man. And I here repeat that which I said in Louisiana a few weeks ago. We must have in this country, law administered by the court and not by the mob. Along with the blotting out of lynchings should go that other relic of barbarism. I refer to public hangings.

In all these matters I am pleading not in the interest of the Negro or the White man, but in the interest of a more strong and perfect civilization.

It is seldom that it is ever so true that, in the space of one generation, so many evidences of real progress in the fundamental things of life can be seen. Perhaps the changes in Japan are the nearest akin to it. - Since the League met in Boston fifteen years ago, great changes have taken place among our people in property getting and in the promotion of industrial and business enterprises. These changes have taken place not solely because of the work of the League, but this and similar organizations have had much to do with bringing about this progress. Let me be more specific.

We have not the figures covering all the Negro's wealth, but the Federal Census Bureau has just released a document which gives the value of the Negro's farm property alone as $1,142,000,000. From 1900 to 1910, the Negro's farm property increased 128 percent. In 1863 we had as a race 2000 small business enterprises of one kind and another. At the present time, the Negro owns and operates about 43,000 concerns, with an annual turnover of about one billion dollars. Within fifty years we have made enough progress in business to warrant the operation of over 50 banks. With all that I have said, we are still a poor race as compared with many others; but I have given these figures to indicate the direction in which we are traveling.

During the last 6 years we have experienced as a race not a few business failures, which tends to discourage us. We must remember that it is with a race, as it is with an individual, that it is only through seeming failure, as well as success, that we finally gain that experience and confidence which are necessary to permanent success. With all that I have said, we should remember that we have but scratched the surface of industrial and business success.

Our future is before us, not behind us. We are a new race in a comparatively new country. Let any who may be included toward pessimism or discord consider with me for a few moments the opportunities that are before us. It is always of more value to consider our advantages rather than disadvantages. In considering one's opportunities it is worth while not to overlook the size of our race. There are only 14 nations in the world whose population exceeds the number of Negroes in the United States. Norway has a population of only 2,400,000; Denmark, 2,700,000; Bulgaria, 4,000,000; Chile 4,000,000; Canada 7,000,000; Argentina, 9,000,000. When we con- template these figures, and then remember that we, in the United States alone are 10,000,000 Negroes, we can get some idea of the opportunities that are right about us. Let me be more specific in pointing the way to these opportunities. If you would ask where you are to begin, I would answer, begin where you are. As a rule the gold mine which we seek in a far-off country is right at our door.

Over a million of our people live in Northern and Western states. In these States at the present time, our people operate about 4000 business enterprises. There are opportunities in the North and West for eight thousand business enterprises, or double the present number. In the Southern States, where the great bulk of our people live, we have about 40,000 business concerns. There should be within the next few years twenty thousand more business concerns. In all this, we should never forget that the ownership and cultivation of the soil constitute the foundation for great wealth and usefulness among our people. I have already indicated that we now operate about 800,000 farms. Within the next decade let us try to double the number. To realize a little more in directions of our opportunities; there are now 4000 truck farms operated by us, we ought to increase this number to 8000. We ought never to forget that in the ownership and cultivation of the soil in a very large measure we must lay the foundation for one's success.

A landless race is like a ship without a rudder. Emphasizing again our opportunities, especially as connected with the soil, we now have, for example, 122 poultry raisers. The number should be increased to 1500. We now have 200 dairymen. The number should be increased to 2000.

At the present there are far too many of our people living in the cities in a hand-to-mouth way, dependent on someone else for an uncertain job. Aside from what the soil offers, there are other opportunities in business. For example, we now own and operate 75 bakeries. The number can be increased to 500. From 32 bricklayers the number can be increased to 3000. From 200 sawmills we can increase the number to 1000. From 50 furniture factories, the number can be increased to 270.

To accomplish what I have indicated, we must have a united race, men who are big enough and broad enough to forget to overlook personal and local differences and each willing to place upon the altar all that he holds for the benefit of the race and our country.

Sometimes it is suggested that some of us are over optimistic concerning the present conditions and future of our race. In part answer, it might be stated that one on the inside of a house looking out can often see more than the one on the outside looking in. No one enjoys riding in a Pullman car so much as the one who has ridden in a freight car.

No matter how poor you are, how Black you are, or how obscure your present work and position, I want each one to remember that there is a chance for him and the more difficulties he has to overcome, the greater will be his success.

Everywhere we should be proud of the Negro race and loyal to the great human family of whatever color. Wherever we consider what is now going on in Europe, where all the people are of one color, and then compare these conditions with present conditions and our task for our race, we ought to thank our Creator that conditions are so well with us and that we live beneath the Stars and Stripes.

The Tuskegee Student