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"Up From Slavery "

by
Booker T. Washington


In my early life, I used to cherish a feeling of ill will toward any one who spoke
in bitter terms against the Negro, or who advocated measures that tended to
oppress the black man or take from him opportunities for growth in the most
complete manner. Now, whenever I hear any one advocating measures that are
meant to curtail the development of another, I pity the individual who would do
this. I know that the one who makes this mistake does so because of his lack of
opportunity for the highest kind of growth. I pity him because I know that he is
trying to stop the progress of the world, and because I know that in time the
development and the ceaseless advance of humanity will make him ashamed of
his weak and narrow position. One might as well try to stop the progress of a
mighty railroad train by throwing his body across the track, as to try to stop the
growth of the world in the direction of giving mankind more intelligence, more
culture more skill, more liberty, and in the direction of extending more
sympathy and more brotherly kindness.

I now come to that one of the incidents in my life which seems to have excited
the greatest amount of interest, and which perhaps went farther than anything
else in giving me a reputation that in a sense might be called National. I refer to
the address which I delivered at the opening of the Atlanta Cotton states and
International Exposition, at Atlanta, Ga., September 18,1895.

The directors of the Exposition decided that it would be a fitting recognition of
the colored race to erect a large and attractive building which should be devoted
wholly to showing the progress of the Negro since freedom. It was further
decided to have the building designed and erected wholly by Negro mechanics.
This plan was carried out. In design, beauty, and general finish the Negro
Building was equal to the others on the grounds.

As the day for the opening of the Exposition drew near, the Board of Directors
began preparing the program for the opening exercises. In the discussion from
day to day of the various features of this program, the question came up as to
the advisability of putting a member of the Negro race on for one of the opening
addresses, since the Negroes had been asked to take such a prominent part in
the Exposition.. It was argued, further, that such recognition would mark the
good feeling prevailing between the two races. After the question had been
canvassed for several days, the directors voted unanimously to ask me to
deliver one of the opening day addresses, and in a few days after I received the
official invitation.

The receiving of this invitation brought me to a sense of responsibility that it
would be hard for anyone not placed in my position to appreciate. What were
my feelings when the invitation came to me? I remembered that I had been a
slave; that my early years were spent in the lowest depths of poverty and
ignorance., and that I had little opportunity to prepare me for such a
responsibility as this. It was only a few years before that time that any white
man in the audience might have claimed me as his slave; and it was easily
possible that some of my former owners might be present to hear me speak.

I knew, too, that this was the first time in the entire history of the Negro that a
member of my race had been asked to speak from the same platform with white
Southern men and women on any important National occasion. I was asked
now to speak to an audience composed of the wealth and culture of the white
South, the representatives of my former masters. I knew, too, that while the
greater part of my audience would be composed of Southern people, yet there
would be present a large number of Northern whites, as well as a great many
men and women of my own race.

I was determined to say nothing that I did not feel from the bottom of my heart
to be true and right. When the invitation came to me, there was not one word of
intimation as to what I should say or as to what I should omit. In this I felt that
the Board of Directors had paid a tribute to me. They knew that by one sentence
I could have blasted, in a large degree, the success of the Exposition. I was also
painfully conscious of the fact that, while I must be true to my own race in my
utterances, I had it in my power to make such an ill timed address.

On the morning of September 17, together with Mrs. Washington and my three
children, I started for Atlanta. I felt a good deal as I suppose a man feels when
he is on his way to the gallows. In passing through the town of Tuskegee, I met
a white farmer who lived some distance out in the country. In a jesting manner,
this man said: "Washington, you have spoken before the Northern white
people, the Negroes in the South, and to us country white people in the South;
but in Atlanta, tomorrow you will have before you the Northern whites, the
Southern whites, and the Negroes all together. I am afraid that you have got
yourself into a tight place." This farmer diagnosed the situation correctly, but
his frank words did not add anything to my comfort.

Early in the morning a committee called to escort me to my place in the
precession which was to march to the Exposition grounds. In this procession
were prominent colored citizens in carriages, as well as several Negro military
organizations. I noted that the Exposition officials seemed to go out of their way
to see that all of the colored people in the precession were properly place and
properly treated.

The room was very large, and well suited to public speaking. When I entered
the room, there were vigorous cheers from the colored portion of the audience,
and faint cheers from some of the white people. I had been told, while I had
been in Atlanta, that while many white people were going to be present to hear
me speak, simply out of curiosity, and that others who would be present would
be in full sympathy with me, there was still a larger element of the audience
which would consist of those who were going to be present for the purpose of
hearing me make a fool of myself, or, at least, of hearing me say some foolish
thing, so that they could say the officials who had invited me to speak, "I told
you so!"

When I arose to speak, there was considerable cheering, especially from the
colored people. As I remember it now, the thing that was uppermost in my
mind was the desire to say something that would cement the friendship of our
races and bring about a hearty cooperation between them. So far as my outward
surroundings were concerned, the only thing that I recall distinctly now is that
when I got up, I saw thousands of eyes looking intently into my face. The following is the address which I delivered: --

"Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Board of Directors and Citizens:
One third of the population of the South is of the Negro race. No enterprise
seeking the material, civil, or moral welfare of this section can disregard this
element of our population and reach the highest success. I but convey to you,
Mr. President and Directors, the sentiment of my race when I say that in no way
have the value and manhood of the American Negro been more fittingly and
generously recognized than by the managers of this magnificent Exposition at
every stage of its progress. It is a recognition that will do more to cement the
friendship of the two races than any occurrence since the dawn of our freedom.

"Not only this, but the opportunity here afforded will awaken among us a new
era of industrial progress. Ignorant and inexperienced, it is not strange that in
the first years of our new life we began at the top instead of the bottom; that a
seat in Congress or the state legislature was more sought than real estate or
industrial skill; that the political convention of stump speaking had more
attractions that starting a dairy from a truck or garden.

"A ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel. From the
mast of the unfortunate vessel was seen a signal, "Water, water: we die of
thirst!" The answer from the friendly vessel at once came back, "Cast down
your bucket where you are." A second time the signal "Water, water: send us
water!" ran up from the distressed vessel, and was answered "Cast down your
bucket where you are." The captain of the distressed vessel, at last heeding the
injunction, cast down his bucket and it came up full of fresh, sparkling water
from the mouth of the Amazon River. To those of my race who depend on
bettering their condition in a foreign land or who underestimate the importance
of cultivating friendly relations with the Southern white man, who is they next
door neighbor, I would say; "Cast down your bucket where you are" - cast it
down in making friends in every manly way of the people of all races by whom
we are surrounded.

"Cast it down in agriculture, mechanics, in commerce, in domestic service and
in the professions. And in this connection it is well to bear in mind that
whatever other sins the South my be called to bear, when it comes to business,
pure and simple, it is in the South that the Negro is given a man's chance in the
commercial world, and in nothing is this Exposition more eloquent in
emphasizing this chance. Our greatest danger is that in the great leap from
slavery to freedom we may overlook the fact that the masses of us are to live by
the productions of our hands, and fail to keep in mind that we shall prosper in
proportion as we learn to dignify and glorify common labor and put brains and
skill into the common occupation of life; shall prosper in proportion as we learn
to draw the line between the superficial and the substantial, the ornamental
gewgaws of life and the useful. No race can prosper till it learns that there is as
much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem. It is at the bottom of life we
must begin, and not at the top. Nor should we permit our grievances to
overshadow our opportunities.

"To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth
and strange tongue and habits for the prosperity of the South, were I permitted I
would repeat what I say to my own race "Cast down your bucket where you
are." Cast it down among the eight million Negroes whose habits you know,
whose fidelity and love you have tested in days when to have proved
treacherous meant the ruin of you firesides. Cast down your bucket among
these people who have, without strikes and labor wars, tilled your fields,
cleared you forests, built your railroads and cities, and brought forth treasures
from the bowels of the earth, and helped make possible this magnificent
representation of the progress of the South. Casting down your bucket among
my people, helping and encouraging them as you are doing on these grounds,
and to education of head, hand, and heart, you will find that they will buy your
surplus land, make blossom the waste places in your fields, and run your
factories. While doing this, you can be sure in the future, as in the past, in
nursing your children, watching by the sick bed of your mothers and fathers,
and often following them with tear dimmed eyes to their graves, so in the
future, in our humble way, we shall stand by you with a devotion that no
foreigner can approach, ready to lay down our lives, if need be, in defense of
yours, interlacing our industrial, commercial, civil, and religious life with yours
in a way that we shall make the interests of both races one. In all things that are
purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet as one as the hand in all
things essential to mutual progress.

"There us no defense or security for any of us except in the highest intelligence
and development of all. If anywhere there are efforts tending to curtail the
fullest growth of the Negro, let these efforts be turned into stimulating,
encouraging, and making him the most useful and intelligent citizen. Effort or
means so invested will pay a thousand per cent interest. These efforts will be
twice blessed - " Blessing him that gives and him that takes."

There is no escape through law of man or God from the inevitable: --

The laws of chainless justice bind

Oppressor with the oppressed;

And close as sin and suffering joined

We march to fate abreast.

"Nearly sixteen millions of hands will aid you in pulling the load upward, or
they will pull against you the load downward. We shall constitute one third and
more of the ignorance and crime of the South, or one third of its intelligence and
progress; we shall contribute one third to the business and industrial prosperity
of the South, or we shall prove a veritable body of death, stagnating,
depressing, retarding every effort to advance the body politic.

"Gentlemen of the Exposition, as we present to you our humble effort at an
exhibition of our progress, you must not expect overmuch. Starting thirty years
ago with ownership here and there in a few quilts and pumpkins and chickens
(gathered from miscellaneous sources) remember the path that has led from
these to the inventions and production of agricultural implements, buggies,
steam engines, newspapers, books, statuary, carving, paintings, management
of drug stores and banks, has not been trodden without contact with thorns and
thistles. While we take pride in what we exhibit as a result of our independent
efforts, we do not for a moment forget that our part in this exhibition would fall
far short of your expectations but for the constant help that has comes to our
educational life, not only from the Southern states, but especially from the
Northern philanthropists, who have made their gifts a constant stream of
blessing and encouragement.

"The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social
equality is the extremist folly, and that the progress in the enjoyment of all the
privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle
rather than of artificial forcing. No race that has anything to contribute to the
markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized. It is important and right
that all privileges of the law be ours, but it is vastly more important that we be
prepared for the exercises of these privileges. The opportunity to earn a dollar in
a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar
in an opera-house.

"In conclusion, may I repeat that nothing in thirty years has given us more hope
and encouragement, and drawn us so near to you of the white race, as this
opportunity offered by the Exposition and here bending, as it were, over the
altar practically empty handed three decades ago. I pledge that in your effort to
work out the great and intricate problem which God has laid at the doors of the
South, you shall have at all time the patient, sympathetic help of my race; only
let this be constantly in mind, that, while from representations in these buildings
of the product of field, of forest, of mine, of factory, letters, and art, much
good will come, yet far above and beyond material benefits will be that higher
good, that, let us pray God will come, in a blotting out of sectional differences
and racial animosities and suspicions, in a determination to administer absolute
justice, in a willing obedience among all classes to the mandates of law. This,
then, coupled with our material prosperity, will bring into our beloved South a
new heaven and a new earth."

The first thing that I remember, after I had finished speaking, was that
Governor Bullock rushed across the platform and took me by the hand, and that
others did the same. I received so many and such hearty congratulations that I
found it difficult to get out of the building. I did not appreciate to any degree,
however, the impression which my address seemed to have made, until the next
morning when I went into the business part of the city. As soon as I was
recognized, I was surprised to find myself pointed out and surrounded by a
crowd of men who wished to shake hands with me. This was kept up on every
street on to which I went to an extent which embarrassed me so much that I
went back to my boarding-place. The next morning I returned to Tuskegee. At
the station in Atlanta, and at almost all of the stations at which the train stopped
between that city and Tuskegee, I found a crown of people anxious to shake
hands with me.

The papers in all parts of the United States published the address in full, and for
months afterward there were complimentary editorial references to it. Mr. Clark
Howell, the editor of the Atlanta Constitution, telegraphed to a New York
paper, among other words, the following. "I do not exaggerate when I say that
Professor Booker T. Washington's address yesterday was on of the most
notable speeches, both as to character and as to the warmth of its reception, ever
delivered to a Southern audience. The address was a revelation. The whole
speech is a platform upon which blacks and whites can stand with full justice to
each other."

The colored people and the colored newspapers at first seemed to be greatly
pleased with the character of my Atlanta address, as well as with its reception.
But after the first burst of enthusiasm began to die away, and the colored people
began reading the speech in the cold type, some of them seemed to feel that they
had been hypnotized. They seemed to feel that I had been too liberal in my
remarks toward the Southern whites, and that I had not spoken out strongly
enough for what they termed the "rights" of the race. For a while there was a
reaction, so far as a certain element of my own race was concerned, but later
these reactionary ones seemed to have been won over to my way of believing
and acting.

I am often asked to express myself more freely than I don upon the political
conditions and the political future of my race. These recollections of my
experience in Atlanta give me the opportunity to do so briefly. My own belief
is, although I have never before said so in so many words, that the time will
come when the Negro in the South will be accorded all the political rights which
his ability, character, and material possessions entitle him to. I think, though,
that the opportunity to freely exercise such political rights will not come in any
large degree through outside or artificial forcing, but will be accorded to the
Negro by the Southern white people themselves, and that they will protect him
in the exercise of those rights. Just as soon as the South gets over the old
feeling that it is being forced by "foreigners" or "aliens," to do something which
it does not want to do, I believe that the change in the direction that I have
indicated is going to begin. In fact, there are indications that it is already
beginning in a slight degree.

I believe it is the duty of the Negro-as the greater part of the rave is already
doing - to deport himself modestly in regard to political claims, depending upon
the slow but sure influences that proceed from the possession of property,
intelligence, and high character for the full recognition of his political rights. I
think that according of the full exercise of political rights is going to be a matter
of natural, slow growth, not an over-night, ground-vine affair. I do not believe
that the Negro should cease voting, for a man cannot learn the exercise of
self-government by ceasing to vote, any more than a boy can learn to swim by
keeping out of the water, but I do believe that in his voting he should more and
more be influenced by those of intelligence and character who are his next-door
neighbors.

I know colored men who, through the encouragement, help, and advice of
Southern white people, have accumulated thousands of dollars' worth of
property, but who, at the same time, would never think of going to those same
persons for advice concerning the casting of their ballots. This, it seems to me,
is unwise and unreasonable, and should cease. In saying this I do not mean that
the Negro should truckle, or not core from principle, for the instant he ceases to
vote from principle he loses the confidence and respect of the Southern white
man even.

As a rule, I believe in universal, free suffrage, but I believe that in the South we
are confronted with peculiar conditions that justify the protections of the ballot
in many of the states, for a while at least, either by and educational test, a
property test, or by both combined; but whatever tests are required, they should
be made to apply with equal and exact justice to both races.