Soon after the opening of the boarding department of Tuskegee, there were a great number of applicants who were “worthy” in Washington’s eyes but could not pay tuition. To solve this problem, Washington opened a night school much like the one that he helped to run in Hampton. The only students of the night school were those too poor to pay for the day school, and they were required to work ten hours a day and study for two hours at night. They were paid slightly above the costs of room and board, with the expectation that the extra money would go toward paying tuition for the day school after they graduated from the night school. At the time of Washington’s writing, the night school has grown to have over four hundred pupils.
Washington felt that night school was an excellent way to test the grit and merit of poorer students, so it is no surprise that he continued the institution at Tuskegee. Washington enjoyed watching the night school students’ progress, and he felt that they had a superior work ethic to some students in the day school.
Washington believes that the night school model is an excellent test of character for students pursuing education. The hard labor and long days were exhausting, so students who were able to survive the night school proved to Washington their true desire for an education and their willingness to labor. After students graduated the night school, they enrolled in the day school. The day school required four days of academic study and two days of trade study per week, with three months of industrial study during the summer. No students of either the day or night school were able to graduate without engaging in manual labor.
The institution of the night school also plays into Washington’s class ideology, that the rich were rich because of their virtue and the poor were poor because of their vice. While this ideology is certainly not explicitly stated, Washington implies it through his constant praise for the rich and his rather constant criticism of the moral fortitude of the poor. Washington believed that the poor students had more to prove and thus had to pass through the test of the grueling trade of the night school.
Tuskegee also valued religious development in its curriculum. The school was non-denominational but actively Christian in its practice, training, and ideology.
In keeping with his Christian beliefs and ideals, Washington felt that spiritual training was an important part of a well-rounded education.
In 1885, Washington married Olivia Davidson, whose hard work in fundraising and teaching was foundational in establishing the Institute. During their marriage, Davidson continued her efforts at the school and divided her time between the home and the Institute. She even continued her fundraising trips to the North. She birthed two sons, Baker Taliaferro and Ernest Davidson, before she died in 1889. Washington attributes her death to exhaustion from her hard work and continuous labor for the school.
As discussed before, Washington idealized Davidson and her work ethic, and he uncritically suggests that she even worked herself to death. This passage is perhaps one of the most explicit passages concerning Washington’s romanticization of those whom he admires, and of the ideal of constant labor.
Washington says that he is often asked how he began public speaking, and he claims that he never sought out a career as a speaker but that he was called by his duty to speak in front of people regularly. His first notable public speaking engagement was with General Armstrong for the National Education Association (NEA), which he claims is the beginning of his official career as a public speaker. Although his address to the NEA took place in the North, in Wisconsin, Washington refused to abuse the South in his speech about the status of black education in the South. Because of the “fairness” of his “general position” on race relations, Southerners and Northerners alike were delighted by his speech, and he became known for his perceived fairness in discussing American race relations.
Washington’s caution to not criticize the South to Northern audiences earned him great respect among Southern whites. Many Southern whites at the time felt victimized by the North because of the Federal military occupation during Reconstruction and the largely Northern controlled Federal government. Washington’s allegiance to the South, despite the South’s abysmal record on race relations, helped him to become popular among most Southern whites and some Southern blacks.
Washington explains that his views on race relations come from his desire to call Tuskegee his home. He felt that if he were truly to become a Southerner, he needed to take pride in the same things that a white man would take pride in, and discourage actions that a white man would discourage. Washington decided that he would not say anything in the North that he would not say in the South. He believes that it is hard to convert people to his educational philosophy by being harsh towards them, and it is much more effective to praise their positive beliefs and behaviors.
Washington highly valued locality and community. He believed that everything in life, including education, social relationships, and economics depended upon healthy local relationships. Therefore Washington foregrounded concerns of the local over concerns of the racial. He felt that if he was going to find true equality, it was going to be through the establishment of strong community relationships.
Washington is quick to point out that this policy does not prevent him from calling out racial injustice in the South when he sees it. Rather, he feels that the North is not a proper context to criticize the South, and that he should only engage in such criticism when he is speaking in the South.
Again, Washington appeals to his allegiance to the South to defend its lack of criticism in his speeches.
Washington’s address to the NEA in Madison consisted of appeals to black Americans to seek to improve and better their immediate communities, not to seek approval from those thousands of miles away in the North. He used Tuskegee as an example of such practice, citing an instance in which the Institute was able to figure out a way to multiply a sweet potato crop by five times per acre and teach that method to the surrounding community. White men in the surrounding areas were extremely grateful for this contribution. Washington doesn’t think that black Americans should only be engaged in farming practices, however, but believes that the labor in being economically useful in the present will allow generations in the future to progress to greater things. Washington says that since this initial address, he has had no reason to change his perspective on race relations.
Washington is once again reiterating the importance of the local and of small communities. He is denying the presence of any national concerns of race, and he feels that most racial strife can be solved if it is treated in its individual and local contexts.
Washington says that in his early life, he used to feel bitterness to those who tried to suppress the political and economic progress of black Americans. Now, however, he says that he simply feels pity for those trying to stop the progress of others, because these people are on the wrong side of history and are acting out of their own lack of opportunity.
Washington’s speech to the NEA gained him some degree of fame in the North, but Washington was eager to speak in front of a white Southern audience. He was given the opportunity to give an address to an international meeting of Christian Workers in Atlanta, and since the time allotted for his speech was only five minutes, Washington was unsure of whether to accept the invitation. But because the audience would consist of a rare mix of many influential white Southerners as well as a large portion of Northerners, Washington decided to accept the offer. Washington’s speech was received well, and he felt that he had accomplished his goal of speaking in front of an influential white Southern audience.
Washington was eager to speak in front of a mixed crowd of Southerners and Northerners, because he deeply believed that his ideas of uplift through meritocracy would have universal appeal regardless of region, class, or race. Thus even though Washington would have to travel a great deal just to speak for five minutes, he felt that this opportunity was invaluable for testing out his social and educational ideology.
Because of his speech in Atlanta, requests for speaking engagements began to pour in. Washington took as many of these engagements that he could with his duties at Tuskegee. Washington’s aim in taking these engagements was to promote his belief in industrial education for black Americans and to raise money for Tuskegee.
Washington wants to make it clear that he had no selfish ambition in beginning a speaking career. He claims that all of his engagements were directed toward the betterment of Tuskegee or of black people more generally.
One of these speaking engagements, delivered to the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition, garnered Washington national fame and attention. In 1895 Washington received a telegram requesting that he accompany a delegation to meet with Congress in order to get support for the Exposition. Washington agreed, and delivered a speech to Congress claiming that the Atlanta Exposition could be used to encourage the intellectual and material growth of both races, and as a result ameliorate some racial tensions in the South. Washington told Congress that no political agitation could accomplish equality for black Americans, and that the virtues of property ownership, economy, and industrial skill promoted in the Exposition would be the true means of uplift. Washington’s speech was well received, and Congress passed a bill to support the Exposition.
In his speech to Congress, Washington essentially summarized the ideals that he would present later in the Exposition address. Washington thought that the mixed-race and mixed-regional company of the Exposition would provide a chance for his racial and educational ideology to spread.
After the trip to Congress, the leaders of the Atlanta Exposition decided that there should be a building designed and built by black architects and builders to house a black exhibit that would highlight the progress of the race at the Exposition. Both the building and the exhibit were of high quality, and Washington says that those who enjoyed the exhibit at the Exposition the most were Southern whites.
Once again Washington tries to show the value and good character of Southern whites, and to demonstrate that they are truly interested in the rights and well being of black Americans. While some white Southerners, and Northerners as well, may have fit this characterization, Southern and Northern societies continued to legally, politically, and socially oppress black Americans openly for decades.
The leaders of the Exposition also suggested that a black leader should be selected to give one of the opening addresses of the Exposition as a sign of good faith, and they selected Washington. Washington felt a great deal of responsibility, since a few decades before he could have been a slave of many of the attendees to the convention. He felt that he needed to showcase the progress of the race, especially since this was the first time that a black leader was invited to speak on the same platform as prominent white Southern leaders to a crowd of largely affluent white Southerners. Washington knew that the content of his speech had to be very carefully selected, since he needed to be true to his beliefs but also not upset fragile racial relations and ruin the chance of another black man receiving the same invitation to speak in the future.
Washington certainly felt the tension of Southern racial relations at the turn of the century. If Washington would have engaged in “inflammatory” rhetoric calling for the immediate political and social equality of black Americans, he would have been removed from the stage, and violence would have been likely. If he had called for the outright submission of black Americans to white Americans, he would be labeled a traitor to his race. Washington had to balance an extremely precarious situation of opposing ideologies as he formed his speech, thus winning many supporters but also accumulating many detractors.
The newspapers before the speech intensified the atmosphere of tension, highlighting the high stakes of Washington’s speech. Some Southern newspapers were even hostile to the idea of a black man speaking at the Exposition. Because of this tension, Washington was very nervous before the speech, and he prepared vigorously. His third wife, Margaret, helped him to edit his speech, and he even delivered it to Tuskegee teachers and students in order to get feedback and comments. This practice helped ease some of the tension, as the speech was well received by the students and staff.
This is the only time in which Margaret Washington is called by her first name in the narrative. Throughout the rest of the book, she is only called “Mrs. Washington,” and appears as an aide and companion to Washington himself. The social and political rights of women do not seem to have been very important to Washington’s ideology, as he once again takes a traditional, conservative viewpoint on the issue.
After much practice and revision, Washington, Mrs. Washington, and Washington’s three children set out on September 17th, 1895 to Atlanta for the Exposition. Washington was very nervous, and along the journey, many people recognized Washington and discussed the high stakes of his speech. Upon arrival in Atlanta, he was greeted by a committee for the Exposition. The city was teeming with people for the Exposition, and the atmosphere was highly charged because of the gossip circulating about his speech as well as the inflammatory newspaper coverage. These pressures heightened Washington’s nerves, and he did not sleep at all the night before his speech.
Washington is once more emphasizing the high stakes of his speech, building up to the speech itself. Washington’s description of his nervousness serves to humanize him more, though, in contrast to his usual narrative of constant labor and subsequent success.
On the day before his speech, Washington continued to prepare and prayed to God to bless the content and delivery of his speech. Washington explains that his preparation for a speech is only focused on the needs of the audience. He does not care about how his words will be construed in the newspapers or their political consequences, for he is only concerned about his audience and its reception of his speeches.
This type of speech preparation fits with Washington’s dependence upon community. Washington is relatively uninterested in political or social repercussions, for he is primarily interested in the reaction and reception of those immediately in front of him. His ideology of the importance of the local even transfers into his speech preparation.
On the morning of his speech, Washington was escorted to the Exposition grounds, and he was overwhelmed by the amount of people both inside and outside of the Exposition. There were so many people that thousands were waiting outside of the gates, unable to get in. Washington felt like he was going to collapse due to nerves and the heat.
Washington continues to build suspense, emphasizing the high stakes of the event before he actually describes the speech itself.
When Washington entered the room on the stage, he was met by loud cheers from black audience members and faint ones from white audience members. He was told that some white audience members were in attendance simply out of curiosity, and many thought that he would make a fool of himself. One of the trustees from Tuskegee that Washington brought along with him was so nervous that he refused to go into the venue, and he remained outside, pacing back and forth nervously until the opening ceremonies were over.
The racial stakes of Washington’s speech are embodied in the audience’s immediate reaction to his presence. He highlights the pressure from white society by mentioning that some white audience members were only there to see him fail. He was determined that his ideas and his merit would prove these types of audience members wrong. This perspective, however, is problematic if applied more generally (which seems to be Washington’s goal): if black Americans are supposed to be especially excellent to prove racist white people wrong, that puts all the responsibility on the victims of prejudice, not on those acting upon prejudice. It is assumed that all black Americans will be judged as representatives of their entire race, for good or for ill, and Washington makes no attempt to actually address the white Americans who make such judgments.