Summary: Chapter VI: Black Race and Red Race

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 American Indian students. Washington says that before this period, few people had confidence that Indians could receive education. Washington lives with the Indian 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 Indian students differ in no fundamental way from black students he has otherwise taught. He notes the Indian 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 Indian 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 Indian students by most Hampton students awes Washington and he comments that he cannot imagine a white institution receiving the Indian 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 Indian student to Washington, D.C. and having to stop for the night. The hotel refuses to give him a room, but welcomes the Indian student. Washington says their skin color is the same tone but that the hotel-keeper 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 night-school. There, students who cannot afford Hampton can work during the day and attend at night. The night-school starts with twelve students whose dedication and hard work earn them the title of “The Plucky Class.”

Summary: Chapter VII: Early Days at Tuskegee

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. 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.