Booker T. Washington, the founder of Tuskegee Institute, delivered an address at Memorial Hall in Columbus, Ohio, May 24, 1900.
The description of it was recorded in The Booker T. Washington Papers, Vol. 5: 1899-1900, (University of Illinois Press, 1976, p. 543-544):
“Dr. Washington walked on the stage at Memorial Hall with a firm, confident tread, as one sure of his ground.
“His shoulders are broad and six feet of stature gives strength and poise to command respect. His hair is close cut and gives him the aspect of a war dog with all its tenacious fighting spirit.
“The eyes, however, gleam with kindliness and they temper the appearance of the latent fighting forces…. His jaw has the firmness of one who has the courage to stand by his convictions…”
The description of Washington continued:
“‘It’s easy to see how that man succeeds,’ whispered a delegate to the Bible students’ conference after looking at the speaker.
“John R. Mott, general secretary of the student movement of North America, presided at the afternoon meeting at Memorial Hall…
“Mr. Mott announced Dr. Washington’s subject as ‘The Place of the Bible in the Uplifting of the Negro Race.'”
The description ended:
“Dr. Washington began his address after a quartet sang.
“He spoke of the 91 Y.M.C.A. Organizations for colored youths; of the 5000 colored men studying the Bible, and of the 640 Bible students at Tuskegee, and pointed these as living examples of the progress of the Negro.
“He pleaded for two more secretaries to teach Bible in the South-land.”
Washington continued May 24, 1900:
“The Negro who does the shooting is uneducated and without Christian training…
“Of all the graduates from Tuskegee Institute only one had been since sentenced to the penitentiary…
“So the work today is to make religion the vital part of the Negro’s life.
“But this is a stupendous task, as there is a nation of Negros…”
“Just remember that the Negro came out of Africa a few centuries ago…chains upon his ankles and wrists.
“He came out of that…with a hammer and a saw in his hands and a Bible in his hands.
“No man can read the Bible and be lazy. Christianity increases a man’s…capacity for labor. The Negro doesn’t run from the Bible, either.”
“If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.”
Booker T. Washington believed that to be great, one should read the Bible, (The Booker T. Washington Papers, Vol. 3: 1889-95, ed., Louis R. Harlan, Univ. of Illinois Press, 1974, p. 93):
“As a rule a person should get into the habit of reading his Bible.
“You never read in history of any great man whose influence has been lasting, who has not been a reader of the Bible.
“Take Abraham Lincoln and Gladstone. Their lives show that they have been readers of the Bible.
“If you wish to properly direct your mind and necessarily your lives, begin by reading the book of all books.
“Read your Bible every day, and you will find how healthily you will grow.”
In his address at Memorial Hall in Columbus, Ohio, May 24, 1900, Washington stated:
“The men doing the vital things of life are those who read the Bible and are Christians and not ashamed to let the world know it.”
He also said:
“Those who have accomplished the greatest results are those…who never grow excited or lose self-control, but are always calm, self-possessed, patient and polite.”
Washington believed a religious life was key to freedom, usefulness, and honor, as he wrote in Putting the Most into Life (NY: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 1906, ch. “Making Religion a Vital Part of Living,” p. 23-25):
“Educated men and women, especially those who are in college, very often get the idea that religion is fit only for the common people. No young man or woman can make a greater error than this…
“My observation has taught me that the people who stand for the most in the educational and commercial world and in the uplifting of the people are in some real way connected with the religious life of the people among whom they reside.
“This being true we ought to make the most of our religious life…”
“First the habit of regular attendance at some religious service should be cultivated. This is one of the outward helps toward inward grace…
“As you value your spiritual life, see to it that you do not lose the spirit of reverence for the Most High…
“Do not mistake denominationalism for reverence and religion. Religion is life, denominationalism is an aid to life.”
“Systematic reading and prayerful study of the Bible is the second outward help which I would commend to those whom I wish to see make the most of their spiritual life.
“Many people regard the Bible as a wonderful piece of literature only…
“Nowhere in all literature can be found a finer bit of oratory than St. Paul’s defense before King Agrippa. But praiseworthy as this kind of study is, I do not believe it is sufficient.
“The Bible should be read as a daily guide to right living and as a daily incentive to positive Christian service…”
Washington went on:
“To live the real religious life is in some measure to share the character of God.
“The word ‘atonement,’ which occurs in the Bible again and again, means literally at-one-ment.
“To be at one with God is to be like God.
“Our real religious striving, then, should be to become one with God, sharing with Him in our poor human way His qualities and attributes.
“To do this, we must get the inner life, the heart right, and we shall then become stronger where we have been weak, wise where we have been foolish…”
“We must learn to incorporate God’s laws into our thoughts and words and acts.
“Frequent reference is made in the Bible to the freedom that comes from being a Christian.
“A man is free just in proportion as he learns to live within God’s laws…
“As we learn God’s laws and grow into His likeness we shall find our reward in this world in a life of usefulness and honor.
“To do this is to have found the kingdom of God, which is the kingdom of character and righteousness and peace.”
By the time of Washington’s death, Tuskegee Institute had grown to 2,000 students and a faculty of 200 teaching 38 trades.
In 1905, visitors came to Tuskegee from 16 countries, including Africa, India, China, Japan, Poland, and Russia.
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Washington sent Tuskegee graduates to Liberia, West Africa.
He even sent his personal envoy, Emmitt Scott, to discourage France from annexing Liberia, helping to preserve Liberia’s independence.
Ten years before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was formed, Washington founded the National Negro Business League in 1900, growing it to 600 chapters.
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Washington was visited by Republican President William McKinley.
To the protests of Democrats, Washington had dinner at the White House with Republican President Theodore Roosevelt, and met with Republican President William Howard Taft.
Washington spoke from New Hampshire to California, Minnesota to Florida, and even in Europe, where he was received by the Queen of England in Windsor Castle.
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Washington was the first African American to have his image on a U.S. postage stamp (1940) and a U.S. Coin (1946), and was the first African American elected to the Hall of Fame (1945).
He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Dartmouth and an honorary Master’s Degree from Harvard.
Harvard President Charles W. Eliot spoke at Tuskegee’s 25th anniversary in 1906, stating:
“By 1905, Tuskegee produced more self-made millionaires than Harvard, Yale and Princeton combined.”
“Anyone can seek a job, but it requires a person of rare ability to create a job…
“What we should do in our schools is to turn out fewer job seekers and more job creators.”
Widowed twice, his third wife outlived him.
He had one daughter, Portia, and two sons, Booker T. Washington Jr. and Ernest Davidson Washington.
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When Washington died on NOVEMBER 14, 1915, Andrew Carnegie stated:
“I mourn with you today as one who shares your sorrow. America has lost one of her best and greatest citizens. History is to tell of two Washingtons.
“One the leader of his country and the other the leader of his race.”
After Washington’s death, Vice-President Calvin Coolidge traveled to Tuskegee in 1923 and met with Robert Russa Moton, the Principal of Tuskegee Institute.
In 1924, Coolidge, now the President, received Tuskegee Principle Moton at a meeting in the White House.
Secretary of the Navy John D. Long spoke in honor of Washington at Tuskegee:
“I cannot make a speech to-day. My heart is too full-full of hope, admiration, and pride for my countrymen of both sections and both colors.
“I am filled with gratitude and admiration for your work, and from this time forward I shall have absolute confidence in your progress and in the solution of the problem in which you are engaged. The problem, I say, has been solved…”
“A picture has been presented to-day which should be put upon canvas with the pictures of Washington and Lincoln, and transmitted to future time and generations – a picture which the press of the country should spread broadcast over the land, a most dramatic picture, and that picture is this:
“‘The President of the United States (Theodore Roosevelt) standing on this platform; on one side the Governor of Alabama, on the other, completing the trinity, a representative of a race only a few years ago in bondage, the colored President of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute.’
“God bless the President under whose majesty such a scene as that is presented to the American people. God bless the State of Alabama, which is showing that it can deal with this problem for itself.
“God bless the orator, philanthropist, and disciple of the Great Master – who, if He were on earth, would be doing the same work – Booker T. Washington.”
Photo Credit: nps.gov
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