Washington wanted his students not just to learn agricultural and domestic work but also to learn how to erect their own buildings. He wanted them to find dignity and beauty in their labor as well as innovate new ways to engage in industry more effectively. Some people were opposed to having students build the school buildings because of their lack of expertise, but Washington insisted. He believed that students would learn self-reliance through the process, which in his perspective is the most valuable lesson that one can learn. Washington also felt that by requiring students to build their own buildings, they would feel a degree of ownership that they could not experience in poverty. Tuskegee ended up erecting four buildings with student labor, which, according to Washington, created a skilled labor force that spread throughout the South.
The ideas of self-help and self-reliance through labor are largely drawn from mid-19th century American Transcendentalist writers such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Washington is echoing these writers’ ideals that the ultimate path to freedom and self-worth is finding self-reliance through labor. Washington is aligning himself and his educational ideology within this New England-based philosophy.
One of the most difficult experiences of building the school was the process of brickmaking. There was no brickyard in town, so the school was forced to try to make its own bricks. The work was difficult and dirty, and it often ended in failure if the kiln was too hot or improperly constructed. Some students even left the school because the process was too dirty and difficult. Washington tried three separate times to make bricks, and each time he failed. He was ready to give up because he was exhausted and had no money. However, he decided to try one more time and pawned a watch to get enough money to build another kiln. On the fourth try he found success in brickmaking. Washington credits his perseverance and hard labor in the process, and at the time of his writing, brick making has become a prominent industry at Tuskegee.
This is another example of the “problem-struggle-solution.”The school’s problem was that it did not have enough money to purchase bricks for the construction of the new building. Washington struggled to create the bricks himself, failing three times and almost giving up. However, Washington persevered and found a solution, which resulted in Tuskegee becoming one of the largest brick providers in the region. Washington is trying to illustrate that hard work can overcome any obstacle. Thus bricks and brickmaking come to encapsulate Washington’s general ideology of labor and merit. Washington is also alluding to the biblical story of the Israelites enslaved in Egypt who were forced by the Pharaoh to make bricks without straw as a punishment for the prophet Moses’s rebellion. Since straw is a key component of brickmaking—it helps to hold the shape of the bricks—this task was difficult and oppressive. Washington, by alluding to this biblical passage, suggests that the task of brickmaking at Tuskegee was even more difficult than the oppressive and almost impossible task of making bricks without straw.
Washington says that this process of brickmaking taught him an important lesson about race relations. Many white people who did not know about the school traveled to Tuskegee to buy their bricks. This economic contribution caused many white Tuskegee residents to feel that the education of black Americans was useful for society, which was the opposite of their original expectation. Furthermore, students who learned brickmaking at Tuskegee almost always were able to contribute to their communities at home. Washington believes that the merit of the brickmaking at Tuskegee erased some racial prejudice and animosity, and that regardless of race, a man’s merit defines his true value to society.
Washington believes that the quality of Tuskegee’s brickmaking demonstrates the industrial merit of the school, and thus helps to improve race relations in the area by demonstrating black excellence. Washington does not seem to consider that those purchasing Tuskegee’s bricks may simply be using the Institute for its resources without changing their racist ideas or support of racist systems.
Washington continues, saying that Tuskegee’s wagon-making industry has had a similar effect to brickmaking. These types of industries proved invaluable to white citizens, which ultimately proved the worth of black citizens, in Washington’s eyes. Washington claims that any man, regardless of race, will find success if he makes himself useful to his community. Book learning, like Greek and Latin, are not useful to Washington; rather, brickmaking and wagon-making are industries that are practical and useful, and thus valuable to the uplift of black Americans.
Once again, Washington believes that the quality of Tuskegee’s products helps to overcome racial inequality, which may or may not be actually true. Washington also takes another opportunity to disparage “book learning” as not “useful” to society or individuals—because he finds no use in it himself.
Around the time that they were finding success in brickmaking, Tuskegee was facing more opposition from students and parents regarding the requirement of students to labor. Parents would protest in person or through letters, requesting that Washington instead require Greek and Latin teaching. Washington pokes fun at these parents, claiming that they just wanted their students to read books with long titles. Washington always resisted such opposition from parents, and at every opportunity he would travel to try to demonstrate the value of industrial education. Despite the opposition, Tuskegee continued to grow in numbers.
Washington repeats some of his same criticisms of black parents and students who were wary of an education that heavily depended upon labor. He again seems to ignore the racial history of labor practices in the United States, and denies the value of “book learning.”
In the summer of 1882, Washington and Davidson traveled North on a fundraising trip. Washington initially encountered resistance from an officer from a missionary organization who denied Washington any funds and told him to turn around and go home. Washington continued on his journey, and despite his initial setback, was able to raise enough money so that on Thanksgiving Day of that year, they were able to hold a service in a new chapel in Tuskegee.
Here is yet another “Problem-Struggle-Solution”:Washington encountered a problem with the resistance of the officer of the missionary organization, but he continued to struggle in the North to fundraise. This problem was solved as Washington’s perseverance secured enough funds to build a new chapel in Tuskegee.
Washington asked a white minister from Montgomery to deliver the Thanksgiving service, and most of the students and black citizens crowded the new chapel in amazement and pride. This convinced the white minister, Mr. Robert C. Bedford, to become a trustee of the school. Washington deeply admired Bedford in his willingness to serve at all times, regardless of personal comfort and pride. During this time, Mr. Warren Logan, a black man and the school’s future treasurer, came from Hampton to Tuskegee. Washington credits much of the school’s financial success to Mr. Logan.
By pointing out that the minister was white and that the treasurer was black, Washington is attempting to show that the merit of Tuskegee attracts donors and trustees of all races. He once again wants to show that proven merit erases all racial prejudice.
As soon as the part of the new building was completed, Washington decided to open up a boarding department. The school did not have many resources, and it did not even have a kitchen. They were able to build a kitchen by digging out the basement of the building to create a space to cook, prepare, and eat food. Although the space was small and uncomfortable, Washington says that it was functional.
The following passages concerning the construction of the new school building are an extended version of the problem-struggle-solution paradigm. The problem is twofold, both a lack of resources and a lack of specialized skills in the students.
The largest problem that the boarding department had, however, was the lack of furniture. The school did not have any money with which to purchase furniture and food. Some merchants allowed them to take food on credit, and they used carpenter’s benches as tables. Also, the staff of the boarding department did not think that meals needed to be served at regular hours, so everything seemed off schedule and disjointed. There were also problems at every meal since the cooks were very inexperienced. The students were furious, and Washington was ashamed that he could not provide basic necessities for his students.
Regardless of the lack of resources and skills, the students still struggled to create a proper and comfortable environment. However, the students failed often and had to go without the comforts and necessities of furniture and regular meals.
However, through “patience and hard work,” they were able to solve the problems of the boarding department at the school. Washington reflects upon this time at the school, and he feels glad that they went through such a struggle, as they are better off because of it. He says that if they would have started off with a fine dining room, the school may have become “stuck up.” Washington claims that though students now see meals that are delivered in an orderly fashion in a nice dining room, they are also glad that they started where they did. Washington deeply values the growth evident in this transformation.
The “solution,” as is typical in the narrative, is hard work and perseverance. Washington, despite his earlier shame in his inability to provide basic necessities for his students, thinks that students were better off for going through the struggle of having nothing. This type of struggle and solution reflects Washington’s racial ideology as well, for he feels that black Americans need to struggle and deal with hardship before they are able to find success and ownership in society.