Summary – Chapter Five, ‘The Reconstruction Period’ and Chapter Six, ‘Black Race and Red Race’
He explains that 1867 to 1878 ‘may be called the period of Reconstruction’. This includes the time he was a student at Hampton and a teacher in West Virginia.
At this time, he claims there were two ideas ‘constantly agitating in the minds of the colored people’: a ‘craze’ for Greek and Latin learning, and the desire to hold office. He feels mistakes were made by central government at this time and African Americans should have been given more comprehensive education ‘so that the people would be the better prepared for the duties of citizenship’. He also thinks the ‘ignorance’ of his ‘race’ was used as a tool to help white men into office. In addition, there was an element of the North wanting to punish Southern white men by giving power to some ‘Negro’ people: ‘I felt that the Negro would be the one to suffer for this in the end.’
He thinks the law of franchise must apply equally to both races. If there is unfairness, it will be a sin, like slavery, that they will all have to pay for.
His narrative returns to his life story, and how after teaching for two years he decided to spend some months studying in Washington, DC. He was there for 8 months and observed that the students here knew less about life and were also less self-dependant than others he had encountered. He also noticed an overdependence on the government for federal positions. He wishes he could have moved such people into the country districts for a ‘real’ start in life and with the foundation of ‘Mother Nature’.
Chapter Six explains that during the period he was in Washington, there was an ongoing debate about moving the capital of West Virginia to a more central point. Three cities were to be voted on by the citizens of the state and he was asked by a committee of 3 white people in Charleston to canvas for this city. He accepted, and Charleston was successful. He gained a good reputation as a (good) speaker from this, but did not want to enter ‘political life’ at this time as he preferred the idea of ‘laying a foundation for the masses’.
He was invited by General Armstrong to deliver the ‘post-graduate address’ at Hampton. He accepted this invitation and his speech was well received. When he returned home, the General wrote again to ask him if he would return to Hampton partly as a teacher and partly to study. (This was the summer of 1879). He accepted and was asked to be a sort of ‘house father’ to the Native American young men who were now being educated there.
After a tentative start, he describes how he was respected and loved by these students. He says how these men did not like to have their long hair cut or give up wearing their blankets, ‘but no white American ever thinks that any other race is wholly civilized until he wears the white man’s clothes, eats the white man’s food, speaks the white man’s language, and professes the white man’s religion’.
He is pleased with the way the majority of the ‘colored’ students welcomed these new ones and doubts that a white institution would have done the same. He goes on to discuss race segregation in transport and hotels.
In the next year, the General started a night school to help encourage poor students to eventually go on and study in the daytime. They would be paid for the day work they did for the school as board while studying at night and anything earned above this amount would be saved for their later day studies.
Washington was asked to take charge of the night school and he accepted this offer. These students worked all day in the Institute’s saw mill or laundry and he taught them at night. There were 12 to start with and this number grew rapidly. There are now 300 to 400 (at the time of writing).
Analysis – Chapter Five, ‘The Reconstruction Period’ and Chapter Six, ‘Black Race and Red Race’
When Washington points out that ‘no white American ever thinks that any other race is wholly civilized until he wears the white man’s clothes, eats the white man’s food, speaks the white man’s language, and professes the white man’s religion’, he demonstrates an insight into race relations in the United States that he has thus far cloaked from the view of the reader. This is the strongest statement he makes on racism and the dominant white culture, and succinctly outlines how the concept of ‘civilized’ is formulated with the white cultural expectations in mind.
He also takes the opportunity to point out gently how Native American men were for the most part accepted into the Hampton Institute by African American students, and signposts how he doubts this welcome would have been extended in an all-white school.