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During the time that Washington spends in Washington, D.C., there is political unrest about moving the capital of West Virginia. Of the three candidates for the new state capital is Charleston, a town five miles away from Malden. The city of Charleston invites Washington to speak on behalf of its candidacy for state capital. Washington travels to West Virginia and makes many speeches in support of Charleston, and Charleston is successful in securing the capital seat of government. This campaign helps Washington further establish his profile as a public speaker and results in numerous calls for Washington to take political office. Washington declines, however, because he believes that other work will best serve his race. He states further that political service invites a selfish kind of success of a very individual nature. He notes that many of the portion of his race entering college do so with an intent to enter law or politics. Washington says that he believes that his role is to prepare a way for their success. To illustrate his point, Washington tells a parable about an old former slave who desires music lessons. The older man asks a younger man to teach him. The younger man responds that the first lesson is three dollars, the second is two dollars, and the third is one dollar, and the last, only twenty-five cents. To this the older man replies that he only wants the last lesson.
Soon after Washington finishes his campaign on behalf of Charleston, General Armstrong invites him back to Hampton to deliver the commencement address. Washington returns to Hampton and is astonished to see that in the time he has been away, there has been a railroad set straight to the town. Washington delivers the address and returns home. Soon after returning home, he receives another letter of invitation from General Armstrong asking him to join the faculty at Hampton. Washington starts work at Hampton as a teacher of Native American students. Washington says that before this period, few people had confidence that Native Americans could receive education. Washington lives with the Native American students in the dormitories and becomes their teacher, introducing them to correct discipline, clothing, and personal comportment. Washington begins the job apprehensively, but soon finds that the Native American students differ in no fundamental way from Black students he has otherwise taught. He notes the Native American students’ capacious love and respect, and says they always aimed to increase his happiness and comfort. Washington relates that the aspect of education that the Native American students’ felt most difficult was cutting their long hair. Washington says that the white American only respects those who think, eat, look, act, and profess the same religion as him.
The reception of the Native American students by most Hampton students awes Washington and he comments that he cannot imagine a white institution receiving the Native American students with the same generosity. Washington says that the true test of a gentleman is when he is in the company of someone of a less fortunate race. To illustrate this, Washington tells an anecdote about George Washington encountering a Black man on the road who lifts his hat. Washington lifts his hat in return and his white companions are stunned. George Washington then tells his friend that no Black man is going to show himself more polite than him. Washington continues to reflect on the absurdity of racial prejudice by telling two stories. In the first, he recounts taking an ill Native American student to Washington, D.C. and having to stop for the night. The hotel refuses to give him a room, but welcomes the Native American student. Washington says their skin color is the same tone but that the hotelkeeper has no problem making distinctions. The second episode that Washington describes occurs in an unnamed town when great agitation results from the mistaken belief that a Black man has secured a room at a hotel. When the man clarifies the matter and says that he is Moroccan, the town’s agitated citizens, who were on the verge of lynching, are immediately calmed.
Towards the end of his first year at Hampton, Washington also begins a nightschool. There, students who cannot afford Hampton can work during the day and attend at night. The nightschool starts with twelve students whose dedication and hard work earn them the title of “The Plucky Class.”
During his first year at Hampton, Washington also pursues further study. Under the direction of the current Principal of Hampton, Rev. Dr. H.B. Frisell, Washington deepens his education. Toward the close of his first year, Washington receives an invitation from General Armstrong to head a new normal school in Alabama. Though the people of Tuskegee were looking for a white man to head the new school for Black students, they happily accept Washington. Washington goes home to West Virginia for a few days before going down to Tuskegee. When he arrives at Tuskegee, he learns that there is no school building, but he is delighted to find that there are many eager students.
He describes Tuskegee as ideal for a school because it is near railroad lines and amid a great Black population. In addition, during slavery times, the town was the center for white education, so the white townspeople themselves possess culture and education. Washington further comments on the cordiality of the relations between white and Black people. He cites the presence of hardware store co-owned by a Black man and a white one as an example. The people of Tuskegee, after hearing about the educational work at Hampton, applied to the Alabama state legislature for money to start a normal school in Tuskegee. The legislature gave them two thousand dollars that could be used to pay instructors. There was no money for land or buildings. Washington describes the task before him, to start a school, as being akin to making bricks without straw.
They first begin lessons in a shanty located near the local church. Both the church and the shanty are in poor condition. During bad weather, a student had to hold an umbrella over Washington as he taught and students completed recitations. Washington says that his time in Tuskegee allows him to observe the everyday life of Black people in the Black Belt of the South. He says that for the most part, Black families sleep in one room. Most cabins lack a place to wash one’s hands or face and usually this provision is located out in the yard. Generally, they eat fat pork and corn bread and occasionally black-eyed peas. Washington also observes their spending habits and the items around their homes. He says that many cabins have sewing machines that were purchased on installments and that often go unused.
Washington also notes that few homes have a full set of silverware for each of its members. Despite this, he observes many expensive items in their homes. The families largely still work in cotton-fields and every member who is old enough to labor participates. The families take the weekends off. On Saturdays, the full family goes to town to visit and shop, sometimes dancing, sometimes smoking or dipping snuff. Washington learns that most families’ crops are mortgaged and that most Black farmers are in debt. Because Alabama did not erect any Black schoolhouses, most Black schools are held in churches. Where the communities cannot afford this, teachers and students hold school in log cabins. Washington says that only an exceptional few teachers are prepared and morally qualified to do their work.
On the cusp of Tuskegee’s opening, Washington feels great trepidation about the challenge to lift up the Black people of Alabama. His tour of their living conditions convinced him of the need to provide them with more than an imitation of New England education. He says mere book learning is a waste of time for them. On the opening day of Tuskegee, the town’s white and Black residents show great interest. Washington credits two men from the town with his ability to get the school off the ground: Mr. Lewis Adams, an ex-slave, and Mr. George W. Campbell, an ex-slaveholder. Mr. Adams never attended school, but learned several trades during slavery. Washington marvels at his power of mind, which he believes Adams derived from the training he received for his hands. Mr. Campbell impresses Washington with his readiness to lend both his aid and his power. Nevertheless, many of the town’s whites believe the project ill-conceived, saying it will corrupt the Black people and they will leave their farms and soon be unfit to secure work as domestic servants.
On opening day, thirty students report to the school. Many of Washington’s students were public school teachers. Washington notes that many of his students had some previous learning and that especially, many of them were proud to have studied large books. Some had also studied Latin and Greek. This prompts Washington to recall one of the saddest sights he saw on his tour of Black communities in Alabama: a young Black boy reading a book of French grammar in a yard of weeds. Nonetheless, Washington finds his students eager to learn. After six weeks, a second co-teacher, Miss Olivia A. Davidson, arrives from Ohio. Washington and Miss Davidson together begin to plan the school’s future. They want to design a curriculum that will best suit the students who come from agricultural backgrounds and have little education by way of social niceties and customs. In addition, they want to provide industrial training. They are briefly discouraged when during their travels, they repeatedly encounter potential students who want an education only so that they no longer have to work with their hands, but they continue with their plan.
About three months after opening day, an old plantation goes on the market near Tuskegee. The asking price is very little, so Washington strikes a deal with the owner. The owner allows Washington to pay half of the full price if Washington promises to pay the second half within a year. To obtain this money, Washington writes to his friend, the Treasurer of Hampton, General Marshall to inquire if he can borrow money from the institution. Marshall replies that he is not authorized to lend the institution’s money, but that he is willing to lend his own. Marshall’s generosity surprises and delights Washington, who is inspired to work to pay him back. The school moves to the plantation. The plantation consists of a cabin, an old kitchen, a stable, and an old hen-house. The school makes use each of these buildings. Students do all the work to prepare these buildings for instruction. After the students prepare the buildings, Washington next tells the students that they will plant crops to raise money for the school. The students do not take to this idea at first, but Washington joins them in the fields and they all soon join in. While Washington lays the foundations for Tuskegee’s financial solvency in this way, Miss Davidson holds festivals and suppers for the town’s residents.
In Chapters 6-8, Washington begins to emerge as a race leader. Where Washington used the early chapters to introduce the basic principles that make up his social program for racial uplift, these chapters serve to provide concrete examples of why and how those principles work for the public good. Significantly, Washington enters public life as a speaker and maintains that he can cross color lines, appealing to both Black and white people. Washington contrasts his mobility with the absurdity of racial prejudice. Both his invitation to speak on behalf of Charleston’s candidacy for state capital and his success in educating Native American students provide examples of racial cooperation and unity. His ability to speak to all-white audiences on official political business and his ability to educate a people who were thought unsuited to education lend Washington and his beliefs credibility. Further, these anecdotes of transracial cooperation and unity contrast with the absurd stories of racial prejudice, like his being turned away from a hotel or the story of the Moroccan man, that Washington shares in these chapters.
Washington’s success with Native American students and with the nightschool at Hampton also demonstrate the solidity of his principles of proper comportment, practical book learning, and industrial training: they work to uplift not only Black people, but any people who have yet to achieve full societal standing. When Washington receives an invitation to head a new normal school in Alabama, he gets another opportunity to test his theories and to confirm their success. Washington writes about his experiences in Alabama in a way that allows him to further ground his beliefs about the proper route for Black advancement and education in concrete experience. Washington’s detailed descriptions of the Black people of Alabama depict them as unprepared for immediate entry into society and in need of more than mere book learning. For example, many of the residents that Washington meets spend money foolishly and lack practical skills. Despite this, nearly all of them have had some exposure to book learning.
That Washington believes the saddest sight of all his travels around Alabama to be a young Black boy reading a French grammar book in a yard of weeds testifies to the contempt that Washington has for book learning alone. To call the sight of a poor boy reading a foreign grammar book the saddest of all his tour amid the degree and pervasiveness of poverty that Washington otherwise describes demonstrates Washington’s desire to register rhetorically the insufficiency of book learning for most newly freed slaves.
Washington’s emphasis on former slaves’ lack of preparedness for either sole book learning or full entry into society due to their lack of practical skills is a response to his critics and opponents. Opponents of Washington’s program for racial uplift critiqued his inattention to political rights and his lack of emphasis on racial violence and hostility. Washington responds to his critics, though not explicitly, by depicting and emphasizing what he sees as the needs of the Alabama’s vulnerable black populations. The success of Tuskegee further testifies to Washington’s program of uplift and demonstrates the power of transracial organizing, as well as the power of practical and industrial training. Upon arriving in Tuskegee, Washington immediately emphasizes the lack of racial prejudice in the town, despite giving examples of it elsewhere in prior chapters. Though he admits that some whites were skeptical of the Black community’s desire to erect a normal school, he says that this is a result of a negative stereotype about blacks who forget their place. Furthermore, Washington credits the opening of the school to two men: one Black, one white. The numerous difficulties the school faces and Washington’s ability to guide the school through them provide an example of how his values of hard work, practical skills, and dignity through labor can affect society and uplift a community.
Though Washington relies on outside help to get the school off the ground, he immediately takes steps to empower the students to be self-reliant and to make the school self-reliant, as well. When they secure the old plantation, Washington joins his students in making the buildings suitable for educational instruction. As he does so, he demonstrates the dignity achieved through labor and purpose and shows his students that education extends beyond the classroom. This recalls and amplifies the central tenet of the previous chapters, which emphasized making oneself useful to achieve happiness. These chapters suggest that no matter how low a people start out, they can advance through persistent hard work and labor.