Mr. Washington, more than any other writer or lecturer, has solved the "race problem." The historical value of the book, and its uplifting influence give ''The Story Of My Life And Work'' a prominent place in modern literature. It is a volume for the family library along with the Life of Franklin, Emerson's Essays and the great autobiographies. There is no greaterstimulus for self-help, for Mr. Washington forged his way to the front by his own efforts.
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An Autobiography -The Story of My Life and Work
Booker T. Washington
An Autobiography - The Story of My Life and Work
Chapter I. Birth And Early Childhood.
Chapter II. Boyhood In West Virginia.
Chapter III. Life At Hampton Institute.
Chapter IV. How The First Six Years After Graduation From Hampton Were Spent.
Chapter V. The Beginning Of The Work At Tuskegee.
Chapter VI. The First Year At Tuskegee.
Chapter VII. The Struggles And Success Of The Workers At Tuskegee From 1882 To 1884.
Chapter VIII. The History Of Tuskegee From 1884 To 1894.
Chapter IX. Invited To Deliver A Lecture At Fisk University.
Chapter X. The Speech At The Opening Of The Cotton States' Exposition, And Incidents Connected Therewith.
Chapter XI. An Appeal For Justice.
Chapter XII. Honored By Harvard University.
Chapter XIII. Urged For A Cabinet Position.
Chapter XIV. The Shaw Monument Speech, The Visit Of Secretary James Wilson, And The Letter To The Louisiana Convention.
Chapter XV. Cuban Education And The Chicago Peace Jubilee Address.
Chapter XVI. The Visit Of President Wm. Mckinley To Tuskegee.
Chapter XVII. The Tuskegee Negro Conference.
Chapter XVIII. A Vacation In Europe.
Chapter XIX. The West Virginia And Other Receptions After European Trip.
Chapter XX. National Negro Business League Origin And Work.
Chapter XXI. The Movement For A Permanent Endowment
Chapter XXII. A Description Of The Work Of The Tuskegee Institute.
Chapter XXIII. Looking Backward.
An Autobiography - The Story of My Life and Work, B. T. Washington
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
I HAVE cheerfully consented to prefix a few words introductory to this autobiography. While I have encouraged its publication, not a sentence has been submitted to my examination. From my intimate acquaintance with the subject, because of my connection with the Peabody and the Slater Education Funds, I am sure the volume has such a strong claim upon the people that no commendation is needed.
The life of Booker T. Washington cannot be written. Incidents of birth, parentage, schooling, early struggles, later triumphs, may be detailed with accuracy, but the life has been so incorporated, transfused, into such a multitude of other lives,--broadening views, exalting ideals, molding character,--that no human being can know its deep and beneficent influence, and no pen can describe it. Few living Americans have made a deeper impression on public opinion, softened or removed so many prejudices, or awakened greater hopefulness in relation to the solution of a problem, encompassed with a thousand difficulties and perplexing the minds of philanthropists and statesmen. His personality is unique, his work has been exceptional, his circle of friendships has constantly widened; his race, through his utterances and labors, has felt an upward tendency, and he himself has been an example of what worth and energy can accomplish and a stimulus to every one of both races, aspiring to a better life and to doing good for others.
It has been said with truth that the race problem requires the patient and wise co-operation of the North and the South, of the white people and the Negroes. It is encouraging to see how one true, wise, prudent, courageous man can contribute far more than many men to the comprehension and settlement of questions which perplex the highest capabilities. Great eras have often revolved around an individual; and, so, in this country, it is singular that, contrary to what pessimists have predicted, a colored man, born a slave, freed by the results of the War, is accomplishing so much toward thorough pacification and good citizenship.
While Mr. Washington has achieved wonders, in his own recognition as a leader and by his thoughtful addresses, his largest work has been the founding and the building up of the Normal and Industrial Institute, at Tuskegee, Alabama. That institution illustrates what can be accomplished under the supervision, control, and teaching of the colored people, and it stands conspicuous for industrial training, for intelligent productive labor, for increased usefulness in agriculture and mechanics, for self- respect and self-support, and for the purification of home- life. A late Circular of the Trustees of Hampton Institute makes the startling statement that "six millions of our Negroes are now living in one. room cabins." Under such conditions morality and progress are impossible. If the estimate be approximately correct, it enforces the wisdom of Mr. Washington in his earnest crusade against "the one- room cabin", and is an honorable tribute to the revolution wrought through his students in the communities where they have settled. Every student at Tuskegee, in the proportion of the impression produced by the Principal, becomes a better husband, a better wife, a better citizen, a better man or woman. A series of useful books on the "Great Educators" has been published in England and the United States. While Washington cannot, in learning and philosophy, be ranked with Herbart, Pestalozzi, Froebel, Hopkins, Wayland, Harris, he may be truly classed among those who have wrought grandest results on mind and character.
J. L. M. CURRY
WASHINGTON, D. C.
Many requests have been made of me to write something of the story of my life. Until recently I have never given much consideration to these requests, for the reason that I have never thought that I had done enough in the world to warrant anything in the way of an autobiography; and I hope that my life work, by reason of my present age, lies more in the future than in the past. My daughter, Portia, said to me, not long ago: "Papa, do you know that you have never told me much about your early life, and your children want to know more about you." Then it came upon me as never before that I ought to put something about my life in writing for the sake of my family, if for no other reason.
I will not trouble those who read these lines with any lengthy historical research concerning my ancestry, for I know nothing of my ancestry beyond my mother. My mother was a slave on a plantation near Hale's Ford, in Franklin County, Virginia, and she was, as I now remember it, the cook for her owners as well as for a large part of the slaves on the plantation. The first time that I got a knowledge of the fact that my mother and I were slaves, was by being awakened by my mother early one morning, while sleeping in a bed of rags, on the clay floor of our little cabin. She was kneeling over me, fervently praying as was her custom to do, that some day she and her children might be free. The name of my mother was Jane. She, to me, will always remain the noblest embodiment of womanhood with which I have come in contact. She was wholly ignorant, as far as books were concerned, and, I presume, never had a book in her hands for two minutes at a time. But the lessons in virtue and thrift which she instilled into me during the short period of my life that she lived will never leave me. Some people blame the Negro for not being more honest, as judged by the Anglo-Saxon's standard of honesty; but I can recall many times when, after all was dark and still, in the late hours of the night, when her children had been without sufficient food during the day, my mother would awaken us, and we would find that she had gotten from somewhere something in the way of eggs or chickens and cooked the food during the night for us. These eggs and chickens were gotten without my master's permission or knowledge. Perhaps, by some code of ethics, this would be classed as stealing, but deep down in my heart I can never decide that my mother, under such circumstances, was guilty of theft. Had she acted thus as a free woman she would have been a thief, but not so, in my opinion, as a slave. After our freedom no one was stricter than my mother in teaching and observing the highest rules of integrity.
Who my father was, or is, I have never been able to learn with any degree of certainty. I only know that he was a white man.
As nearly as I can get at the facts, I was born in the year 1858 or 1859. At the time I came into the world no careful registry of births of people of my complexion was kept. My birthplace was near Hale's Ford, in Franklin County, Virginia. It was about as near to Nowhere as any locality gets to be, so far as I can learn. Hale's Ford, I think, was a town with one house and a post-office, and my birth place was on a large plantation several miles distant from it.
I remember very distinctly the appearance of the cabin in which I was born and lived until freedom came. It was a small log cabin about 12 x 16 feet, and without windows. There was no floor, except one of dirt. There was a large opening in the center of the floor, where sweet potatoes were kept for my master's family during the winter. In this cabin my mother did the cooking, the greater part of the time, for my master's family. Our bed, or "pallet," as we called it, was made every night on the dirt floor. Our bed clothing consisted of a few rags gathered here and there.
One thing I remember more vividly than any other in connection with the days when I was a slave was my dress, or, rather, my lack of dress.
The years when the war was in progress between the States were especially trying to the slaves, so far as clothing was concerned. The Southern white people found it extremely hard to get clothing for themselves during that war, and, of course, the slaves underwent no little suffering in this respect. The only garment that I remember receiving from my owners during the war was a "tow shirt." When I did not wear this shirt I was positively without any garment. In Virginia, the tow shirt was quite an institution during slavery. This shirt was made of the refuse flax that grew in that part of Virginia, and it was a veritable instrument of torture. It was stiff and coarse. Until it had been worn for about six weeks it made one feel as if a thousand needle points were pricking his flesh. I suppose I was about six years old when I was given one of these shirts to wear. After repeated trials the torture was more than my childish flesh could endure and I gave it up in despair. To this day the sight of a new shirt revives the recollection of the tortures of my first new shirt. In the midst of my despair, in connection with this garment, my brother John, who was about two years older than I, did me a kindness which I shall never forget. He volunteered to wear my new shirt for me until it was "broken in." After he had worn it for several weeks I ventured to wear it myself, but not without pain.
Soon after my shirt experience, when the winter had grown quite cold, I received my first pair of shoes. These shoes had wooden bottoms, and the tops consisted of a coarse kind of leather. I have never felt so proud since of a pair of shoes.
As soon as I was old enough I performed what, to me, was important service, in holding the horses, and riding behind the white women of the household on their long horseback rides, which were very common in those days. At one time, while holding the horses and assisting quite a party of visiting ladies to mount their horses, I remember that, just before the visitors rode away, a tempting plate of ginger cakes was brought out and handed around to the visitors. This, I think, was the first time that I had ever seen any ginger cakes, and a very deep impression was made upon my childish mind. I remember I said to myself that if I ever could get to the point where I could eat ginger cakes as I saw those ladies eating them, the height of my ambition would be reached.
When I grew to be still larger and stronger the duty of going to the mill was intrusted to me; that is, a large sack containing three or four bushels of corn was thrown across the back of a horse and I would ride away to the mill, which was often three or four miles distant, wait at the mill until the corn was turned into meal, and then bring it home. More than once, while performing this service, the corn or meal got unevenly balanced on the back of the horse and fell off into the road, carrying me with it. This left me in a very awkward and unfortunate position. I, of course, was unable, with my small strength, to lift the corn or meal upon the horse's back, and therefore would have to wait, often for hours, until someone happened to be passing along the road strong enough to replace the burden for me.
My owner's name was Jones Burroughs, and I am quite sure he was above the average in the treatment of his slaves. That is, except in a few cases, they were not cruelly whipped. Although I was born a slave, I was too young to experience much of its hardships. The thing in connection with slavery that has left the deepest impression on me was the instance of seeing a grown man, my uncle, tied to a tree early one morning, stripped naked, and someone whipping him with a cowhide. As each blow touched his back the cry, "Pray, master! Pray, master!" came from his lips, and made an impression upon my boyish heart that I shall carry with me to my grave.
When I was still quite a child, I could hear the slaves in our "quarters" whispering in subdued tones that something unusual--the war--was about to take place, and that it meant their freedom. These whispered conferences continued, especially at night, until the war actually began.
While there was not a single slave on our plantation that could read a line, in some way we were kept informed of the progress of the war almost as accurately as the most intelligent person. The "grapevine" telegraph was in constant use. When Lee surrendered, all of the plantation people knew it, although all of them acted as if they were in ignorance of the fact that anything unusual had taken place.
Early one morning, just after the close of the war, word was sent around to the slave cabins that all the slaves must go to the "big house," the master's house; and in company with my mother and a large number of other slaves, including my sister Amanda and brother John, I went to the "big house," and stood by the side of my mother, and listened to the reading of some papers and a little speech made by the man who read the papers. This was the first public address I had ever heard, and I need not add that it was the most effective one to which it had ever been my privilege to listen. After the reading of the paper, and the speech, my mother leaned over and whispered, "Now, my children, we are free." This act was hailed with joy by all the slaves, but it threw a tremendous responsibility upon my mother, as well as upon the other slaves. A large portion of the former slaves hired themselves to their owners, while others sought new employment; but, before the beginning of the new life, most of the ex-slaves left the plantation for a few days at least, so as to get the "hang" of the new life, and to be sure that they were free. My mother's husband, my stepfather, had in some way wandered into West Virginia during the war, and had secured employment in the salt furnace near Malden, in Kanawha county. Soon after freedom was declared he sought out my mother and sent a wagon to bring her and her children to West Virginia. After many days of slow, tiresome traveling over the mountains, during which we suffered much, we finally reached Malden, and my mother and her husband were united after a long enforced separation.
The trip from Franklin county to Malden, West Virginia, was the first one that had taken me out of the county where I was born, and, of course, it was quite an event, especially to the children of the family, although the parting from the old homestead was to my mother a very serious affair. All of our household and other goods were packed into a small wagon drawn by two horses or mules. I cannot recall how many days it took us to make this trip, but it seems to me, as I recall it now, that we were at least ten days. Of course we had to sleep in the wagon, or what was more often true, on the ground. The children walked a great portion of the distance.
One night we camped near an abandoned log cabin, and my mother decided that, instead of cooking our frugal meal in the open air, as she had been accustomed to do on the trip, she would build a fire in this cabin and we should both cook and sleep in it during the night. When we had gotten the fire well started, to the consternation of all of us, a large and frightful looking snake came down the chimney. This, of course, did away with all idea of our sheltering ourselves in the cabin for the night, and we slept out in the open air, as we had done on previous occasions.
Since I have grown to manhood it has been my privilege to pass over much of the same road traveled on this first trip to West Virginia, but my recent journeys have been made in well-appointed steam cars. At the time I first traveled through that part of Virginia and West Virginia there was no railroad, and if there had been we did not have the money to pay our fare.
At the close of the war our family consisted of my mother, step-father, my brother John and sister Amanda. My brother John is director of the mechanical department of the Tuskegee Institute, and my sister, now Mrs. Amanda Johnson, lives in Malden, West Virginia. Soon after we moved to West Virginia my mother took into our family, notwithstanding our own poverty, a young orphan boy who has always remained a part of our family. We gave him the name of James B. Washington. He, now grown to manhood, holds an important position at the Tuskegee Institute.
While I have not had the privilege of returning to the old homestead in Franklin county, Virginia, since I left there as a child immediately after the war, I have kept up more or less correspondence with members of the Burroughs family, and they seem to take the deepest interest in the progress of our work at Tuskegee.
We began life in West Virginia in a little shanty, and lived in it for several years. My step-father soon obtained work for my brother John and myself in the salt furnaces and coal mines, and we worked alternately in them until about the year 1871. Soon after we reached West Virginia a school teacher, Mr. William Davis, came into the community, and the colored people induced him to open a school. My step-father was not able to spare me from work, so that I could attend this school, when it was first opened, and this proved a sore disappointment to me. I remember that soon after going to Malden, West Virginia, I saw a young colored man among a large number of colored people, reading a newspaper, and this fired my ambition to learn to read as nothing had done before. I said to myself, if I could ever reach the point where I could read as this man was doing, the acme of my ambition would be reached. Although I could not attend the school, I remember that, in some way, my mother secured a book for me, and although she could not read herself, she tried in every way possible to help me to do so.
Every barrel of salt that was packed in the mines was marked, and by watching the letters that were put on the salt barrels I soon learned to read. As time went on, after considerable persuasion on my part, my step-father consented to permit me to attend the public school half of the day, provided I would get up very early in the morning and perform as much work as possible before school time. This permission brought me great joy. By four o'clock in the morning I was up and at my work, which continued until nearly nine o'clock. The first day I entered school, it seems to me, was the happiest day that I have ever known. The first embarrassment I experienced at school was in the matter of finding a name for myself. I had always been called "Booker," and had not known that one had use for more than one name. Some of the slaves took the surnames of their owners, but after freedom there was a prejudice against doing this, and a large part of the colored people gave themselves new names. When the teacher called the roll, I noticed that be called each pupil by two names, that is a given name and a surname. When he came to me he asked for my full name, and I told him to put me down as "Booker Washington," and that name I have borne ever since. It is not every school boy who has the privilege of choosing his own name. In introducing me to an audience in Essex Hall, London, during my visit to Europe, in the summer of 1899, Honorable Joseph H. Choate, the American Ambassador, said that I was one of the few Americans that had had the opportunity of choosing his own name, and in exercising the rare privilege I had very naturally chosen the best name there was in the list.
My step-father seemed to be over careful that I should continue my work in the salt furnace until nine o'clock each day. This practice made me late at school, and often caused me to miss my lessons. To overcome this I resorted to a practice of which I am not now very proud, and it is one of the few things I did as a child of which I am now ashamed. There was a large clock in the salt furnace that kept the time for hundreds of workmen connected with the salt furnace and coal mine. But, as I found myself continually late at school, and after missing some of my lessons, I yielded to the temptation to move forward the hands on the dial of the clock so as to give enough time to permit me to get to school in time. This went on for several days, until the manager found the time so unreliable that the clock was locked up in a case.
It was in Malden that I first found out what a Sunday school meant. I remember that I was playing marbles one Sunday morning in the road with a number of other boys, and an old colored man passed by on his way to Sunday school. He spoke a little harshly to us about playing marbles on Sunday, and asked why we did not go to Sunday school. He explained in a few broken though plain words what a Sunday school meant and what benefit we would get from it by going. His words impressed me so that I put away my marbles and followed him to Sunday school, and thereafter was in regular attendance. I remember that, some years afterwards, I became one of the teachers in this Sunday school and finally became its superintendent.
No matter how dark the days or how discouraging the circumstances, there was never a time in my youth when the firm resolution to secure an education, at any cost, did not constantly remain with me. Next came the unpleasant coal mine experience.
My step-father was not able, however, to permit me to continue in school long, even for a half day at the time. I was soon taken out of school and put to work in the coal mine. As a child I recall now the fright which, going a long distance under the mountain into a dark and damp coal mine, gave me. It seemed to me that the distance from the opening of the mine to the place where I had to work was at least a mile and a half. Although I had to leave school I did not give up my search for knowledge. I took my book into the coal mine, and during the spare minutes I tried to read by the light of the little lamp which hung on my cap. Not long after I began to work in the mines my mother hired some one to teach me at night, but often, after walking a considerable distance for a night's lesson, I found that my teacher knew but little more than I did. This, however, was not the case with Mr. William Davis, my first teacher.
After working in the coal mine for some time, my mother secured a position for me as house boy in the family of General Lewis Ruffner. I went to live with this family with a good many fears and doubts. General Ruffner's wife, Mrs. Viola Ruffner, had the reputation of being very strict and hard to please, and most of the boys who had been employed by her had remained only a short time with her. After remaining with Mrs. Ruffner a while, I grew weary of her exact manner of having things done, and, without giving her any notice, I ran away and hired myself to a steamboat captain who was plying a boat between Malden and Cincinnati. Mrs. Ruffner was a New England woman, with all the New England ideas about order, cleanliness and truth. The boat captain hired me as a waiter, but before the boat had proceeded many miles towards Cincinnati he found that I knew too little about waiting on the table to be of any service, so he discharged me before I had been on his boat for many hours.
In some way, however, I persuaded him to take me to Cincinnati and return me to Malden. As soon as I returned home, I returned to Mrs. Ruffner, acknowledged my sins, and secured my old position again. After I had lived with Mrs. Ruffner for a while she permitted me to attend school for a few hours in the afternoons during three months, on the condition that I should work faithfully during the forenoon. She paid me, or rather my step-father, six dollars per month and board for my work. When I could not get the opportunity to attend school in the afternoon I resorted to my old habit of having some one teach me at night, although I had to walk a good distance after my work was done in order to do this.
While living with Mrs. Ruffner I got some very valuable experience in another direction, that of marketing and selling vegetables. Mrs. Ruffner was very fond of raising grapes and vegetables, and, although I was quite a boy, she entrusted me with the responsibility of selling a large portion of these products. I became very fond of this work. I remember that I used to go to the houses of the miners and prevail upon them to buy these things. I think at first Mrs. Ruffner doubted whether or not I would be honest in these transactions, but as time went on and she found the cash from these sales constantly increasing her confidence grew in me, and before I left her service she willingly trusted me with anything in her possession. I always made it a special point to return to her at the end of each campaign as a salesman every cent that I had received and to let her see how many vegetables or how much fruit was brought back unsold.
At one time I remember that, when I passed by an acquaintance of mine when I had a large basket of peaches for sale, he took the liberty of walking up to me and taking one of the ripest and most tempting peaches. Although he was a man and I was but a boy, I gave him to under- stand in the most forceful manner that I would not permit it. He seemed greatly surprised that I would not let him take one peach. He tried to explain to me that no one would miss it and that I would be none the worse off for his taking it. When he could not bring me to his way of thinking he tried to frighten me by force into yielding, but I had my way, and I am sure that this man respected me all the more for being honest with other people's property. I told him that if the peaches were mine I would gladly let him have one; but under no circumstances could I consent to let him take without a protest that which was entrusted to me by others. It happened very often that as I would pass through the streets with a large basket of grapes or other fruit, many of the larger boys tried by begging and then by force to dispossess me of a portion of what had been given me to sell, but I think there was no instance when I yielded. From my earliest childhood I have always had it implanted in me that it never pays to be dishonest, and that reward, at some time, in some manner, for the performance of conscientious duty, will always come, and in this I have never been disappointed.
I wish to add here that there are few instances of a member of my race betraying a specific trust. One of the best illustrations of this which I know of, is in the case of an ex-slave from Virginia, whom I met not long ago in a little town in the state of Ohio. I found that this man had made a contract with his master, two or three years previous to the Emancipation Proclamation, to the effect that the slave was to buy himself, by paying so much per year for his body; and while he was paying for himself, he was to be permitted to labor where and for whom he pleased. Finding that he could secure better wages in Ohio, he went there. When freedom came, he was still in debt to his master some three hundred dollars. Notwithstanding that the Emancipation Proclamation freed him from any obligation to his master, this black man walked the greater portion of the distance back to where his old master lived in Virginia, and placed the last dollar, with interest, in his hands. In talking to me about this, the man told me that he knew he did not have to pay the debt, but he had given his word to his master, and his word he had never broken. He felt that he could not enjoy his freedom till he had fulfilled his promise.
In all, I must have spent about four years in the employ of Mrs. Ruffner; and I here repeat what I have said more than once, that aside from the training I got at the Hampton Institute under General Armstrong, Mrs. Ruffner gave me the most valuable part of my education. Her habit of requiring everything about her to be clean, neat and orderly, gave me an education in these respects that has been most valuable to me in the work that I have since tried to accomplish. At first I thought that her idea of strict honesty and punctuality in everything meant unkindness, but I soon learned to understand her and she to understand me, and she has from the first time that I knew her until this day proven one of the best friends I ever possessed.
One day, while I was at work in the coal mine, I heard some men talking about a school in Virginia, where they said that black boys and girls were permitted to enter, and where poor students were given an opportunity of working for their board, if they had not money with which to pay for it. As soon as I heard of this institution, I made up my mind to go there. After I had lived with Mrs. Ruffner about four years I decided to go to the Hampton Institute, in Virginia, the school of which I had heard. I had no definite idea about where the Hampton Institute was, or how long the journey was. Some time before starting for Hampton, I remember, I joined the little Baptist church, in Malden, of which I am still a member.
Of my ancestry I know almost nothing. While in slave quarters, and even later, I heard whispered conversations among the colored people of the tortures which the slaves, including, no doubt, my ancestors on my mother's side, suffered in the middle passage of the slave ship while being conveyed from Africa to America. I have been unsuccessful in securing information that would throw any accurate light upon the history of my family beyond my mother. She, I remember, had a half-brother and a half-sister. In the days of slavery, not very much attention was given to family history and family records--that is, black family records. My mother, I suppose, attracted the attention of a purchaser who was afterward my owner and hers. Her addition to the slave family attracted about as much attention as the purchase of a new horse or cow. Of my father I know even less than of my mother. I only know that he was a white man, but whoever he was, I never heard of his taking the least interest in me, or providing in any way for my rearing. But I do not find especial fault with him. He was simply another unfortunate victim of the institution which the nation unhappily had engrafted upon it at that time.
After my mother and brother John had secured me a few extra garments, with what I could provide for myself, I started for Hampton, about the first of October, 1872. How long I was on this journey I have at this time no very definite idea. Part of the way I went by railroad, part in a stage, and part on foot. I remember that when I got as far as Richmond, Virginia, I was completely out of money, and knew not a single person in the city. Besides, I had never been in a city before. I think it was about nine o'clock at night that I reached Richmond. I was hungry, tired and dirty, and had no where to go. I wandered about the streets until about midnight, when I felt completely exhausted.
By chance I came to a street that had a plank sidewalk, and I crept under this sidewalk and spent the night. The next morning I felt very much rested, but was still quite hungry, as it had been some time since I had a good meal. When I awoke, I noticed some ships not far from where I had spent the night. I went to one of these vessels and asked the captain to permit me to work for him, so that I could earn some money to get some food. The captain very kindly gave me work, which was that of helping to unload pig iron from the vessel. In my rather weak and hungry condition I found this hard work, but I stuck to it, and was given enough money to buy a little food. My work seemed to have pleased the master of the vessel so much that he furnished me with work for several days, but I continued to sleep under the sidewalk each night, for I was anxious to save enough money to pay my passage to Hampton.
After working on this vessel for some days, I started again for Hampton, and arrived there in a day or two, with a surplus of fifty cents in my pocket. I did not let any one know how forlorn my condition was. I feared that if I did, I would be rejected as one that was altogether too unpromising. The first person I saw after reaching the Hampton Institute was Miss Mary F. Mackie, the Lady Principal. After she had asked me many searching questions, with a good deal of doubt and hesitation in her manner, I was assigned to a room. She remarked at the same time that it would be decided later whether I could be admitted as a student. I shall not soon forget the impression that the sight of a good, clean, comfortable room and bed made upon me, for I had not slept in a bed since I left my home in West Virginia. Within a few hours I presented myself again before Miss Mackie to hear my fate, but she still seemed to be undecided. Instead of telling me whether or not I could remain, I remember, she showed me a large recitation room and told me to sweep it. I felt at once that the sweeping of that room would decide my case. I knew I could sweep, for Mrs. Ruffner had taught me that art well. I think that I must have swept that room over as many as three times, and dusted it the same number of times. After awhile Miss Mackie came into the room and rubbed her handkerchief over the tables and benches to see if I had left any dust, but not a particle could she find. She remarked with a smile, "I guess we will try you as a student." At that moment I think I was the happiest individual that ever entered the Hampton Institute.
After I had been at the Hampton Institute a day or two I saw General Armstrong, the Principal, and he made the impression upon me of being the most perfect specimen of man, physically, mentally and spiritually, that I had ever seen; and I have never had occasion to change my first impression. In fact, as the years went by and as I came to know him better, the feeling grew. I have never seen a man in whom I had such confidence. It never occurred to me that it was possible for him to fail in anything that he undertook to accomplish. I have sometimes thought that the best part of my education at Hampton was obtained by being permitted to look upon General Armstrong day by day. He was a man who could not endure for a minute hypocrisy or want of truth in any one. This moral lesson he impressed upon every one who came in contact with him.
After I had succeeded in passing my "sweeping examination," I was assigned by Miss Mackie to the position of assistant janitor. This position, with the exception of working on the farm for awhile, I held during the time I was a student at Hampton. I took care of four or five class rooms; that is, I swept and dusted them and built the fires when needed. A great portion of the time I had to rise at four o'clock in the morning in order to do my work and find time to prepare my lessons.
Everything was very crude at Hampton when I first went there. There were about two hundred students. There was but one substantial building, together with some old government barracks. There were no table cloths on the meal tables, and that which was called tea or coffee was served to us in yellow bowls. Corn bread was our chief food. Once a week we got a taste of white bread.
While taking the regular literary and industrial courses at Hampton, next to my regular studies I was most fond of the debating societies, of which there were two or three. The first subject that I debated in public was whether or not the execution of Maj. Andre was justifiable. After I had been at Hampton a few months I helped to organize the "After Supper Club." I noticed that the students usually had about twenty minutes after tea when no special duty called them; so about twenty-five of us agreed to come together each evening and spend those twenty minutes in the discussion of some important subject. These meetings were a constant source of delight, and were most valuable in preparing us for public speaking.
While at Hampton my best friends did not know how badly off I was for clothing during a large part of the time, but I did not fret about that. I always had the feeling that if I could get knowledge in my head, the matter of clothing would take care of itself afterwards. At one time I was reduced to a single ragged pair of cheap socks. These socks I had to wash over night and put them on the next morning.
After I had remained at Hampton for two years I went back to West Virginia to spend my four months of vacation. Soon after my return to Malden my mother, who was never strong, died. I do not remember how old I was at this time, but I do remember that it was during my vacation from Hampton. I had been without work for some time, and had been off several miles looking for work. On returning home at night I was very tired, and stopped in the boiler-room of one of the engines used to pump salt water into the salt furnace near my home. I was so tired that I soon fell asleep. About two or three o'clock in the morning some one, my brother John, I think, found me and told me that our mother was dead. It has always been a source of indescribable pain to me that I was not present when she passed away, but the lessons of truth, honor and thrift which she implanted in me while she lived have remained with me, and I consider them among my most precious possessions. She seemed never to tire of planning ways for me and the other children to get an education and to make true men and women of us, although she herself was without education. This was the severest trial I had ever experienced, because she always sympathized with me deeply in every effort that I made to get on in the world. My sister Amanda was too young to know how to take care of the house, and my step-father was too poor to hire anyone. Sometimes we had food cooked for our meals and sometimes we did not. During the whole of the summer, after the death of my mother, I do not think there was a time when the whole family sat down to a meal together. By working for Mrs. Ruffner and others, and by the aid of my brother John, I obtained money enough to return to Hampton in the fall, and graduated in the regular course in the summer of 1875.
Aside from Gen. Armstrong, Gen. Marshall and Miss Mackie, the persons who made the deepest impression upon me at Hampton were Miss Nathalie Lord and Miss Elizabeth Brewer, two teachers from New England. I am especially indebted to these two for being helped in my spiritual life and led to love and understand the Bible. Largely by reason of their teaching, I find that a day rarely, if ever, passes when I am at home, that I do not read the Bible. Miss Lord was the teacher of reading, and she kindly consented to give me many extra lessons in elocution. These lessons I have since found most valuable to me.
Life at Hampton was a constant revelation to me, it was constantly taking me into a new world. The matter of having meals at regular hours, of eating on a tablecloth, using a napkin, the use of the bath-tub and of the tooth-brush, as well as the use of sheets upon the bed, were all now to me.
I sometimes feel that the most valuable lesson I learned at the Hampton Institute was the use of the bath. I learned there for the first time some of its value, not only in keeping the body healthy, but in inspiring self-respect and promoting virtue. In all my travels in the South and elsewhere, since leaving Hampton, I have always in some way sought my daily bath. To get it sometimes when I have been the guest of my own people in a single-roomed cabin has not always been easy to do, except by slipping away to some stream in the woods. I have always tried to teach my people that some pro- vision for bathing should be a part of every house.
After finishing the course at Hampton, I went to Saratoga Springs, in New York, and was a waiter during the summer at the United States Hotel, the same hotel at which I have several times since been a guest upon the invitation of friends.
In the fall of 1875 I returned to Malden and was elected as the teacher in the school at Malden, the first school that I ever attended. I taught this school for three years. The thing that I recall most pleasantly in connection with my teaching was the fact that I induced several of my pupils to go to Hampton and that most of them have become strong and useful men. One of them, Dr. Samuel E. Courtney, is now a successful physician in Boston and has been a member of the Boston Board of Education. While teaching I insisted that each pupil should come to school clean, should have his or her hands and face washed and hair combed, and should keep the buttons on his or her clothing.
I not only taught school in the day, but for a great portion of the time taught night school. In addition to this I had two Sunday schools, one at a place called Snow Hill, about two miles from Malden, in the morning, and another in Malden in the afternoon. The average attendance in my day school, was, I think, between eighty and ninety. As I had no assistant teacher it was a very difficult task to keep all the pupils interested and to see that they made progress in their studies. I had few unpleasant experiences, however, in connection with my teaching. Most of the parents, notwithstanding the fact that they and many of the children knew me as a boy, seemed to have the greatest confidence in me and respect for me, and did everything in their power to make the work pleasant and agreeable.
One thing that gave me a great deal of satisfaction and pleasure in teaching this school was the conducting of a debating society which met weekly and was largely attended both by the young and older people. It was in this debating society and the societies of a similar character at Hampton that I began to cultivate whatever talent I may have for public speaking. While in Malden, our debating society would very often arrange for debates with other similar organizations in Charleston and elsewhere.
Soon after I began teaching, I resolved to induce my brother John to attend the Hampton Institute. He had been good enough to work for the family while I was being educated, and besides had helped me in all the ways he could, by working in the coal mines while I had been away. Within a few months he started for Hampton and by his own efforts and my aid he went through the institution. After both of us had gotten through Hampton we sent our adopted brother James there, and had the satisfaction of having him educated under Gen. Armstrong.
In 1878 I went to Wayland Seminary, in Washington, and spent a year in study there. Rev. G. M. P. King, D. D., was President of the Wayland Seminary while I was a student there. Notwithstanding I was there but a short time, the high Christian character of Dr. King made a lasting impression upon me. The deep religious spirit which pervaded the atmosphere at Wayland made an impression upon me which I trust will always remain.
Soon after my year at Wayland was completed, I was invited by a committee of gentlemen in Charleston, West Virginia, to stump the state of West Virginia in the interest of having the capital of the state moved from Wheeling, West Virginia, to Charleston. For some time there had been quite an agitation in the state on the question of the permanent location of the capital. A law was passed by the legislature providing that three cities might be voted for; these were, I think, Charleston, Parkersburg and Martinsburg. It was a three-cornered contest and great energy was shown by each city. After about three months of campaigning the voters declared in favor of Charleston as the permanent capital, by a large majority. I went into a large number of the counties of West Virginia, and had the satisfaction of feeling that my efforts counted for something in winning success for Charleston, which is only five miles from my old home, Malden.
The speaking in connection with the removal of the capital rather fired the slumbering ambition which I had had for some time to become a lawyer, and after this campaign was over I began in earnest to study law, in fact read Blackstone and several elementary law books preparatory to the profession of the law. A good deal of my reading of the law was done under the kind direction of the Hon. Romes H. Freer, a white man who was then a prosperous lawyer in Charleston and who has since become a member of Congress. But notwithstanding my ambition to become a lawyer, I always had an unexplainable feeling that I was to do something else, and that I never would have the opportunity to practice law. As I analyze at the present time the feeling that seemed to possess me then, I was impressed with the idea that to confine myself to the practice of law would be going contrary to my teaching at Hampton, and would limit me to a much smaller sphere of usefulness than was open to me if I followed the work of educating my people after the manner in which I had been taught at Hampton. The course of events, however, very soon placed me where I found an opportunity to begin my life's work.
My work in connection with the removal of the capital had not been completed long when I received an invitation from Gen. Armstrong, much to my surprise, to return to Hampton and deliver the graduates' address at the next commencement. I chose as the subject of this address, "The Force that Wins." All who heard the address seemed pleased with what I said. After the address I was further surprised by being asked by Gen. Armstrong to return to the Hampton Institute and take a position, partly as a teacher and partly as a post-graduate student. This I gladly consented to do. Gen. Armstrong had decided to start a night class at Hampton for students who wanted to work all day and study for two hours at night. He asked me to organize and teach this class. At first there were only about a half dozen students, but the number soon grew to about thirty. The night class at Hampton has since grown to the point where it now numbers six or seven hundred. It seems to me that the teaching of this class was almost the most satisfactory work I ever did. The students who composed the class worked during the day for ten hours in the saw mill, on the farm, or in the laundry. They were a most earnest set. I soon gave them the name of the "Plucky Class." Several of the members of this "Plucky Class" now fill prominent and useful positions. While I was teaching I was given lessons in advanced subjects, among those who assisted me in that way being Dr. H. B. Frissell, who was then chaplain, but who is now the honored and successful successor of Gen. Armstrong.
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