A little bit after the early struggles of the Institute, some of Washington’s mentors, including General Marshall, Miss Mackie, and even General Armstrong himself visited the Institute. By this time the school had become more established and organized, and there were many more students and instructors. All of the visitors were impressed and pleased at the quick progress of the school.
A large part of the education at Tuskegee was designed to serve as a model for visitors and the surrounding areas. Washington paid special attention to appearance and manner so that the school would always look presentable to whoever was visiting or inspecting it.
Washington describes how General Armstrong interacted with the Southern white men with deep compassion and care, which Washington did not expect, since the General fought against the South in the war. According to Washington, Armstrong reacted to all men with love, regardless of color or region. In fact, Washington suggests that Armstrong was as compassionate towards Southern white men as he was to black Americans.
Washington is romanticizing Armstrong here, much in the same way that he romanticized Miss Davidson. While he idealizes Miss Davidson’s work ethic, with Armstrong he idealizes love, compassion, and strength of character.
Washington takes General Armstrong’s behavior as a lesson that all great men are men who primarily express love toward their fellow man. To Washington, hate is a sign of inner weakness, and he says that because of Armstrong’s example, he would let no man degrade him by making him hate that man. As a result, Washington is as willing and ready to help white Southern men as is he ready to serve black men. He pities anyone who holds hatred in his or her heart, especially race prejudice.
This passage connects to Washington’s story about Frederick Douglass refusing to be degraded by sitting in the luggage car of a train. Washington reiterates his belief that racism and racial prejudice hurt white people more than black people.
Washington believes that any white man who engages in race prejudice, such blocking black men from voting, is doing a greater disservice to himself than to the black men, because he is practicing dishonesty and hatred that will affect other parts of his life. To Washington, hatred is a disease that will spread if it is not eradicated. Washington also claims that General Armstrong’s idea of the importance of an industrial education was spreading across the South, and many white educational institutions were adopting his ideals after seeing their success.
Washington continues to espouse the idea that racism is more hurtful to white people than black people. As usual, he perceives everything through the lens of individual responsibility and growth, along with the Christian worldview of embracing hardship in this life to ensure greater rewards in the next.
Students were still pouring into Tuskegee in hope of an education during this time, and the school had a difficult time accommodating them without any money or resources. The boarding department was able to rent a few cabins nearby, but the cabins were in such poor shape that students suffered greatly from the cold in the winter. Despite charging for board and tuition, the school could not make a profit off of the small earnings from students and thus could not provide them with basic comforts like a bed, bed sheets, or proper clothes. Washington was deeply disturbed by this, and often he would lose sleep thinking of the students’ discomfort. However, despite the dismal conditions, very few of the students complained. In fact, Washington says that the students were more concerned about alleviating the teachers’ discomforts and burdens than their own.
This passage can be a bit confusing in comparison to other of Washington’s commentaries about his students. He seems to divide his students into only two types. The first type is lazy, backward, and simply wants to get an education to avoid labor. The second type of student is hard-working, thrifty, selfless, and deeply compassionate. The latter is represented in this passage.
According to Washington, some people in the South believe that black Americans will not obey or respect one another if another black American is in charge of them. Washington believes that this is a fiction, as he has never been disrespected by any student or faculty member. In fact, the only discomfort he felt was that of embarrassment when students would serve him with random acts of kindness, such as students coming to his side with an umbrella when it was raining or carrying his books for him.
Washington continues to describe students of the generous and compassionate type, as discussed above.
Washington likewise never felt disrespected by any Southern white man. He describes a trip to Dallas in which at every stop on the train, white people would come onto the train just to introduce themselves and thank Washington for the work that he was doing for the South. Washington tells another story of when he was asked to sit with two Northern white women on a train full of Southern white men. Washington felt conflicted, as this was a cultural taboo in the South, but he felt that he must sit with the women. Rather than being greeted with rudeness, insult, or violence, he was greeted with good tidings and thankfulness from the men aware of his work in the South.
As already seen in the narrative so far, Washington is very hesitant to criticize any white Americans. He believes that criticism of white Americans usually only inflames racial tension, so he is slow to point out racial problems with white Southerners in particular and very quick to praise positive behavior. While this ensured that Washington was rarely in the midst of racial tension, it also ignored clearly present issues of racial subjugation in the South, and put the responsibility for overcoming racism on black people, not the white people actually perpetuating and benefiting from a racist society.
Washington goes on to claim that Tuskegee is not his institution, but rather it is an institution run for and by the students. He only wishes to be seen as a friend and adviser. He would regularly ask students for complaints and suggestions so that he could change the school to fit their needs, and he often would meet with students one-on-one to check in about their wellbeing. Washington feels that this is the true way to engage in leadership, and that many employer-employee troubles such as labor strikes or disputes could be solved if the employer interacted with his employees in the same way that Washington interacts with his students.
Washington again focuses on the type of student who is hard working and earnest in academic and industrial pursuits. He feels that his leadership style with these students is not only applicable to education, but it is also applicable to the public and economic spheres.
The issue with the lack of beds and bed frames was one that, despite the students’ patience, needed to be solved. Students would have to make their own bed frames, and since they did not have great carpentry skills, the frames would often fall apart in the middle of the night. The mattresses were made of sacks stuffed with pine needles, because the school did not have the funds to purchase proper mattresses. However, at the time of Washington’s writing, Tuskegee has developed a robust mattress-making industry that provides all of the Institute’s mattresses.
This is another “Problem-Struggle-Solution”:Washington continues to describe the problems he had furnishing the Institute. The students struggled together to make suitable bed frames and mattresses, but they often failed. However, after hard work and perseverance, the school was able to perfect its mattress making industry and provide proper accommodations for the students.
Similarly, the Institute began with students making chairs and tables for the classrooms, but they had little ability to craft strong furniture. By the time of the narrative, the students have strengthened their skills, and each room is fully furnished with well-made pieces.
This problem-struggle-solution paradigm carries the same construction as the example of the mattresses.
Although the school rarely had the resources it needed, Washington was adamant that the students value cleanliness. He particularly valued the toothbrush, which he felt was one of the most important tools for success. After hearing about how much Washington valued the toothbrush, many students would show up at the school with nothing but a toothbrush. Washington sees the toothbrush as a “civilizing” instrument because it demonstrates a daily concern for bodily hygiene. Students were likewise required to bathe regularly and sleep between two sheets. Washington also believed that appearance was extremely important, and students were required to keep their clothes in good condition with all of the buttons, no rips, and no grease spots.
Washington applied his promotion of the toothbrush during his time in Malden and Hampton to Tuskegee. Washington felt that the toothbrush was extremely important to “civilize” students and impress upon them the importance of hygiene. This type of policy fits into Washington’s emphasis on appearance and promotion of “respectability” politics.