Summary: Chapter XVI: Europe

In 1893, Washington remarries after his former wife dies. He marries Miss Margaret James Murray, the Lady Principal of Tuskegee. The new Mrs. Washington proves to be an immense help in more efficiently running the school. Washington describes their ability to cooperate in the interest of the school as seamless. Washington says that the thing that bothers him most about his life’s work is how often it has kept him away from his family and his children. In 1899, Washington attends a distinguished meeting in Boston where several people notice he looks more tired than usual. Two women press him on it and implore him to take a vacation. A close friend, Mr. Francis J. Garrison, raises enough money to pay for a full summer trip to Europe and, along with the ladies, implores that Washington and his wife take a vacation. Washington begrudgingly accepts and leaves the United States for the first time in his life.

He is apprehensive about how people will respond to his taking a vacation. He does not want people to think him pretentious for spending a summer in Europe. This fear and his guilt about not working for so long a time plague Washington before he sets out on his trip. Washington and his wife set off to Europe at the start of the summer with many letters of introduction to people across Europe, especially in England and France. On board the ship, the Washingtons meet several prominent people including a senator and an influential journalist. They are also delighted to find that the captain greets them personally. Washington says that as soon as the ship moved away from the wharf, he felt a huge weight lift from his soldiers. For the first few days, Washington sleeps a great deal.

The ship lands in Antwerp, Belgium. The Washingtons spend a few days there and then a group invites them on an excursion to Holland. The manner of agriculture and the excellence of cultivation in Holland impress Washington greatly. After this brief trip to Holland, the Washingtons return to Belgium and from there, set off for Paris. In Paris, they meet up with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, an anti-slavery and women’s rights activist. They are invited to many high-profile events in Paris and meet many distinguished people. They also run into the famous black American painter Henry O. Tanner. Tanner impresses Washington a great deal and makes him believe more strongly in power of merit to overcome the prejudice of the color line. The French people impress Washington with their love of pleasure and excitement. Washington says that he does not believe the Frenchman to be ahead of the American Negro and believes that the future will show that the American Negro far surpasses the average Frenchman.

From Paris, the Washingtons travel to England. In England, the Washingtons likewise visit with many distinguished guests. The country houses of England make the deepest impression upon Washington, who describes them and the life they allow as perfect. He also marvels at the efficiency of English homes in general and the lack of pretention amongst the servants. He credits his trip to England with deepening his regard for nobility and praises the character of the English in its entirety. On the ship back home, Washington finds a copy of Frederick Douglass’ biography in the library and reads it.

Summary: Chapter XVII: Last Words

Washington reflects on his life and says that it has been full of surprises, but that he believes that anyone’s life can be full of surprises if he or she is willing to give his or her absolute best, living purely and selflessly, each day. Nonetheless, fortunate and unfortunate surprises befall Washington. General Armstrong, who a year earlier was stricken with paralysis, desires to see Tuskegee one last time before he dies. The school holds a torchlight reception in his honor. The General is overcome by the demonstration. General Armstrong dies shortly after. Washington’s greatest surprise is the moment he opens a letter from Harvard University that says it wishes to confer upon him an honorary degree. Tears come to his eyes as he holds the letter. He thinks of his whole life in that moment: his former slave life, his work at the coal-mine, his struggles to get to Hampton, his first difficult days at Tuskegee, and the general oppression set out for people of his race. He is deeply moved.

Washington goes to Harvard and sits through the ceremony and is afterwards invited to dine with the University’s president. Washington recalls the entire experience as one of his fondest memories. Soon after, Washington convinces President McKinley to visit Tuskegee after he hears that the President will be in Atlanta, Georgia for an official visit. The President comes to Tuskegee with his wife and all but one of his cabinet members. A huge crowd of students, teachers, and locals receive the party. Citizens decorate the entire town in preparation for the President’s visit. The students of Tuskegee host a parade in the President’s honor. The President delivers an address. Reflecting on this moment makes Washington marvel at how far Tuskegee has come. He describes the mission of Tuskegee as preparing students with three main goals in mind: to give the student the ability to enter a community and perform the work that needs to be done, to enable the student to become self-sufficient and be able to support himself, and to develop a love of labor.