Summary – Chapter Three, ‘The Struggle For an Education’
While working in the mine, Washington heard of the Hampton Institute. This was spoken of as a great school for ‘colored people’ and he was determined to go there.
In the meantime, he left the mine and found safer work as a servant with Mrs Ruffner. He stayed there a year and a half and she learned to trust him implicitly.
He finally set off for Hampton and one of the most touching aspects of this was that older ‘colored’ people were proud and pleased for him and gave him the little they had, such as nickels and dimes. The journey was around 500 miles and there was no train at this time. He travelled with others by stagecoach and when they stopped at a hotel at night he hoped to be allowed to stay despite his little amount of money. His fellow passengers were white and they were let in, but he was turned away immediately (because of his skin color).
He reached Richmond by walking and begging rides and was still 82 miles from Hampton when he ran out of money altogether. He slept on the street, under a raised sidewalk, and when he awoke he asked for work unloading a vessel so he could buy some food. The captain was pleased with his work, and offered him more. He did this and stayed on long enough to earn more money for food and travel and continued to sleep in the same place.
When he arrived at Hampton, he presented himself to be admitted to the Institute. His appearance was dishevelled and he waited for hours as others were accepted before him. After some time, the head teacher asked him to sweep out the recitation room and he went on to clean it thoroughly. She checked his work and then accepted him. She, Mary F. Mackie, offered him the position of janitor and this meant he could pay most of his board while studying.
Another strong influence from this time was General Samuel C. Armstrong. He was worshipped by the students and Washington states how the General stayed with him at Tuskegee for 2 of the last 6 months of his life.
The narrative returns to Washington’s living conditions and how his board was 10 dollars a month. He was expected to pay part in cash and work off the remainder. He made himself indispensable as a janitor, though, and was soon told he would be allowed the full cost of his board for the work he did. He also wore clothes that were donated from the North as another means of getting by. His tuition was 70 dollars a year and he had no way of paying this. General Armstrong asked Mr S. Griffits Morgan of New Bedford to defray these costs, and this was done.
Analysis – Chapter Three, ‘The Struggle For an Education’
This aptly named chapter reveals the lengths to which Washington was prepared to go in order to be educated. His journey to Hampton is both a literal and figurative one as he undergoes various tests of character and resolve and still manages to finally achieve his aim of being accepted into the Institute.
His hard work and perseverance are seen to reap rewards for him and so he comes to embody the truth of his own story and belief system. He claims throughout this autobiography that merit and the dignity of labor mean that those who work hard will succeed in what they set out to do. Although idealistic, his life story demonstrates this has been possible in his case at least.
Summary – Chapter Four, ‘Helping Others’
After a year at school, he could not afford to go home at vacation time and found work in a restaurant. In his second year, he learned from a teacher called Nathalie Lord the use and value of the Bible and relates how even now he still reads a chapter or a portion of a chapter every morning. This teacher also helped him with his public speaking.
At the end of his second year, his mother and brother sent him some money and along with a small gift from one of his teachers he was able to afford to return to Malden.
Here, he saw the miners were on strike and states that since ‘the professional labor agitators got control’ the savings of the men began disappearing. He could find no work on account of the strike and after a month he travelled further to no avail. He slept in an abandoned house on his way back home and his brother John found him to tell him their mother had died that night.
After explaining how his mother had been ill, the narrative moves on to explain that their home was in confusion at this time. His sister, Amanda, tried her best but was too young to take over her mother’s role.
He was asked to return to Hampton two weeks early to help clean the school and did so and also determined to make the ‘honor roll’ of Commencement speakers, and succeeded in this. He finished the course in June 1875.
He had no money after he graduated and waited on tables at a hotel in Connecticut. He was downgraded to being a dish carrier, as he had no idea how to work as a waiter, but decided he would learn and returned to this position in a few weeks.
When he returned to Malden, he was elected to teach at the ‘colored school’ and so began one of the happiest periods of his life. He worked from 8 am to 10 pm and taught general hygiene as well as ‘book education’. He opened an evening class and also established a reading room and a debating society. Furthermore, he taught Sunday school and gave private lessons. He also helped to support his brother to study at Hampton (as he had him). When he returned, they both helped their adopted brother, James, to go too. At the time of writing, John is now the Superintendent of Industries at Tuskegee and James is Postmaster there.
Washington moves on to explain how, while at Malden, the Ku Klux Klan was at the height of its activity and compares them to the ‘patrollers’ who, in the time of slavery, would control the movement of slaves and try to stop them holding meetings. He regards the Ku Klux Klan as crueller and although their aim was to crush political aspirations of African Americans, they also burned down schools and churches and he sees this time as ‘the darkest period of the Reconstruction days’.
He ends by claiming there are ‘no such organizations in the South’ (at the time of writing) ‘and the fact that such ever existed is almost forgotten by both races. There are few places in the South now where public sentiment would permit such organizations to exist.’
Analysis – Chapter Four, ‘Helping Others’
This chapter ends with references to the Ku Klux Klan and the contentious claim that the work of this organization was restricted to the days of Reconstruction. Although we are now looking with hindsight back over the 20th century and so can see that this was optimistic to say the least, it was also a naïve point to make at the turn of the century too.
It is in keeping with Washington’s general tone, however, that he should be optimistic about race relations in the South as he consistently tries to avoid sounding bitter or angry about the effects of slavery on African Americans. Even this ‘darkest period’ is only barely detailed as he attempts to emphasize friendly relationships instead.