In 1893, Washington was married to Miss Margaret James Murray, who had come years before to serve as a teacher at the school, and at the time of their marriage was serving as a principal. Along with her duties helping Washington, Mrs. Washington also ran a mothers’ meeting in Tuskegee, helped with field work at one of Tuskegee’s nearby properties, and ran a women’s club at the school.
Like his other wives, Washington describes his marriage to Margaret only in relation to his work at the Institute. This reiterates his narrative that hard work and labor are the most important means of uplift, and that his family life is secondary to his work life.
Portia, Washington’s oldest daughter, engages in dressmaking as well as music studies. At the time of Washington’s writing, she is serving as a teacher at Tuskegee in conjunction to her studies. Baker Taliaferro, Washington’s second oldest child, mastered brickmaking at a young age and deeply enjoyed working in trades. He enjoyed his trade work so much that when Washington required him to work a half of a day at a trade every summer, Baker requested that he have permission to spend the whole day on his trade. Washington’s youngest child, Ernest Davidson, aspires to be a doctor and spends a good portion of his time at the local doctor’s office.
Washington’s description of his children here is significant because it highlights their industrial accomplishments rather than any personal information about them. His interaction with them, and his valuation of their skill, seems to be rooted only in their industrial abilities. It seems that Washington’s political ideology even colors his perceptions of home life and intimate familial relationships.
Washington’s greatest regret in his work was that it often kept him away from his family. His family provided him pleasure and respite from the large crowds and public appearances. He likewise gained great pleasure from talking to students and teachers and seeing the immense progression of the Tuskegee Institute.
Again Washington explains, as he did in the previous chapter, that his family is one of the only things that provides him with rest and relaxation from his constant work.
In 1899, Washington claims that he received one of the greatest surprises of his life when he attended a meeting in Boston. Attendees of the meeting noticed that Washington seemed quite tired, and they surprised him and his wife with an all expenses paid trip to Europe for three months to provide him vacation and rest. Washington was hesitant to leave, for he had been working without vacation at Tuskegee for 18 years. He assumed that he would simply continue to work until he died. To combat his hesitancy, donors raised enough money to keep Tuskegee financially stable while Washington would be away, and they even planned out his trip down to the specific steamboat that he and Mrs. Washington would take. Washington had no choice but to agree.
Washington so grounded his life in the ideology of the dignity of labor and the proof of merit through hard work that he never considered that he would actually desire to take a vacation. It is important to note that Washington did not choose to go on this vacation, but that he had to be persuaded. He was so psychologically married to the idea of the importance of labor that he could not seriously even consider the possibility of vacation, rest, or relaxation.
Washington was deeply honored by this opportunity. He was born and raised in slavery, and according to him, he rose from the depths of poverty and ignorance. Luxury seemed something out of reach his entire life, and in his mind Europe was the quintessence of luxury. He could not believe that an ex-slave would be afforded the opportunity to see the sights of Europe. However, Washington was worried that people would think that he had become “stuck up,” and he felt guilty that he would be leaving his work for such a prolonged period of time.
This passage fits Washington’s narrative of progress, as the highest point of uplift from slavery in his eyes is vacation and luxury. Washington’s repetition of his concerns about the trip reiterates his dedication to labor and hard work.
Mrs. Washington had many similar concerns, and the two of them were torn as to whether or not they should go. But because Washington needed the rest, they decided to agree to the trip, and set their departure date for May 10. Their friends in Boston took care of all of the accommodations and reservations. As they left, they received word that two donors had pledged enough money to build a new girls dormitory at Tuskegee, and this news assuaged some of their fears as they embarked on their vacation to Europe.
Washington’s agreement to go on vacation did not come about because he felt that he had earned it (which, if he worked as hard as he describes, he certainly did!), but rather because rich donors gave enough money to keep the school in operation during his absence. This highlights two major repetitive ideas in the book. First, rich people repeatedly demonstrate their merit through their generosity in their donations, and second, work and labor are primary in all things, and vacation is only secondary.
Washington was worried about their treatment on the trip over to Europe, for many black Americans suffered great indignities at the hands of sailors and passengers when crossing the Atlantic. However, he claims that they were treated with the utmost respect, and that even the white Southerners were kind and cordial. This kind treatment, along with the prospect of vacation, lifted much of the tension and stress that had burdened Washington for his eighteen years at Tuskegee. For the first time in his life, he felt “free from care.”
Once again, Washington tries to demonstrate the virtue of white Southerners by highlighting their kindness. Washington’s self-description as “free from care” is also significant, in that it shows that he has come quite far in his life. When he was younger he could not even imagine a minute of his life that was not dedicated to hard labor. Now, he is able to spend three months in relative leisure.
Washington slept for up to 15 hours a day during the sea voyage. For the first time in his life, he awoke without any speaking engagements or meetings, and he was able to relax and catch up on the sleep that he had deprived himself of for over a decade. For the duration of the trip, the weather was good and the passengers kind, and Washington was in good spirits when they landed in Antwerp, Belgium.
Washington reiterates the positive effect that rest and relaxation had on his disposition during this vacation.
Washington was in awe of the sights, the beautiful flowers, and the people, and he felt that all of this was very new to him. After some time in Antwerp, Washington and Mrs. Washington were invited to go on a trip through Holland, and they were able to study the country life of the people. Washington was most impressed by the agriculture of the region and the famous Holstein cattle. He was amazed at how much the Belgian farmers could get out of a small plot of land, and he was inspired by how little they wasted.
Like on his trips through the countryside in Alabama, Washington watches and observes the people of Holland. His interest in their agricultural skill demonstrates that even on vacation, he cannot deny his belief in the importance of physical labor.
After their tour in Holland and a brief time in Brussels, Washington and Mrs. Washington proceeded to Paris. In Paris they were invited to a banquet attended by foreign dignitaries, including former U.S. President Benjamin Harrison. Washington was pressured to speak, but he attempted to minimize the amount of speeches that he would deliver so as to not defeat the relaxing purposes of this vacation.
Washington insists that he is trying to enjoy his vacation and not work, despite his constant invitations to speak and attend meetings. He then runs into the same issues in London.
Washington was particularly impressed with the life and work of the black American painter Henry O. Tanner. Washington felt that the painter’s excellence garnered him great success in Europe, and that looking at his paintings, one would not be able to tell that they were painted by a black American man. To Washington, this was the greatest sign of excellence, as Tanner’s merit as a painter eclipsed the racial prejudice of his audiences. Washington takes Tanner’s work as evidence that merit will always be valued more than race, and true racial uplift will only be found when black Americans prove themselves to be objectively valuable and excellent. Washington believes that such a meritocracy is not just something pertaining to race relations, but rather it is a “great human law.”
It’s interesting that Washington applies the concept of meritocracy to an artist, considering that he is largely opposed to education and training in the arts for black Americans. Despite his respect of Tanner’s work, Washington still does not see the value in arts education for most black Americans. He is able to adopt the artist into his meritocracy, but not into his overall educational ideology.
The French people in general encouraged Washington, because he felt that black Americans were not very far behind the average Frenchman in terms of social and moral progress. While the Frenchmen had some degree of superiority in terms of economic efficiency, Washington believed that black Americans were ahead of the French in terms of agricultural development. Such a perception was encouraging to Washington because he felt that there was great hope if his people could rival the French in excellence of economy and society.
Washington’s comparison of French culture to black culture once again demonstrates his desire for black culture to emulate white culture. Such a desire is problematic, of course, as it places white cultural progress as the standard that black culture must adhere to. In other words, Washington’s analysis here is entirely Euro-centric, despite its intended compliment to black culture.
After Paris, Washington and Mrs. Washington proceeded to London. Washington was flooded with social invitations upon his arrival, along with many invitations to speak, which Washington largely declined in order to rest. The Washingtons did attend some social functions, though, including a reception thrown by the American Ambassador and some social events organized by British statesmen. Washington also accepted a few speaking engagements, including a speech at the Women’s Liberal Club and the commencement ceremony for the Royal College of the Blind. His time in London was marked by the company of many famous figures, including the author Mark Twain, the women’s voting rights activist Susan B. Anthony, and even Queen Victoria.
Once again, Washington insists that he is trying to enjoy his vacation and not work, despite his constant invitations to speak and to attend meetings. However, he does greatly enjoy being able to spend time with people of great celebrity and notoriety.
Washington felt that English culture was best experienced in the country houses of Englishmen, and he came to the conclusion that the English get more out of life than Americans do. According to Washington, the English have superior servants who excel at servitude, and he deeply admired their social organization. Likewise, Washington felt that all classes in England had great respect for law and order, and this allowed English people to be more orderly and relaxed than Americans, who, in Washington’s perspective, are too nervous and rushing. Washington also was amazed at how the masses loved the nobility, and he had a great respect for the upper classes.
Washington’s favor for English country life is perhaps most indicative of his problematic views of class. He feels that the strict structure of English society and its servant labor system is well developed. It is evident that Washington believes in the moral superiority of the upper classes, as evidenced through their organization and relaxed country life.
The only trouble that Washington had in England was that of speaking to an English audience. He claims that the average English audience is much more serious and earnest than the average American audience, so it was very difficult to gauge the reaction and reception of his speeches. However, he felt that once he won Englishmen over, they demonstrated the greatest capabilities of loyalty and friendship.
Washington initially struggled to find a sense of the community in audience interaction that he found in speeches given to an American audience. However, once he achieved the difficult task of winning an English audience over, he was able to find that community quite quickly.
After leaving London, Washington and his wife set off back to America. Their ship was stocked with a full library, so Washington spent a great deal of time reading. One of his readings was Frederick Douglass’s autobiography, and he was deeply affected by a passage in which Douglass described the discrimination he faced on his journey to and from England. Washington felt that his own treatment on a similar trip was much different than Douglass’s, and that this was evidence that race relations were improving rapidly both in the United States and in England.
This passage fits Washington’s trajectory of racial progress, and his comparison of his own situation to Douglass’s shows that he feels great hope that the country (and world) is moving forward in terms of race relations.
While he was in Paris, Washington received a message from the citizens of West Virginia requesting that he visit upon his return from Europe, so that they could celebrate him and his accomplishments. Washington was deeply honored by this, and accepted the invitation. Washington was treated like a dignitary upon his arrival in Charleston, the capital of West Virginia, and he was greeted by important men of both races. His reception was held in an opera house, and it was attended by politicians and state leaders, including the current and ex-state Governors. Washington also received similar receptions in Atlanta and New Orleans, and he was deeply honored by the desires of the citizens and politicians of these cities to honor him and his work.
Washington’s reception in West Virginia again fits his narrative of racial uplift. Washington especially cherishes events in which he can return to the locations of struggle or strife in his past and reflect upon the significance of his social rise. For Washington, the West Virginia reception demonstrated that through merit and hard work, anyone, even a former slave, can be celebrated by American society.