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Washington describes Christmas in Alabama, which provides him with a deep glimpse into the lives of former slaves. During slavery, Christmas was the one time of year that slaves did not have to work. Because of this, during his first Christmas in Tuskegee, Washington finds it impossible to convince anyone to work after Christmas Eve. The holiday lasts for a week. He describes the week as debaucherous, full of drinking and shouting, with little reference to God or the “sacredness of the season.” Washington makes it a point to teach the students at Tuskegee the importance of the holiday and its proper observance. Washington contrasts this first Christmas in Tuskegee with later memories of Tuskegee students and the good works they do. He recounts a story when Tuskegee students spent the holiday rebuilding a cabin for an elderly member of the community. Washington also reflects on the relationship between the school and the town’s white community. Washington describes the effort he put forth to make Tuskegee a part of the community, rather than a foreign institution.
Next, Washington describes the growth of the school. By holding festivals and concerts, the Tuskegee Institute secures enough money to pay back General Marshall’s loan and to settle the debt for the farm. By growing crops and cultivating animals, Tuskegee also begins to establish a method of generating revenue. This helps fund the school and gives poor students an opportunity to fund their own educations. The success of these ventures allows Tuskegee to plan for a new building. When the plans get drawn up, a local Southern white man who runs a sawmill offers to give the school the necessary lumber for the building. Washington is reluctant to accept this offer because the school did not have any money at that time. The sawmill owner insists and Washington eventually accepts after raising a portion of the sum.
To raise more money for the school, Miss Davidson continues to hold festivals and concerts for the local community. Washington marvels at the generosity of both the white and Black citizens of Tuskegee. Miss Davidson also travels North to raise money, but she encounters trouble because the school is not yet well-known. Nonetheless, many important donations come from Northern people. Washington recounts the generosity of two Boston women, who later become annual donors, and who make it possible to pay the outstanding debt on the school’s first building. Following this donation, the women continue to make $6000 donations each year. The first building is called Porter Hall, named after a generous donor from Brooklyn.
As soon as the first plans for the building are drawn, Washington set students to the digging of the building’s foundation. Though some of the students still resist manual labor, many are happy to contribute to the school’s history and take pride in helping erect the school’s first building. On the day of the laying of the cornerstone, Tuskegee hosts a ceremony that includes many guests. The guests include teachers, students, people from the town, and all the county officials, as well as many prominent white men from nearby towns. The Superintendent of Education for the county delivers an address. Washington marries the next summer, the summer of 1882.
Washington relates his determination to have students do all of Tuskegee’s domestic, agricultural, and industrial work. He says he wants to instill a sense of dignity through labor and to improve students by teaching them the best and most innovative techniques of the time. Many oppose Washington’s idea to have students erect the buildings on Tuskegee’s campus. They point out that the students lack training and experience. Washington is undeterred. Though he acknowledges that most students at Tuskegee come from poor backgrounds and would very much desire to be placed in new buildings, Washington says it’s a more natural progression of development for them to build their own structures of learning. Washington, writing nineteen years into Tuskegee’s existence, reflects on the success and continued adherence to this model.
Nevertheless, the road to this success was a long one and Washington spends considerable time recounting Tuskegee’s first experiments with brickmaking. First, Washington and his students cannot not locate a suitable location to open a pit that produced brick clay. After finding a suitable location, they struggle to mold and burn bricks that hold. Because the burning process takes a week, each failure costs a considerable amount of labor and time. The kiln fails three times before they achieve success. The school develops its brickmaking program to train students in this art and produces bricks for the market.
This experience further convinces Washington that if Black people make themselves useful they will be accepted by whites. Many whites, even those unsympathetic to Tuskegee and Black people in general, come to the school to purchase bricks because of their quality, affordability, and convenience. This leads Washington to believe that the intermingling of business can be a foundation for race relations in the South. Washington further expounds on this idea by saying that there is something in the human spirit that makes it recognize and award merit.
The industrial education at Tuskegee broadens to include the building of wagons, carts, and buggies. Students build these for the Tuskegee campus and for the local community. They also offer repair services to those who need it. Washington reflects that the person who makes himself useful will always find a place for himself in a community. He says that a community might not need someone who can read Greek at this time, but if one supplies what it does need, then one need not worry about being cast out.
Despite the success of his industrial training experiments, some parents protest the requirement that students engage in labor while at school. Nevertheless, Washington remains steadfast in his belief that all students at Tuskegee must learn to labor and to find dignity, pleasure, and self-reliance in it. In the summer of 1882, Washington takes a trip North with Miss Davidson to raise more funds for the school. They stop in Northampton, Massachusetts, where Washington is surprised to be admitted to a hotel. They are successful in raising money and hold their first chapel service in Porter Hall on Thanksgiving Day of that year. This is a landmark moment for Washington.
The school soon grows so large that it is in need of a dining room and a larger boarding department. During this time, despite Washington’s success in raising money for multiple ventures, Tuskegee is still in need of money. Washington describes the first few years as rough. Meals are not held regularly and there is not enough furniture. The furniture that does exist is not well-made, as students had yet to master the art of furniture-making. Nevertheless, this rough start eventually gives way to order and the journey that the students take together to build and better their school guards against any displays of excess pride or snobbery.
Visitors from Hampton come to visit Tuskegee and praise the school’s progress. General Marshall, who lent the school money to secure the old plantation, Miss Mackie, the head teacher who gave Washington the sweeping examination, and General Armstrong, the idolized principal of Hampton, all visit and express their pleasure at the fast progress of Tuskegee. Washington recounts General Armstrong’s visit as especially affecting. Washington is surprised to find that General Armstrong holds no bitterness toward the Southern white man despite having fought against him in the war. This generosity of spirit inspires Washington to strive to manifest sympathy for all men and helps him realize that hatred is a tool of small, weak men. General Armstrong teaches Washington that he should allow no person to degrade his soul by making him hate them.
This realization leads Washington to reflect on the issue of the ballot in the South. He says that the action taken to limit Black people’s access to the ballot does more injury to the white man than it does to the Black man. Washington believes the prohibition of Black people from voting is temporary, while the damage that whites invite to their morals is permanent. He also notes that where a white man is willing to commit injustice against a Black man, he is also likely to commit injustice against a white man if so compelled.
Students continue to come to Tuskegee in greater numbers and the school must figure out how to feed and house them. The school rents many log cabins nearby, but many of the cabins are in poor condition. The discomfort that students face worries Washington. On many occasions, in the middle of the night, he stops by the students’ cabins to comfort them. Despite their discomfort, Washington describes the students as happy and grateful for the opportunity to gain an education. Washington elaborates further on the kindness and generosity of Tuskegee students and says that it proves wrong the idea that Black people could not respond favorably to a Black person in authority. He also reflects on the lack of racial prejudice he experiences. The white population of Tuskegee has never said an unkind word to him or treated him poorly. Once, on a train back from Augusta, Georgia, Washington recognizes two white women from Boston whom he knew well. They invited him to dine with them. Washington is at first apprehensive because of the tacit segregation common in the South. The train is otherwise full of Southern white men. Nevertheless, Washington dines in their car with them and then takes leave to go to the smoking-room, where most of the men are seated. Once there, Washington is surprised to receive warm greeting and thanks from many men who are impressed with the work he is doing.
Washington tells Tuskegee students that the institution is theirs and encourages them to come to him with any problems or concerns. He says that the best way to dissolve disputes is through open and honest communication. Next, he describes the first attempts at mattress making at Tuskegee. Because many of the students are poor and the school does not have extra money, the students must make their own mattresses. Most students take two large bags, sew them together, and fill them with pine straw. Despite this and their often poorly made furniture, Washington enforces a standard of absolute cleanliness. This extends to the body, as well. He requires students to bathe and to keep clothing tidy and clean at all times.
The inability to house all students comfortably continues to wear on Washington, especially as the school admits more and more women. Because of this, the school decides to build another, bigger building to expand the boarding department. Miss Davidson begins to raise money around Tuskegee from both white and Black citizens. The money that she raises from local citizens is not enough to erect a new building. After some time, General Armstrong writes and asks Washington to join him on a tour of the North. He and the General tour with a group of singers to important cities and hold meetings and give speeches. Though General Armstrong and the Hampton Institute cover all the expenses for this tour, General Armstrong tells him that this effort is on behalf of Tuskegee. In this way, General Armstrong introduces Washington to many important people in the North and further solidifies his image in Washington’s mind as the most selfless man in existence. They tour New York, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia, and other large cities.
After this first experience in the North, Washington continues to go by himself for some time. He elaborates his rules for asking for money from philanthropists. He says that the first duty of such work is to make one’s institution and values known. The second is to not worry about the outcomes, no matter what bills or debts pile up. Washington also notes the qualities of accomplished men, with whom he has begun to come into contact: self-possession, patience, and politeness. Washington says that to be successful, a man must entirely forget himself for the sake of a great cause. His happiness will result in proportion to the degree that he accomplishes this.
Washington describes the anxiety of having to constantly be away from Tuskegee to raise money for the school. Despite the persistent money troubles in the first few years of the institution, Washington is determined to succeed because he believes that Tuskegee’s failure would have ramifications for the entire race. This drives Washington on through the difficult years of raising funds for the school. Finally, Tuskegee begins to receive many large donations, the largest of which is $50,000. Washington credits this to the hard work and persistence of establishing the school and its reputation. He says that luck is only won through hard work.
Washington recounts his experience meeting Andrew Carnegie, who eventually donates $20,000. He describes Carnegie as distant. During their first meeting, Carnegie shows little interest in either Washington or the school, but when Washington writes to him to appeal on Tuskegee’s behalf, he is surprised and delighted by Carnegie’s willing generosity. In addition to these large donations, Tuskegee also receives small donations from all around the country. At the beginning of the third year of the school, the State Legislature of Alabama votes to increase the annual appropriation to Tuskegee. This and annual donations from the Slater and Peabody Funds ensure that Tuskegee can continue to operate in financial solvency.
These four chapters chronicle the growth of Tuskegee and the new obstacles faced, while steadfastly communicating the importance and the success of Washington’s approach to education and race leadership. Washington’s first Christmas in Tuskegee provides a portrait of what he perceives as his race’s immaturity and demonstrates the people’s need for moral guidance, skill-building, and industrial training. The anecdotes about the behaviors and lack of understanding amongst the former slaves about this most sacred holiday depict both the necessity of Washington’s program and the inadequacy of book learning and political agitation. An idea that Washington will dispute again and again in this text is the idea that book learning and political agitation alone will uplift the most vulnerable populations. Washington’s accounts of former slaves and their habits suggest that they need much more than that and that his program can answer those needs. His parable about his subsequent Christmases in Tuskegee and the generosity of Tuskegee students during the holiday are intended to demonstrate that his method works and that former slaves are capable of learning and embodying the highest ideals.
Washington also figures his opponents in the parable about the parents’ disapproval of student labor. Washington juxtaposes parents’ resistance to students laboring while they go to school with the success of erecting the first building on Tuskegee’s campus. This juxtaposition allows Washington to rebut his critics without naming them in his text. Washington uses this strategy throughout Up From Slavery, relying on anecdote and moral parables to communicate his ideals and to provide argument against his detractors. Washington details Tuskegee’s ability to produce its own wagons, bricks, buildings, and furniture and the pride that students take in their work. He also says that these abilities introduce students into the broader world, for their work results in products that the broader community needs and desires. The success of these undertakings provides answer to the parents, who represent those who oppose Washington’s approach to racial uplift. The incredible growth of the school despite the verbal objections to labor further testify to the power and success of Washington’s approach and vision.
As Tuskegee continues to grow and begins to reach further beyond its own walls and community for support, Washington emphasizes the school as a thoroughly American institution. Washington includes his interactions with famous American men to elevate Tuskegee to the national stage as an important experiment in education and to show the dignity of his efforts for racial uplift. It also allows Washington to emphasize the lack of racial prejudice he says he experiences and to demonstrate the possibility of cooperation across color lines that he advocates. All this, Washington emphasizes, he accomplishes without political agitation. General Armstrong also acts as an important symbol in the text. His high-mindedness and generosity showcase the best of the American spirit that Washington believes will eventually result in the uplifting of the Black race and the nation. Significantly, Washington reports that he encounters this spirit again and again in the white people with whom he comes into contact. He describes numerous examples of the white people of Tuskegee and Alabama both supporting and contributing to the institution in astonishing ways free of racial prejudice. Washington’s anecdote about his experience on a train back to Alabama where he dines in a car with two white women is intended to depict not only the degree of respect that Washington himself is able to command, but also, the degree of respect that the white race is willing to grant, even in the face of social custom, to Black people who strive to make themselves useful.
This belief is symbolically depicted in the story of Tuskegee’s first attempts at brickmaking. Washington devotes an entire chapter to chronicling their difficulties and failures. Nevertheless, though three kilns fail before they achieve success, Washington describes how the undertaking has blossomed to produce both a steady supply of bricks and a reliable program for industrial training. The steady supply of bricks to both Tuskegee and the community at large allows Washington to demonstrate his broader point about making oneself useful to combat inequality and prejudice. Washington describes how the quality of Tuskegee bricks drew people to the school who might not otherwise sympathize or associate with Black people. The ability to provide a needed service and to intermingle business interests leads to cooperation between the races. This story is also intended to demonstrate the power of hard work and continued effort. Along with brick-making, Washington describes Tuskegee’s first forays into erecting buildings, making furniture, and producing furniture. Though their efforts are at first elementary and wanting, continued effort and practice results in each of these ventures providing a means of regular revenue and industrial training for Tuskegee students—thus achieving important goals that Washington has set.