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 XV: 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 XIII-XV

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 blacks. 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.