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|By Mr. Washington:
The Atlanta Exposition Address
Booker T. Washington, the founder of Tuskegee
University, was a not only influential but very controversial. The
articles in this section and the responses by two critics of his day are
reprinted courtesy of the archives at Tuskegee University.
W.E.B. Dubois was one of the greatest intellectuals, Black or White, of the 20th century. He authored numerous books and was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Monroe Trotter was one of the leading Black journalists and social critics of this century.
A Critique of Booker T. Washington's Plan
A .WHY BE SILENT?Under the caption, “Principal Washington Defines His Position,” the Tuskegee Student, the official organ of Tuskegee, prints the institute letter in which Mr. Washington said: “We cannot elevate and make useful a race of people unless there is held out to them the hope of reward for right living. Every revised constitution throughout the southern states has put a premium upon intelligence, ownership of property, thrift and character.” This little sheet begins by saying that the letter “appeared in all of the important papers of the country on Nov. 28. It has been unstintingly praised from one section of the country to the other for its clarity and forcefulness of statement, and for its ringing note of sincerity.” Although such words are to be expected from the employees of the school they are for the most part only too true. It is true that, although the letter was sent to the Age Herald of Birmingham, Alabama, it appeared simultaneously “in all the important papers of the country.” Then its effect must be admitted to have been greater than if any other Negro had written it, for admittedly no other Negro’s letter could have obtained such wide publicity. If it has in it aught that was injurious to the Negro’s welfare or to his manhood rights, therefore, such worked far more damage than if any other Negro or any other man, save the president himself, had written the words.
What man is there among us, whether friend or foe of the author of the letter, who was not astounded at the reference to the disfranchising constitutions quoted above. “Every revised constitution throughout the southern states has put a premium upon intelligence, ownership of property, thrift and character,” and all the more so because Mr. Washington had not been accused by even the southerners of opposing these disfranchising constitutions. . . . If the statement is false, if it is misleading, if it is injurious to the Negro, all the more blamable and guilty is the author because the statement was gratuitous on his part.
Is it the truth? Do these constitutions encourage Negroes to be thrifty, to be better and more intelligent? For this sort of argument is the most effective in favor of them. . . Where is the Negro who says the law was or is ever intended to be fairly applied?... If so, then every reputable Negro orator and writer, from Hon. A. H. Grimke on, have been mistaken. If so, every Negro clergyman of standing, who has spoken on the subject... have been misinformed. We happen to know of an undertaker who has an enormous establishment in Virginia, who now can’t vote. Is that encouraging thrift? Two letter carriers, who have passed the civil service examinations, are now suing because disfranchised.
Is that encouraging intelligence?... Even a Republican candidate for governor in Virginia recently said Negro domination was to be feared if 10 Negroes could vote because they could have the balance of power. Mr. Washington’s statement is shamefully false and deliberately so.
But even were it true, what man is a worse enemy to a race than a leader who looks with equanimity on the disfranchisement of his race in a country where other races have universal suffrage by constitutions that make one rule for his race and another for the dominant race, by constitutions made by conventions to which his race is not allowed to send its representatives, by constitutions that his race although endowed with the franchise by law are not allowed to vote upon, and are, therefore, doubly illegal, by constitutions in violation to the national constitution, because, forsooth, he thinks such disfranchising laws will benefit the moral character of his people. Let our spiritual advisers condemn this idea of reducing a people to serfdom to make them good.
But what was the effect of Mr. Washington’s letter on the northern white people?...
No thinking Negro can fail to see that, with the influence Mr. Washington yields [wields] in the North and the confidence reposed in him by the white people on account of his school, a fatal blow has been given to the Negro’s political rights and liberty by his statement. The benevolence idea makes it all the more deadly in its effect. It comes very opportunely for the Negro, too, just when Roosevelt declares the Negro shall hold office,. . . when Congress is being asked to enforce the Negro’s constitutional rights, when these laws are being carried to the Supreme Court. And here Mr. Washington, having gained sufficient influence through his doctrines, his school and his elevation by the President, makes all these efforts sure of failure by killing public sentiment against the disfranchising constitutions.
And Mr. Washington’s word is the more effective for, discreditable as it may seem, not five Negro papers even mention a statement that belies all their editorials and that would have set aflame the entire Negro press of the country, if a less wealthy and less powerful Negro had made it. Nor will Negro orators nor Negro preachers dare now to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by the great “educator.” Instead of being universally repudiated by the Negro race his statement will be practically universally endorsed by its silence because Washington said it, though it sounds the death-knell of our liberty. The lips of our leading politicians are sealed, because, before he said it, Mr. Washington, through the President, put them under obligation to himself. Nor is there that heroic quality now in our race that would lead men to throw off the shackles of fear, of obligation, of policy and denounce a traitor though he be a friend, or even a brother. It occurs to none that silence is tantamount to being virtually an accomplice in the treasonable act of this Benedict Arnold of the Negro race.
0, for a black Patrick Henry to save his people from this stigma of cowardice; to rouse them from their lethargy to a sense of danger; to scorn the tyrant and to inspire his people with the spirit of those immortal words: “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.”
B. “SOME REAL TUSKEGEE GEMS”
From Booker T. Washington’s speech before the Twentieth Century Club at the Colonial Theatre last Saturday we have clipped some excerpts which, we feel, can properly be classed as “Tuskegee gems.”
Here is a gem of real value:
Then slavery was the best condition of society, for all admit it was the severest discipline yet experienced by man. Was it not wrong in Lincoln to deprive our race thus of the highest freedom?
Here are two more gems:
“My request to the white men of the north is that they bring more coolness, more calmness, more deliberation and more sense of justice to the Negro question.”
“As soon as our race gets property in the form of real estate, of intelligence, of high Christian character, it will find that it is going to receive the recognition which it has not thus far received.”
The coolness is needed in the South, not in the North; this section needs to warm up a little in the interest of its former ideals.
As to the question of wealth and character, etc., winning one recognition, we see quite the contrary in the South. These things are damned there in Negroes. For proofs see the efforts made there to keep all Negroes from places of preferment..
Gem No. 4 says:
“We have never disturbed the country by riots, strikes or lockouts; ours has been a peaceful, faithful, humble service.”
Now, it is doubtful compliment to have this said about us; for the reason that strikes and lockouts are sometimes necessary conditions in society, and people who brag that they do not resort to these necessities are not always to be commended. In fact, the Negro in any and all professions and callings is safest in doing just the same, and no different from his white brother.
“One farm bought, one house built, one home sweetly and intelligently kept, one man who is the largest taxpayer or who has the largest banking account, one school or church maintained, one factory running successfully, one garden profitably cultivated, one patient cured by a Negro doctor, one sermon well preached, one life cleanly lived, will tell more in our favor than all the abstract eloquence that can be summoned to plead our cause.”
All of this last is mere claptrap. All the wealth, skill and intelligence acquired and accumulated by Negroes before ‘61 did not do half so much toward freeing the slave as did the abstract eloquence of [Frederick] Douglass, [Samuel Ringgold] Ward, [William Lloyd] Garrison and [Wendell] Phillips.. . . This habit of always belittling agitation on the part of Washington, that very thing which made him free, and by which he lives and prospers is one of his great faults if a man with such a blundering can have any degrees in stupidity.