Short History of the American Negro - Benjamin Brawley

The Tuskegee Idea

102. Hampton Institute.—Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute was opened in April, 1868 under the auspices of the American Missionary Association, with General Samuel Chapman Armstrong in charge. In 1870 it was chartered by a special act of the General Assembly of Virginia and thus became independent. The aim of the school was expressed by its founder in the following words: "To train selected youth who shall go out and teach and lead their people, first by example by getting land and homes; to give them not a dollar that they can earn for themselves; to teach respect for labor; to replace stupid drudgery with skilled hands; and to these ends to build up an industrial system, for the sake of character." On the Institute grounds there are 113 buildings, including instructors' cottages, and at Shellbanks, six miles distant, there are 22 buildings; 76 of the buildings were erected by student labor. The home farm contains 120 acres, and the one at Shellbanks about 600. Opportunity is afforded for a great diversity of farm operations, and it is intended that every boy who graduates from the academic department shall have some skill in the building arts, and that every girl shall be correspondingly expert in domestic science. The course of study emphasizes English composition and subjects of current interest. A summer school for teachers is held, and an annual conference in July brings together some of the best representatives of the race, considering such subjects as The Relation of the School to the Community; Country Life; Health; the Sunday-School; Life Insurance; Co-operation as a Means of Progress. In 1917-18 the enrollment, excluding the normal practice school, was 900; including this school it was 1373. The practical nature of the work at Hampton, the thoroughness of the training, the military discipline, the opportunity for technical education, and the beauty of the location have made the school deservedly famous.

103. The Time and the Man. Here then at Hampton Institute was developing a marvellous equipment, emphasis being given to matters of daily interest and concern. Hardly anyone realized in 1880 how much the sort of training here given was in accord with the industrial spirit so soon to make itself felt in the South. For a decade young men and women had been sent forth with the message of cleaner and thriftier living; but their activity had been confined almost wholly to Virginia. The thing needed was for some strong man to go down to the cotton belt, interpret the lesson for the men and women digging in the ground, teach them better methods, and generally place them in line with the South's development. The man was ready in the person of one of Hampton's own graduates.

104. Booker T. Washington. Booker Taliaferro Washington was born about 1858 in Franklin County, Virginia. After the Civil War his mother and step-father removed to Malden, West Virginia, where when he became large enough he worked in the salt furnaces and the coal mines. He had always been called Booker, but it was not until he went to a little school at his home and found that he needed a surname that on the spur of the moment he adopted Washington. In 1872 he worked his way to Hampton Institute, where he paid his expenses by assisting as a janitor. Graduating in 1875, he returned to Malden and taught school for three years. He then attended for a year Wayland Seminary in Washington (now incorporated in Virginia Union University in Richmond), and in 1879 was appointed an instructor at Hampton. In 1881there came to General Armstrong a call from the little town of Tuskegee, Ala., for some one to organize and become the principal of a normal school which the people wanted to start in that town. He recommended Mr. Washington, who opened the school on the 4th of July in an old church and a little shanty, with an attendance of thirty pupils. In 1895 Mr. Washington came into national prominence by a remarkable speech at the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta, and afterwards he interested educators generally by his emphasis on practical education. In 1896 the degree of Master of Arts was conferred on him by Harvard University, and that of Doctor of Laws by Dartmouth in 1901. He died November 14, 1915.

105. Message to the South.—The message which this man brought to the South, both to his own and to the white people, may best be expressed in his own words at the Atlanta Exposition: "To those of my race who depend on bettering their condition in a foreign land, or who underestimate the importance of cultivating friendly relations with the Southern white man who is their next door neighbor, I would say: 'Cast down your bucket where you are'—cast it down in making friends in every manly way of the people of all races by whom we are surrounded. . . . To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits for the prosperity of the South, were I permitted I would repeat what I say to my own race, 'Cast down your bucket where you are.' Cast it down among the 8,000,000 Negroes whose habits you know, whose fidelity and love you have tested in days when to have proved treacherous meant the ruin of your firesides. . . . In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress."

106. Significant Utterances.—It is of course hardly fair to represent any man by detached extracts from various addresses; at the same time it is possible to select from the speeches of Dr. Washington a few sentences which, taken together, may give a fairly adequate idea of his teaching and his gospel of work. Here are some such: "Freedom can never be given. It must be purchased." "The race, like the individual, that makes itself indispensable, has solved most of its problems." "As a race there are two things we must learn to do—one is to put brains into the common occupations of life, and the other is to dignify common labor." "Ignorant and inexperienced, it is not strange that in the first years of our new life we began at the top instead of at the bottom; that a seat in Congress or the State Legislature was worth more than real estate or industrial skill." "The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera house." "One of the most vital questions that touch our American life, is how to bring the strong, wealthy, and learned into helpful contact with the poorest, most ignorant, and humblest, and at the same time make the one appreciate the vitalizing, strengthening influence of the other." "There is no defense or security for any of us except in the highest intelligence and development of all."

107. Tuskegee Institute. The general expression of Dr. Washington's views about industrial education and the importance of the Negro's accumulating property and making himself respected, has been Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. Beginning in 1881 with one teacher and only an annual grant of $2,000 from the Alabama Legislature, this school has developed until in 1917–18 it enrolled 1453 students with about 175 instructors, and possessed not less than 115 buildings constructed largely by student labor, and had about 40 industries in actual operation. In the academic department as well as in the industries, practical training is emphasized. One of the most important parts of Tuskegee is the Extension Work. This includes the well-known Annual Negro Conference; the Farmers' Monthly Institute; the Short Course in Agriculture; the Farm Demonstration work, now extended to Mississippi and Texas, and partly supported by the United States Government; a town night school; a town afternoon cooking class; the County Institute; the Ministers' Night School; a weekly mothers' meeting; a state and county fair; and an occasional special conference, such as one on the Negro as a World Problem.

108. Offshoots.—The importance of the Tuskegee idea becomes manifest when it is seen that Tuskegee itself is not the only institution that in the way of practical education is touching the life of Negroes in the far South. More than fifteen similar schools have been established by Tuskegee graduates. These are widely scattered, typical ones being the Voorhees Industrial School, Denmark, S. C.; the Robert Hungerford School, Eatonville, Fla.; the Snow Hill Normal and Industrial Institute, Snow Hill, Ala.; the Utica Normal and Industrial Institute, Utica, Miss.; the Topeka Normal and Industrial Institute, Topeka, Kan.; the Port Royal Agricultural School, Beaufort, S. C.; and the Mt. Meigs Institute, Mt. Meigs, Ala.

109. National Negro Business League.—One typical organization will illustrate the influence of the Tuskegee idea. The National Negro Business League, of which Dr. Washington was the founder and first president, is in no way officially connected with Tuskegee Institute; yet it was conceived in the spirit of that institution and has adhered to its line of work. It was organized in 1899. There are now about 600 local leagues scattered throughout the country. When they began work there were only about half a dozen Negro banks in the country. There are now about 80. Dry goods stores, grocery stores, and industrial enterprises to the number of 15,000 have come into existence. Of course much of this progress would have been realized if the Negro Business League had never been organized; yet anyone must grant that in all this development the genius of the leader at Tuskegee has been the moving force.