Summary – Chapter Seven, ‘Early Days at Tuskegee’
In May 1881, General Armstrong told Washington he had received a letter from a man in Alabama to recommend someone to take charge of a ‘colored school’ in Tuskegee. The man writing the letter thought that there was not a ‘colored’ person to fill the role and asked him to recommend a white man. The general wrote back and to tell him about Washington, and he was accepted for the position.
Washington went there and describes Tuskegee as a town of 2,000 population and as being in the ‘Black Belt’ of the South, where nearly half of the residents were ‘colored’ and in other parts of nearby counties there were six African American people to one white person. He explains that he thinks the term ‘Black Belt’ originated from the rich, dark soil of the area, which was also the part of the South where slaves were most profitable.
Once at Tuskegee, his first task was to find a place to open the school and secured a rundown ‘shanty’ and African-American Methodist church.
He also travelled around the area and acquainted himself with the local people. He describes some of the families he met and who worked in the cotton fields. He saw that most of the farmers were in debt and schools were generally taught in churches or log cabins and these had few or no provisions. Some, for example, had no means of heating in the winter and one school had one book to share between five children.
He goes on to relate the story of a man aged around 60. He told Washington he had been sold in 1845 and there had been five of them: ‘There were five of us; myself and brother and three mules.’ Washington explains he is referring to these experiences to highlight how improvements were later made.
Analysis – Chapter Seven, ‘Early Days at Tuskegee’
Washington’s first days at Tuskegee are described in this chapter, as is his method of working. He demonstrates a holistic approach to his teaching in that he researched the area and the people and how poverty stricken many were. His visits also showed how education was both a premium and underfunded, and therefore justifies the setting up of this new facility.
Tuskegee is also seen to be set in a rural area, where agriculture was the main form of employment, and so the Institute’s later incarnation as an industrial school that was fit for teaching its students skills for the locale is justified.
Summary – Chapter Eight, ‘Teaching School in a Stable and a Hen-House’
He encountered difficulties in setting up the school, which he opened on July 4th 1881, and this included some opposition from white people who questioned the value of educating African Americans: ‘These people feared the result of education would be that the Negroes would leave the farms, and that it would be difficult to secure them for domestic service.’
He describes how he has depended on the advice of two men in particular and these were the ones who wrote to General Armstrong asking for a teacher. One is a white man and a former slave holder called George W. Campbell. The other is a ‘black’ man and a former slave called Lewis Adams.
When the school opened they had 30 students and these were divided roughly equally between the sexes. Many more had wanted to come, but it had been decided that they must be over 15 and have had some education already. Many who came were public school teachers and some were around 40 years of age. The number of pupils increased each week and there were nearly 50 by the end of the first month.
A co-teacher came at the end of the first 6 weeks. This was Olivia A. Davidson and she later became his wife. She had been taught in Ohio and came South as she had heard of the need for teachers. She is described as brave in the way she nursed the sick when others would not (such as caring for a boy with small pox). She also trained further at Hampton and then at Massachusetts State Normal School at Framingham.
She and Washington agreed that the students needed more than a ‘book education’ and they thought they must show them how to care for their bodies and how to earn a living after they had left the school. They tried to educate them in a way that would make them want to stay in these agricultural districts (rather than leave for the city and be forced to live by their wits). Many of the students came initially to study so that they would not have to work with their hands, whereas Washington aimed for them to be capable of all sorts of labor and to not be ashamed of it.
Some 3 months after the school opened an abandoned plantation came on the market. The owner agreed to take half the price, some 250 dollars, and the rest of it within the year. Washington wrote to General J.F.B. Marshall, Treasurer of the Hampton Institute, to ask if he would lend them 250 dollars. He replied that he could not lend the Institute’s money, but was glad to lend it from his own funds.
They moved the school to the farm and he and the students prepared it. He led the way with manual work to show them that such labor did not lessen their dignity. Miss Davidson made preparations to pay back the loan and held festivals and canvassed people for items of food that could be sold. White and African-American people donated readily.
Analysis – Chapter Eight, ‘Teaching School in a Stable and a Hen-House’
The setting up of Tuskegee is described in further detail here as Washington outlines how he and his co-teacher responded to the employment available in the area and to the needs of the students once they had completed their studies.
By pushing for this type of industrial education, which is practical rather than solely book based, Washington made a decision based on pragmatism rather than aspirations. He defends this type of education for his students as being of use because it meant the students were more likely to stay in the area than migrate to cities and were also more likely to find employment.
As practical as this outlook is, it is possible to see why detractors have found fault as Washington could be seen offer his students little in the way of aspirations that middle-class white students would have had and still have.