Summary: Chapter 13: Two Thousand Miles for a Five-Minute Speech

Tuskegee establishes a night-school in 1884 to accommodate students who cannot afford to attend the institution. Tuskegee models its night-school after the night-school at Hampton Institute, requiring students to work for ten hours during the day at a trade or industry and to study for two hours in the evening. Only students who cannot afford the board of day-school can attend. The Treasury keeps all but a little of the students’ wages, so that when students eventually transfer to the day-school they have means to pay their tuition. This process usually takes two years. The difficulty of the night-school is the most severe test of a student’s dedication and commitment due to the long hours and level of discipline the program requires. Washington observes that many of Tuskegee’s most successful students began their study at the night-school.

Following his Northern tour with General Armstrong, Washington’s career as a public speaker continues to blossom. He receives more invitations and begins to better develop his ability. He credits his popularity and success with his willingness to level honest criticism without condemning an entire race for the situation of his people. Washington credits this sensitivity with lessons he learned in his early years. As a young man, Washington held onto bitterness toward anyone who spoke ill of Black people or made barriers to their advancement. Maturity teaches him to recognize, however, that those who hold such beliefs do more damage to themselves than anyone else. Most of Washington’s early speeches serve to raise money for the school. An early speech in Atlanta at the international meeting of Christian Workers earns him an invitation to speak at the esteemed Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition, where he delivers one of the most famous speeches of his career.

Before delivering this speech, Washington travels with a committee of people from the Exposition to the nation’s capital to address Congress. In his speech to Congress, Washington argues that Black people should not be deprived of the ballot, but says that the ballot means little if Black people do not also develop and attain property, industry, skill, economy, intelligence, and character. After this speech and the trip to Washington, D.C., the directors of the Exposition decide to devote an entire building to exhibitions about the accomplishments of the Black race. The largest part of this is devoted to exhibits on the Hampton Institute and the Tuskegee Institute. As the day of Washington’s speech approaches, he feels great trepidation due to the widespread coverage his upcoming speech receives in newspapers and the anticipation it inspires. Before setting off to Atlanta, Washington delivers his speech to the teachers of Tuskegee. Washington ends the chapter by describing how his close friend, a white man, Mr. William H. Baldwin, Jr., is so nervous for Washington that the refuses to enter the auditorium and instead paces back and forth for the duration of Washington’s speech.

Summary: Chapter 14: The Atlanta Exposition Address

Washington includes the full text of his address to the Atlanta Cotton Exposition. As soon as he finishes his speech, Governor Bullock and other prominent white men rush to shake his hands and congratulate him. His speech is so well-received that Washington has trouble exiting the building. He returns to Tuskegee the next morning. There he is delighted to find that nearly all major newspapers in the United States cover his speech favorably. He includes the text of many of these newspapers within the chapter. What touches Washington most, however, is a letter from President Grover Cleveland, who praises him for the hope and determination of his words. Washington eventually meets President Cleveland when the president visits the Atlanta Exposition. Washington describes him as a simple man full of grace and patience. They begin a friendship and Washington relates that President Cleveland does everything in his power to help advance Tuskegee.

The Black papers have more mixed reviews of Washington’s speech at the Atlanta Exposition. At first, they receive his speech well, but then criticisms begin. Many charge Washington with speaking too little about the violence against Black people and too little about political rights. Washington calls these responses reactionary and states that nevertheless many of these critics were eventually won over. Washington relates this criticism to earlier moments in his career when he received criticism for speaking about the inadequacy of many Black ministers. Despite the outcry of many Black newspapers, many prominent Black bishops and church leaders agree with Washington’s assessment and the criticism is eventually quelled.

After the success of his speech, Washington receives an invitation to serve as a judge of an award in the Department of Education. This touches Washington deeply and he sits on a board of jurors that numbers sixty. The jurors include college presidents, leading scientists, famous writers, and specialists in many fields. Washington reflects on the political future of Black people and predicts that Black people will reach full citizenship when they have reached the level of development that entitles them to its exercise. He believes that the issue cannot be forced from the outside and that Southern whites will decide on their own to welcome the Black population into society without restriction. He believes that there is a change in that direction already underway. To illustrate this, Washington cites both his invitation to deliver a speech at the Atlanta Exposition and his invitation to serve on the juror committee. Both would have been unthinkable just a year earlier.

Washington believes that slow, steady progress will best produce an equitable South. He decries laws that allow an ignorant and poor white man to vote and not a Black man. He says that the law should apply equally across the color line. Nevertheless, he believes that Black people must develop themselves to exercise the ballot responsibly. Though Washington believes in universal suffrage, he believes that the peculiar circumstances of the South require special provisions and the protection of the ballot, either by property test or by education test.

Summary: Chapter 15: The Secret Success of Public Speaking

Washington opens this chapter with a summation of how his speech at the Atlanta Exposition was received by the people present in the audience. He includes the full review of a journalist, Mr. James Creelman, who praises Washington’s speech and his person. Following the speech at the Atlanta Exposition, Washington accepts invitations to speak as much as his commitments at Tuskegee allow. The frequency of the requests to speak surprise Washington. Each time he speaks publicly he suffers from great nervousness, but says that he knows no better pleasure than mastering an audience and becoming one with them. He describes the sensation and immense satisfaction of going at unsympathetic audience members and working them over to his side. Washington says that great speeches must come from the soul and shares that he endeavors to make his speeches so interesting that no one leaves the room while he is speaking. Washington most prefers to speak to businessmen after they have had a nice dinner. After this group, Washington most prefers Southern audiences. Washington also makes a point to speak to Black communities across the country. This allows him to see the living conditions of Black people in the United States firsthand.

In 1897, Washington receives a letter inviting him to deliver an address at the dedication of Robert Gould Shaw, a white colonel killed in the assault on Fort Wagner. This experience deeply touches Washington and causes him to reflect on the Spanish-American War. Shortly after, he delivers a speech at the University of Chicago where he praises the efforts of Black soldiers in the Spanish-American War and celebrates the history of Black patriots. President William McKinley attends the speech that overflows the auditorium in which it is held. A portion of this speech generates criticism from many Southern newspapers who demand that Washington clarify what he means by “social recognition.” Washington responds to these criticisms publicly and reiterates the positions laid out in his Atlanta Exposition speech.

Washington can undertake such a heavy schedule of public speaking because Tuskegee is supervised by teachers and the Lady Principal when he is away. In a year, Washington averages six months away from Tuskegee. Washington is encouraged that Tuskegee can operate when he is away because he believes it testifies to the strength and organization of the institution. Nevertheless, when Washington is away he uses a system of correspondence to stay consistently abreast of the activities at the school. An average day in Washington’s life is full of responsibilities. Because of this, he makes it a rule to clear his desk by the end of each day, to leave no task unfinished. The one exception that Washington makes to this rule is when he an unusually difficult decision to make. Then, he waits until he has a chance to talk with both his wife and his friends. Washington also relates small personal details about his life. He does not enjoy games, but finds that keeping a garden relaxes and enriches him. He also enjoys caring for animals. Though Washington rarely takes breaks, after nineteen years of constant work, his friends press him and his wife to take a vacation to Europe. He at first declines, but eventually accepts later.

Analysis: Chapters 13-15

In these chapters, Washington gives a broad overview of his career as a public speaker and national thinker on the race question. Washington begins by establishing his authority on matters of race by describing Tuskegee’s fast and steady growth. He further emphasizes the strong need for such education and the widespread desire for it amongst Southern Black people. The opening of the night-school signals both the practicality of Tuskegee’s goals and values and the fervent desire that students have for an education. The increased popularity of the school also demonstrates that Tuskegee is a reputable institution with verified results. All of this serves to buttress Washington’s eventual, national articulation about the best methods for black advancement in the United States.

That Washington is so often invited to speak at events where no Black man has ever spoken before signals the acceptability of his social program for racial uplift to most establishment whites. Chapters 13-15frame Washington’s most famous speech at the Atlanta Exposition and his attempt to subdue the speech’s controversy by describing the deliberative way that Washington prepared for the occasion. The chapters also emphasize the unprecedented nature of the event, stressing both the venue and the audience. In Chapter 13, Washington preempts the criticism that will later dog his Atlanta Exposition speech by explaining that he holds no bitterness towards those who express racist attitudes towards Black people. While Washington’s high-mindedness is laudable, many of Washington’s critics will later point out that it often comes at the expense of honestly describing the conditions of Black life and the possibilities available for alleviating them. Washington’s emphasis on the necessity of the development of the Black race before the achievement of full equality and rights fails to consider that most educational institutions still disbar Black students from attendance at this time. This, in part, accounts for the popularity of the Tuskegee Institute, one of the few institutions in the nation where Black students could receive education or training.

Washington’s numerous speeches before his Atlanta Exposition speech establish his credibility as a speaker and thinker and the great anticipation for his speech, as indicated by the widespread coverage in national newspapers, further indicate the significance of the event. The actual speech that Washington delivers at the Atlanta Exposition is his most famous. It contains many quotable lines that sum up Washington’s social philosophy and social program for racial uplift. The first is “cast down your bucket where you are,” a line taken from a parable that Washington tells to demonstrate the wisdom of developing useful skills rather than agitating for political rights. The second famous line from Washington’s speech is “In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.” Here Washington elaborates an idea he first introduced in the brick-making chapter where he described the possibility of racial cooperation in the intermingling of business. Washington clarifies that this intermingling need not extend beyond business.

While critics of Washington point to these lines as signs of Washington’s capitulation to a racist social order and decry his speech, he receives more praise than criticism. However, that the praise mostly comes from white newspapers and the criticism from Black newspapers is not an issue that Washington addresses. Instead, he includes the full text of multiple favorable reviews of his speech, while only paraphrasing the criticism of his detractors. In addition, he tells a parable that suggests that even his detractors will eventually be won over. Washington describes an account of an earlier moment in his career in which he says he spoke out honestly against Black ministers and the Black press retracted their criticisms, to suggest that the same thing will happen in this scenario. The sheer number of praiseworthy, full clips Washington includes in his text suggests, however, that he has lasting concerns about how his Atlanta Exposition speech was perceived and how it will be perceived in the future.

Washington briefly alludes to another moment of controversy, this time with the white Southern press, in Chapter 15. Though Washington noticeably does not include the full text of his speech at the University of Chicago, he does briefly refer to the mild reception of the speech by Southern newspapers who disliked his unclear use of the term “social recognition.” While Washington does not elaborate on their criticisms or his own use of the term, his formal response to newspapers that his views have not changed from the content of his Atlanta Exposition speech suggests that his comments somehow strayed more from his usual conservative approach to racial uplift than the white Southern newspapers found acceptable.