Summary: Chapter XIII: 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 XIV: 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 says 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.