Summary – Chapter Thirteen, ‘Two Thousand Miles for a Five Minute Speech’
Soon after the opening of the boarding department they opened a night school for those who could not even afford their small charge. This was established in 1884 and was run on the lines of the one at Hampton where the students worked for 10 hours and studied for 2 in the evening. Again, most of their earnings were saved in the school’s treasury to pay their board later when they went to the day school.
A year later, Washington married Olivia Davidson in 1885, and she died in 1889 having ‘literally wore herself out’ working for the school. They had two sons together, Booker Taliaferro and Ernest Davidson Washington, and the eldest (Booker) has already mastered the brickmaker’s trade at Tuskegee (at the time of writing).
The narrative shifts to his entry into public speaking and how this grew from a talk he gave for the National Educational Association in Madison, Wisconsin (to 4,000 people). He states how those who heard him included some white people from Tuskegee and some of these remarked how pleased they were to be praised (rather than criticized).
In 1893, he had the opportunity to speak in Atlanta to the international meeting of Christian Workers. This was also well received, by an audience of 2,000, and was mainly comprised of Northern and Southern whites.
In 1895, he was asked to accompany a committee from Georgia to speak in Washington to try to secure government help to hold the International Exposition in Atlanta. He was the last on the list to speak before the committee of Congress and tried to emphasize how this Exposition would ‘present an opportunity for both races to show what advance they had made since freedom’. He was congratulated by the Georgia committee when he finished and a bill was passed to assure the success of the Atlanta Exposition.
Soon after this trip, the directors of the Exposition decided to have a ‘Negro Building’ that would show the progress of ‘the Negro’ since freedom and to have it designed and erected by ‘Negroes’. Washington was asked to assume responsibility of this. He declined because of his commitment to Tuskegee and suggested I. Garland Penn who was then taken on. Washington was later voted unanimously to deliver one of the opening day addresses.
Analysis – Chapter Thirteen, ‘Two Thousand Miles for a Five Minute Speech’
This chapter is used to outline the ever growing number of invitations for Washington to perform as a public speaker. It is apparent that by this time in the 1890s news had spread of the achievements made at Tuskegee, and also perhaps of his willingness to accommodate the dominant white ideology rather than criticize it publicly.
His views of race relations was both pioneering, given how short a time had passed since slavery, while also being palatable for a liberal white audience. By eschewing bitterness about the past, and because he looked to the future with optimism, his voice was one that could be listened to without disturbing the consciences of too many white people.
Summary – Chapter Fourteen, ‘The Atlanta Exposition Address’
For his address at the Atlanta Exposition, he was introduced by Governor Bullock in the following way: ‘We have with us today a representative of Negro enterprise and Negro civilization.’
Washington wanted to ‘cement the friendship of the races and bring about hearty cooperation between them’. The address is then related.
It begins with the fact of how a third of the population of the South is, at this time, ‘of the Negro race’ and no enterprise that wants to reach ‘the highest success’ can ignore this. He also urges ‘those of my race’ to not underestimate ‘the importance of cultivating friendly relations with the Southern white man’. He also says the ‘greatest danger’ in the ‘great leap from slavery to freedom’ is that they may overlook the importance of labor. They need to ‘dignify and glorify’ labor and they will prosper: ‘No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.’
He uses the story of a ship lost at sea and how the crew signalled a friendly vessel for water as they were dying of thirst. This happened four times and each time they were told to cast down their bucket where they were. The captain did so finally and the bucket came up with fresh water from the mouth of the Amazon River. He tells them to cast their buckets where they are too, among the ‘Negroes’ who have helped the South to progress. He also reminds them of the value he places on labor: ‘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.’
The address finishes with reference to the ‘higher good’ and ‘absolute justice’. With material prosperity, this will ‘bring into our beloved South a new heaven and a new earth’.
Afterwards, he was congratulated by everyone, including Governor Bullock, and by people the next day when out in the business part of the city and on every street he went down. At almost every station on the way home, people were anxious to shake his hand.
The address was published in full in papers across the United States. After this, he was offered many opportunities for making speeches (one of $50,000 to work for a bureau for a given period). He told all of these people that his life’s work was at Tuskegee and would always speak ‘in the interests of Tuskegee and my race’ and would not enter into work that was just for ‘mere commercial value’.
He also sent a copy of the address to the President, the Hon. Grover Cleveland, and received a reply thanking him for it. He met him at the Exposition and was impressed with the President’s ‘simplicity, greatness and rugged honesty’. President Cleveland also consented to do anything Washington asked of him with regard Tuskegee and thought he was ‘too great’ to possess ‘color prejudice’.
The ‘colored people and the colored newspapers’ were at first pleased with his address but the enthusiasm began to die away and some felt he had been too liberal towards the Southern white, ‘and that I had not spoken out strongly enough for what they termed the ‘rights’ of my race’. He thinks these were later won over, though, to his way of ‘believing and acting’.
On request, Washington also wrote what he thought of ‘colored ministers in the South’. He wrote the truth as he saw it, and was critical in his judgements. He received many letters of negative criticism for this and many ‘colored papers’ joined in with a ‘chorus of condemnation or demands for retraction’. It was not long before bishops and other church leaders began to investigate the conditions of the ministry and found out he was right. Many who once condemned him went on to thank him and his words influenced ‘the placing of a higher type of men in the pulpit’.
After the address, he was also invited to be a Judge of Award in the Department of Education at Atlanta. He accepted and was required to judge ‘colored’ and white school exhibits.
He thinks ‘the Negro’ will be accorded political rights by the Southern white people and this will not come about by ‘outside or artificial forcing’. He also believes that ‘there is something in human nature’ that recognizes and rewards merit, ‘regardless of color or race’. He argues it is the ‘duty of the Negro to depend on the ‘slow but sure influences that proceed from the possession of property, intelligence, and high character for the full recognition of his political rights’.
He also thinks voting should be fair between the white and ‘black’ man and believes the time will come ‘when the South will encourage all of its citizens to vote’. He firmly believes in ‘universal, free suffrage’, but thinks the ‘peculiar conditions’ of the South ‘justify the protection of the ballot in many of the states, for a while at least, either by an education test, a property test, or by both combined; but whatever tests are required, they should be made to apply with equal and exact justice to both races.’
Analysis – Chapter Fourteen, ‘The Atlanta Exposition Address’
The main thrust of his Atlanta Exposition Address reminds the audience of how they need only cast their metaphoric buckets in the locale to find willing hard workers and employers. He encourages a positive view of the South and so challenges the desire to migrate or to employ from elsewhere. He draws, then, on a shared love of the South to unite white and African American people and uses the symbol of fresh water – which is life affirming and natural – to clarify this point.
His conservative approach to politics is repeated here as he explains how he believes the ballot box must be protected from universal abuse and argues a test of some sort should be put into place. Such restrictions are, however, paternalistic and as has been demonstrated through the course of the 20th and 21st century, are open to abuse by those in power.