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 corner-stone, 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 falls 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 blacks make themselves useful they will be accepted by whites. Many whites, even those unsympathetic to Tuskegee and blacks 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.