As Christmas approached, Washington was able to get a clearer view of the private lives of the people of Alabama. Dating back to the times of slavery, Christmas was a special time for black Americans. They would get time off from working and engage in a week of festivities, including heavy drinking, shooting, and no work. Washington laments that the sacredness of the season seemed to be forgotten.
Washington, a firm believer in respectability politics, vehemently condemned such holiday behavior. Respectability as a political term is the idea that in order to find success or equality, black Americans or minorities must conform to the norms and behaviors of polite white society. Washington believed that respectability was a key aspect of racial progress.
Washington traveled to the plantation district during the holiday, and he was dismayed that some of the poorer families would spend whatever meager savings that they had in order to participate in the festivities. Sometimes families would split a whole pack of firecrackers, or they would be able to buy one small ginger cake for the entire family. Even ministers would partake in such festivities. Washington tells the story of a preacher who claimed that working was a sin, so this week of Christmas festivities was at least one week free from sin. Washington deeply disagrees with such sentiment, and he feels that these festivities were not only a waste but that they were immoral.
Washington made a special effort to teach his students what he felt was the true meaning of Christmas and its religious significance. Washington would have his students serve the community and help minister to the happiness of others. He feels that he helped to transform the entire region’s celebration of Christmas.
Washington was a devout Christian, and he was deeply disturbed that in many black communities, Christmas had lost its religious significance. He set out to correct what he saw was errant practice in these communities.
Washington claims that white citizens in Tuskegee expressed an explicit interest in the school because they were asked to contribute to the purchase of the land. Because of this, Washington says, the white citizens of Tuskegee are some of the Institute’s strongest supporters. Washington believes that the white and black citizens of Tuskegee have a neighborly relationship
Once again, Washington is trying to demonstrate the virtue of white Southerners, especially those at Tuskegee. As in many other places, here he seems to be appealing to white readers, emphasizing their virtuous practices to eclipse the stereotype of the racist white Southerner.
After three months of fundraising, the school was able to secure enough money to repay General Marshall, and two months later it was able to pay the full five hundred dollars. Washington was greatly satisfied both by the speed and means of fundraising, since most of their money was raised by holding festivals and concerts.
Washington believed that credit and loans were only to be used if the person asking for money had the means to repay the lender. Therefore, whenever a loan is taken out for Tuskegee or for Washington himself, his narrative is focused on repaying it back as soon as possible to demonstrate his general honesty and thriftiness.
Washington’s next aim was to grow enough crops to make a profit from their sale and to train more students in agriculture. They originally began growing just to have food, but Washington wished to perhaps make some money off of their agricultural products. This also benefited students who were too poor to stay in school for more than two or three weeks at a time, because it gave them means by which to make money while they were in school. Washington’s goal was that all students would be able to pay their way through nine months of school each year.
Although Washington wanted all students to be able to attend school for an entire school year, he also wanted students to earn that privilege on their own. Thus he required students to work in the fields to demonstrate their work ethic and their merit while also earning money to pay for their education.
The first animal that the school got was an old blind horse that was donated. However, at the time of Washington’s narrative, the school owns hundreds of different types of livestock, including, cow, pigs, and chickens.
Washington will often include brief asides such as this one to illustrate the scope of the Institute’s rise from relative obscurity to one of the nation’s best schools for black Americans.
Since the school was constantly growing, Washington felt that there was need to expand by building a large central building. However, the estimate for construction was about $6,000. Washington was overwhelmed by this sum, but he was determined to move the school forward. The community, upon hearing about the new project, helped out. One white man who owned a sawmill promised to provide all of the lumber to the school without taking any money up front. Although Washington did not have any money in hand, the sawmill owner still insisted on providing the lumber up front. Washington was elated.
Again, Washington’s improvement of the school is largely dependent upon the generosity of others.
With this new project Miss Davidson resumed her fundraising activities. The black citizens contributed all that they could, with one man even donating two hogs. After they felt that the town was unable to give any more, Miss Davidson traveled North to solicit funds. She would visit Sunday schools and other organizations to try to piece together money. Sometimes she would even fundraise during her journeys, and her first gift was given by a woman that she met on a steam boat.
Washington sees fund raising as a key aspect of the work of the leadership at Tuskegee. They were largely dependent on rich white donors from the North who wished to donate toward institutions promoting black progress.
Washington deeply admired Davidson’s work ethic. She would fundraise for months and then return to the school as an instructor and a principal. She also worked with the older people in Tuskegee and ran a Sunday School. Davidson would work so hard that she would fall asleep immediately upon sitting down. Davidson was so skilled at fundraising that when the school was required to pay $400 on short notice to a creditor, she was able to secure that exact amount in the same day from two donors in Boston.
Washington continues to romanticize Davidson here. He admires her work ethic, but ignores the problems that her work is causing to her health and well-being.
When the plans were drawn for the new building, the students began digging the foundation as soon as classes ended. Some students still were resistant to the work, but the ideals of dignity in labor were taking root in the students’ minds. After a few weeks, the ground was prepared and ready for the laying of a cornerstone. Washington feels that this laying of a cornerstone was a significant occurrence because just a short time before, it would have been illegal to educate any black Americans. This is a tangible sign of progress, he says. The address for the cornerstone laying was delivered by the county Superintendent for Education, and the event was widely attended by both white and black citizens.
The laying of the cornerstone is a symbolic part of the construction process that is usually accompanied by some sort of ceremony or festivity. Washington’s cornerstone ceremony symbolically represents the racially unified support of the school and its construction.
Washington felt a significant amount of pressure in the process of constructing the new building. Creditors were constantly sending him bills to pay, and many people doubted that his project was worthwhile. There were many people who doubted that educating black Americans was a worthy enterprise, and Washington felt that people were constantly waiting for him to fail. This burden caused many sleepless and anxious nights.
Here there is another “problem-struggle-solution.”Washington has a twofold problem, that of raising the funds and motivating his students to work. His struggle is then the constant deadlines and the pressure of the racial expectations of his project.
However, despite his anxiety, the town of Tuskegee was extremely supportive of Washington. When he needed something, both white and black citizens would lend him immediate aid. One of Washington’s mentors, Mr. George W. Campbell, also suggested that Washington should work to build strong credit for the institution. As a result, Washington worked hard to always pay his debts on time. He is proud that the Institute has kept high credit throughout the years, even up to the time of his writing. He also received aid from General Armstrong, who personally donated to the school.
This passage serves as the solution of the problem-struggle-solution paradigm described above. Once again General Armstrong acts as a personal “savior” and supporter of Washington’s endeavours.
During the summer of 1882, Washington married Miss Fannie M. Smith from Malden, who was also a graduate of Hampton. In 1884, their one child, Portia M. Washington, was born. Washington says that his wife worked very hard for the school, but she passed away before she could see what it would become.
This is the only mention of Fannie in the narrative, and she figures as a minor character in Washington’s account of his life. Washington focuses primarily on the development of his Institute and his own personal uplift, and his family plays little role in his selective narrative. His goal is to promote his ideology, not necessarily give a full account of his life.