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Title: Putting the Most Into Life
Author: Washington, Booker T.
Language: English
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Putting the Most into Life



[Illustration: _Copyright 1902 by Pach Bros._]



  Putting the Most
  Into Life

  By Booker T. Washington
  Author of “Up from Slavery”


  [Illustration]


  New York
  Thomas Y. Crowell & Co.
  Publishers



  Copyright, 1906, by Thomas Y. Crowell & Co.

  Published September, 1906


  Composition and electrotype plates by
  D. B. Updike, The Merrymount Press, Boston



The chapters in this little book were originally part of a series of
Sunday Evening Talks given by the Principal to the students of the
Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. They have been recast from
the second to the third person, and many local allusions have been cut
out. They are now sent out, in response to repeated requests, to a
larger audience than that to which they were first spoken.

                                        BOOKER T. WASHINGTON

  Tuskegee Institute, Alabama
  August 10, 1906



A Table of Contents


    I.  Health a Requisite for Effective Living                        1

   II.  Some of the Qualities Essential to the most Successful
          School Life                                                  5

  III.  A Word to Prospective Teachers about putting
          the Most into their Work                                     9

   IV.  Industrial Efficiency an Aid to the Higher Life               17

    V.  Making Religion a Vital Part of Living                        23

   VI.  On making our Race Life count in the Life of the
          Nation                                                      30



Putting the Most into Life



i

Health a Requisite for Effective Living


The individual who puts the most into life is the one who gets the most
out of life. The first requisite for making life effective for one’s
self or society is a sound body. There have been many people who in
spite of weak bodies have enriched the world by noble thought and work.
There has been a long line of physically weak men who have helped the
world onward; but the rule holds that the best work has been done by
men and women of vigorous health.

It is important that the Negro race in its present condition shall
learn just as quickly as possible how to have good, strong, healthy
working bodies, for so much is dependent upon them. In the world of
industry, the world of commerce, all mental activity and spiritual
endeavor,--no matter in what direction one’s attention or energies may
be turned, strong bodies are needed to meet the demand. There are a
few simple rules which should serve as guide-posts to those who would
make the most of their physical being. One of the conditions of a good,
strong, working body is contact with fresh air. In the early days of
this school, when we were housed in shacks and cabins, whatever else
we lacked, we were, by virtue of necessity, abundantly supplied with
air; but now that we are getting into plastered buildings, with good
floors and windows and doors, there is danger of suffering from poorly
ventilated rooms and a lack of health-giving air.

Those who live in the large cities would do well to become disciples
of Wordsworth, and with him learn to know the inspiration and strength
that come from wood and forest,--the joy of intimate acquaintance with
birds and flowers. The individual who has the privilege of living on
the farm, and coming in contact with the earth and grass and trees and
real things, is the individual who, provided he has an eye to see and
an ear to hear, is most to be envied.

Next in importance to an abundance of fresh air is the habit of
regular, systematic exercise. People often think that this kind of
exercise costs a great deal of money, that it means costly apparatus
and artificial fixtures. Not so. It requires no great outlay of time
or energy for the boy on the farm to breathe deeply as he follows the
plough or scatters the seeds. And yet, simple exercises of this kind
are essential to the life of a race whose mortality from pulmonary
diseases is alarming. Every boy in the machine shop knows how necessary
it is to keep his machinery well oiled and in good running condition.
Then, too, every such boy knows the importance of keeping every part of
his machinery as clean as possible. Now, your body is a machine, but
how much more delicate and intricate than any made by man! how much
more necessary to keep it in good running condition and absolutely
clean in order that it may do its best work!

In addition to pure air and cleanliness, I want to speak of the wearing
of comfortable clothing as another essential to right living. I am
glad to see that the world is fast getting away from the old habits
that used to enslave people in this matter of dressing--the habit
exercised by many of wearing small shoes, for instance, until their
feet were cramped in severe pains merely to have the world think they
had small feet. What does it matter to the world whether a person has
small feet or large feet? Who ever stops to think whether great poets,
historians, the great workers in economic and religious life,--men
and women who have really accomplished something,--had large or small
feet, whether they wore fours or eights, or wore large or small corsets
or none. I am glad to see that all peoples and races are getting away
from that kind of thing, and I want the Tuskegee students to make up
their minds to buy shoes to fit no matter what the number. We consider
the Chinese ridiculous to keep their feet cruelly cramped in order that
they may be small, but many of us in somewhat less degree are guilty of
the same thing.

The importance of temperance has been repeated over and over again
from this platform; and intemperance in eating or sleeping is not less
disgusting than intemperance in drink.

The world’s work is to be done by men and women of vigorous intellect;
but the sound mind must have its foundation in a body which is kept
clean and made comfortable by proper clothing, pure air, regular
exercise and wholesome food. No workman, however competent, can do good
work unless his tools are kept in proper repair. My plea is that the
young Negro students shall acquire strong working bodies to be used as
tools to serve therewith their fellows and their Maker. This is the end
of all living.



ii

Some of the Qualities Essential to the Most Successful School Life


The student who would put the most into his school life must first
of all be happy. I do not believe it is possible for a student to
accomplish very much, certainly not the most, while he is in school,
unless he learns to be happy in all his relations in school life. If
the students are unhappy there is something wrong with the institution,
or with the teachers, or with the student body. The normal state of a
student in a well-ordered institution is a happy one. It is impossible
to get the most out of the life of any institution unless there is
joy in working out the ideals of the institution. The student should
make himself familiar with the purposes of the school to which he
seeks admission, and having made the choice, he should be loyal to its
traditions and purposes.

The Bible teaches over and over again that freedom, without which
happiness is impossible, is self-imposed restraint, that to be really
free we must live within the law. He who lives outside the law is a
slave. The freeman is the man who lives within the law, whether that
law be the physical or the divine. All life is governed by law, and
the student must acquire freedom by obedience to law. The students in
any institution are divided into two classes: the happy, contented,
ambitious, hopeful ones, who have faith in the institution and respect
for its traditions, and the miserable, discontented, grumbling class.
One class live not only within the letter but in the spirit of the
law, and are consequently happy. The second class are miserable,
discontented and hopeless because they try to live outside the law.
No student can get much out of any institution who does not enter
whole-heartedly into its spirit, its traditions and its ideals.

The ability to do hard methodical work is one of the prizes which every
school worthy of the name offers to its students. The years at school
not infrequently give bent to the whole life. The student who does
slipshod work at school is more than likely to lack direction in his
subsequent career. But mental strength comes not as a bequest. It is
a prize that must be contended for right earnestly, and dictionary,
cyclopaedia, text-book and shop are tools which instructors place in
the hands of students to help them win the prize. The proper use of
these tools must depend finally upon the individual student. No one
gets much out of life who does not make his education a real, vital
part of himself. Many people have education very much as a parrot has
at his command a certain number of words or sentences. The words and
sentences that the parrot utters are no real part of him. They are
merely something tacked on to the parrot, and foreign to his real
natural make-up. Some people use education as they use their “Sunday
clothes,” on extra occasions only. They bring their education into
play when they are in the company of others, commit a few quotations
and use big words which have no working place in their vocabulary.
To try to make education a real part of one’s self is the way to get
most out of one’s school life. Just as the food a man eats becomes a
part of his blood and bone, so should education become a vital part of
him. Education must be digested and assimilated in order to make it
significant.

The student who leaves undone immediate duties because of bodily
laziness is leaving happiness far behind him. Sins of commission and
sins of omission alike tend to weakness. Our ability to make the world
better depends entirely upon our ability to use every opportunity to
make ourselves better. A largeness of life, a variety of interests
and breadth of view are among the prizes which a school offers to its
students. These qualities the ignorant man does not possess. Largeness
of life and breadth of vision give faith in the future; that largeness
makes one person take the long view when the other is taking the short
view; that largeness lifts the educated person far above the temptation
to gossip about little things, above the temptation to get down into
the mud and slime with which weaker individuals are smeared.

To be loyal and obedient to the legislation of an institution, to make
thrifty use of text-book and shop and farm and every part of the school
equipment, is to attain that mental strength that makes for largeness
of life and breadth of view. These qualities come not by observation,
but they do come by conscientious work in season and out of season.
They are all within the reach of the student who is willing to work for
them, and they are all essential to real happiness.



iii

A Word to Prospective Teachers about Putting the Most into their Work


The large problem of the teacher is not to impart knowledge and
maintain discipline. The larger problem is to bring school life and
real life into closer contact. With the average teacher, as with the
average student, there is very little connection between the school and
life as it is actually lived every day outside the school-room; and
as long as this is true there will be ground for reasonable and just
criticism.

In the primary school, the intermediary school and the high school
there is often little, if any, connection between life as it is lived
in the shop, on the farm, in business and in the home. It cannot but
prove of mutual advantage if the teacher can bring school life into
actual touch with the life of the people about him. The interest of
the parents will be increased just in proportion as they find that the
teacher is making his instruction stimulate and vitalize conditions
outside the school-room.

It is difficult for the parent of the country child to note the results
of education through the usual processes and channels of knowledge.
Colored parents depend upon seeing the results of education in ways not
true of the white parent. It is important then that the colored teacher
in this generation should give special attention to bringing school
life into closer touch with real life. Any education is to my mind
“high” which enables the individual to do the very best work for the
people by whom he is surrounded. Any education is “low” that does not
make for character and effective service.

The average teacher in the public schools is very likely to yield to
the temptation of thinking that he is educating an individual when
he is teaching him to reason out examples in Arithmetic, to prove
propositions in Geometry and to recite pages of History. He conceives
this to be the end of education. Herein is the sad deficiency in many
teachers who are not able to use History, Arithmetic, Geometry as
means to an end. They get the idea that the student who has mastered
a certain number of pages in a text-book is educated, forgetting that
text-books are at best but tools, and in many cases ineffective tools,
for the development of man. Modern educators are getting more and more
away from books. Now this will be hard for the average teacher who
has worked out all the problems in Arithmetic and proved them by the
answers in the book, but I believe that the best educational thought
tends toward the study of real things and not mere books.

One of the ways of bringing the school into closer touch with society
is to make school surroundings, including the grounds and buildings,
as homelike and as attractive as possible. The school-rooms are in too
many cases cold and barren. In schools of this sort there is little
connection between the home and the school. I believe that the teacher
should study the home surroundings of his pupils and become more
intimately acquainted with the parents. When teachers are able to make
their school-rooms inviting and are able to project their influence
into the home life of the pupils, there will be few absentees or
truants. A child cannot be expected to leave a comfortable, attractive
and convenient home to go into a dull, inconvenient, uncomfortable
school-room, nor can it be expected that pupils will leave comfortable
chairs at home and go into school-rooms where they must sit on stools
with their feet six or eight inches from the floor.

It is hardly necessary to say that the teacher should set the example
for the student in the matter of cleanliness and neatness. The teacher
who would preach against grease spots, rents in clothes and buttonless
jackets must see to it that he is himself without fault in these
respects. When I go into a school and notice that the instructor has
buttons off his coat, I am at once convinced that he is not the right
teacher. I do not believe that there is much that the student can learn
at that school that can be put into practice in real life. I believe
that the teacher should not only set an example himself, but that he
should go further than this: he should see that every boy and girl in
his school is familiar with the practical applications of soap and
water, and knows the work of the tooth-brush and the darning-needle.
Some parents may at first resent this encroachment upon their special
domain, but persistence in an endeavor of this sort will finally cause
the parents to look upon the teacher as a new force in the community.
The average parent cannot appreciate how many examples Johnny has
worked that day, how many questions in History he has answered; but
when he says, “Mother, I cannot go back to that school until all the
buttons are sewed on my coat,” the parent will at once become conscious
of school influence in the home. This will be the best kind of
advertisement. The button propaganda tends to make the teacher a power
in the community. A few lessons in applied Chemistry will not be amiss.
Take grease spots, for example. The teacher who with tact can teach his
pupils to keep even threadbare clothes neatly brushed and free from
grease spots is extending the school influence into the home and is
adding immeasurably to the self-respect of the home.

In the school-houses in the city, and in many of the larger towns and
country districts, janitors do all the work of cleaning. This may be
necessary in city schools, where it is not possible for the children
to do all the work of beautifying and cleaning the school building,
but when all this work is done by outsiders the children are robbed of
part of their instruction and they thus lose a very important lesson
in cleanliness and order which it is the duty of the teacher to give.
Think of the time lost in the average family looking for the broom when
the time comes to sweep the floor. At this time all business suspends.
Mother cries out first, “Where is the broom?” The older sister cries
to John and Susie and Jane, “Where is the broom?” and that kind of
thing goes on every day in the week and year. It takes the average
family from ten to twelve minutes every day to find the broom. Now,
we should teach a different lesson in our schools. We can teach in
the first place that there are two ways for the broom to be put up, a
proper and an improper way. We can teach the children that there is
a place for the dust-pan and the dust-cloth and the match-box. The
match-box is another thing that suspends business. Every night when the
matches are wanted, everything goes helter-skelter. This is a larger
problem than the broom, there being absolutely no light on the subject.
The children should be taught that there must be a definite place for
the broom and for the match-box, and it is surprising how quickly these
lessons will be taken from the school-room into the home. Even the
listless parents will be roused to interest by such practical teaching.
The child who goes to school in a room that is clean and attractive
will not long be content to live in a home that is dirty and disorderly.

I was recently in a school-room in South Carolina. The teacher had a
reputation for being a well-fitted instructor, and I expected much of
him. He was teaching the children by the latest methods. The children
sang well, they recited their lessons well, but the fact that one
third of the plastering was missing made the greatest impression
on me. I could not detect the slightest attempt on the part of the
teacher or students to see that the plastering was restored. I should
have suspended school a day or two until the plastering could be
replaced, rather than teach day after day by silent approval a lesson
of disorder. If the teacher is careless, the pupils will accept his
standards and go through life in an indifferent, slipshod manner. If
from the first day they enter school they are surrounded with object
lessons of order and cleanliness, more will have been done to educate
them in a large and helpful way than if they had centred their interest
in books alone.

Order and beauty are sacrificed in many of our schools because one
third or one fourth of the window-glass is out. Sometimes I have seen
obsolete hats and discarded dresses doing duty in the absence of
window-glass or window-panes knocked out in order that the stovepipe
might be run through the broken place. The child never outlives the
impression made by such a sight. The parents will join their children
in helping to patch broken plastering if the teacher will take the
lead. When the plastering is mended, a few pictures should be placed on
the walls, and in this work the parents’ coöperation can be depended
upon. Teachers must put not less conscience but more thought into the
work for the children to whose lives they are giving direction. By
putting into their work more of their better selves, more of their
personality, teachers will add not only to their own happiness and
usefulness, but will be doing real work toward hastening the coming of
that kingdom for which they daily pray.



iv

Industrial Efficiency an Aid to The Higher Life


It was Emerson who said that “One generation clears the forests, the
next builds the palaces.” Each generation is very anxious to engage in
the building of the palaces, an ambition which is altogether laudable,
but the forests must first be cleared or there will be no palaces. And
so it falls to the lot of every successful individual of every race and
nation to engage at some time or period in their existence in dealing
in a large degree with the industrial or material affairs of life.

The forms of industry that occupy the majority of people in a civilized
country may be classed under one of the following heads: first and
perhaps most largely, the production of raw material in one form or
another; the second step is the manufacturing of these materials;
third, the problem of transportation and getting these products on
the markets of the world, and having them properly distributed and
economically and wisely consumed.

The production of cotton in the South presents a familiar example of
all these processes. The growing of cotton is an industry largely in
the hands of my race; in the second step, the manufacturing of cotton,
the colored people have as yet little part; in putting these materials
on the market through the medium of steamboats, steam-cars, and their
distribution through wholesale and retail establishments, colored
people have diminishing interests. The lesson for all young people to
learn in this busy industrial age is to deal with materials, whether at
first hand in getting something out of the soil, or as constructing or
distributing agents, so as to increase the value of the material they
handle and to make themselves more useful as individuals.

The main source of all productiveness is in the soil, and the work of
getting out of the soil all that can be gotten out of it has, in recent
years, made agriculture an intellectual pursuit. It is very important
to note the progress of the world during the last few years, when
people have learned to put more into life by putting brains and skill
and confidence into all industrial operations. A few years ago the
man who was going to be a farmer made almost no preparation for his
work. Skill and intelligence were not considered necessary, but to-day
in every civilized country there are institutions that have for their
sole purpose the teaching of methods of getting everything possible
out of the soil. A few years ago the mining of coal, copper, silver
and gold was left to the most unintelligent, ignorant and unskilled
people; there was little thought or skill put into preparation for
this kind of work. To-day mining schools have been established in all
important mining districts, and this industry has been so dignified
that intelligent and skilful men delight to enter it. The same thing
is true of forestry. Within the last few months a chair of Forestry
has been established at Cornell University, where young men can learn
all about the selection and cultivation of trees. The Department of
Agriculture at Washington is spending over two million dollars yearly
in showing people how to take care of the forests. The world is making
all the material products serve not as masters but as servants, and
servants in the sense that they are making people put more thought,
more effort, more skill into life, and enabling them thus to get more
abundant returns wherewith to enlarge and ennoble their lives. There
are opportunities about us on every hand. The Southern farm offers
great opportunities to every young man who will use his talents. The
idea that farming means ploughing with one mule or digging the ground
with a spade is fast disappearing, for this industry is developing into
a high and dignified calling. Young women of maturer races than ours
are making large economic successes in the raising of chickens, in
fruit growing, in raising small berries; and young colored women should
begin to get some of the benefits of these industries.

But the chance for material success in connection with industrial
life is relatively of less importance than is the chance for the
individual to get development through the mastering of difficulties in
the management of industrial operations. The mere mastering of these
difficulties has made many of the Captains of Industry of this country.
Poverty discourages many a youth who starts out in the busy industrial
world, but the fact that others have conquered poverty is an earnest
that others, for centuries to come, will get courage and strength out
of adverse struggle. The colored man starts out, it is true, with an
additional handicap, but here is the chance for Negro youth to learn to
turn disadvantages to advantages. A colored man born in poverty and
an ex-slave owns to-day one of the largest tailoring establishments
in one of the most prominent streets in the city of Boston. This man
had learned the sweet uses of adversity and knew how to lay hold of
disadvantages. His establishment is patronized by people who buy from
him not in spite of the fact that he is a Negro, but because he is
a Negro. The world needs men, be they white or black, who can rise
on successive failures to useful citizenship. No person can enter
industrial life without for a time feeling some days of almost complete
failure, but mistakes and weariness beget confidence and experience.

All industrial operations and material progress should be used not as
ends but as means of making life more comfortable, more useful and
more beautiful. The intelligent farmer as he plants and works and
harvests the cotton must remember that the production of cotton is not
the end of his effort. Every bale of cotton can be turned into books,
into opportunities for travel and study. The man who grows corn must
remember that the growing of corn is not the end of life, but that the
corn can be turned into refinements and beauties of a civilized life
and a Christian home.

No one can doubt that the people who have built the railroads and
constructed the great steamships that bind country to country have
added to the wealth and happiness of the world. Finally, it must be
remembered that the mastering of difficulties should bring poise,
purpose and vision. I want every Tuskegee student as he finds his place
in the surging industrial life about him to give heed to the things
which are “honest and just and pure and of good report,” for these
things make for character, which is the only thing worth fighting for,
either in this life or the next.



v

Making Religion A Vital Part of Living


Educated men and women, especially those who are in college or other
institutions of learning, very often get the idea that religion is
fit only for the common people and beneath the interest and sympathy
of the educated man. In too many cases they are disposed to think
that religion is for the weak, and that to express doubts concerning
religion and the future life is an indication of a vigorous,
independent mind. No young man or woman can make a greater error than
this.

Some years ago, when I was in New York City, I went down to Wall Street
to consult a friend as to methods of arranging for a large meeting.
I wanted in this meeting to get interest centred in the work we are
trying to do at Tuskegee. My friend said: “If you can secure the
coöperation of four men in New York City, the success of your meeting
will be assured.” I went to the four men whose names had been given
me and secured their interest and coöperation. Some weeks later there
was a large meeting held in New York in the interest of the Young Men’s
Christian Association movement. In looking over the list of persons who
were sponsors for this meeting I found the names of the four men whom
my Wall Street friend had mentioned. He gave me these names, however,
with no thought that they were leaders in the religious activity of New
York City. He named them chiefly because he knew their standing in the
commercial and business life of the city was secure, and that anything
they said would attract the attention of the public and would secure
the confidence of the people whose interest and aid we were seeking.
And so it appears that the four men who at that time represented the
commercial and business interest of New York were men who were closely
identified with the religious life of the city, and were active in
Sunday-school and church work, and connected with many other agencies
which had to do with the uplifting of the masses. My observation has
taught me that the people who stand for the most in the educational and
commercial world and in the uplifting of the people are in some real
way connected with the religious life of the people among whom they
reside.

This being true we ought to make the most of our religious life and
to avail ourselves of certain outward helps, helps which are not
ends but aids to higher spiritual living. First the habit of regular
attendance at some religious service should be cultivated. This is
one of the outward helps toward inward grace. Nothing is ever lost
by this habit of systematic devotion. But one says, “What good is
accomplished by attending church?” Another says, “I stay away from
religious service and I am just as good as those who go.” To put the
question another way, Was any one ever injured by regular attendance
upon religious services? The man who allows himself to grow careless
about sacred things yields to a temptation which is sure to drag him
down. As you value your spiritual life, see to it that you do not lose
the spirit of reverence for the Most High as revealed in your own life
and experience, reverence for the Most High as revealed in the men
and women about you, in the opening flower, the setting sun, and the
song of the bird. Do not mistake denominationalism for reverence and
religion. Religion is life, denominationalism is an aid to life.

Systematic reading and prayerful study of the Bible is the second
outward help which I would commend to those whom I wish to see make
the most of their spiritual life. Many people regard the Bible as
a wonderful piece of literature only. The reading of the Bible as
literature only brings its reward in that it throws new light on
secular history and gives acquaintance with men and women and ideals
which have been the inspiration of the noblest things that have ever
been spoken or written. Nowhere in all literature can be found a
finer bit of oratory than St. Paul’s defence before King Agrippa.
But praiseworthy as this kind of study is, I do not believe it is
sufficient. The Bible should be read as a daily guide to right living
and as a daily incentive to positive Christian service.

I think that no man who lives a merely negative religious life can ever
know real spiritual joy. There are many people who pride themselves
on the things they do not do. The negative Christian always suggests
a lamp-post to me. The negative Christian says he is going to heaven
because he does not lie. Neither does the lamp-post. The negative
Christian does not steal. Neither does the lamp-post steal. He does
not cheat, he does nothing of which he is ashamed: he is therefore
blameless. The lamp-post has never done any one of these things. I
do not want the Tuskegee students to be lamp-posts in their religious
life, but I want them to turn their beliefs into energy that shall work
into every detail of their lives.

Not less repulsive to me than the negative Christian is the one who is
always using his religion as a means of escape from something, from
hell fire or brimstone or some less remote punishment. This class
of Christians use religion as people use the conjurer’s bag or a
disinfectant to ward off evil. They are not drawn to any vital thing in
religion; they simply use it as a cloak to shield them from harm.

To live the real religious life is in some measure to share the
character of God. The word “atonement,” which occurs in the Bible again
and again, means literally at-one-ment. To be at one with God is to
be like God. Our real religious striving, then, should be to become
one with God, sharing with Him in our poor human way His qualities
and attributes. To do this, we must get the inner life, the heart
right, and we shall then become strong where we have been weak, wise
where we have been foolish. We are often criticised as a race because
people say that our religion is not real. They say that our religion
is superficial, that in spite of our attendance at religious services
and protestations of faith we are guilty of petty pilfering, stealing,
lying and of walking crookedly in many directions. Whenever this
criticism is true it means that we have not learned what the religious
life really means. We must learn to incorporate God’s laws into our
thoughts and words and acts. Frequent reference is made in the Bible
to the freedom that comes from being a Christian. A man is free just
in proportion as he learns to live within God’s laws, and he makes
grievous mistakes and serious blunders the minute he departs from these
laws.

As a race we are inclined, I fear, to make too much of the day of
judgment. We have the idea that in some far-off period there is going
to be a great and final day of judgment, when every individual will
be called up, and all his bad deeds will be read out before him and
all his good deeds made known. I believe that every day is a day of
judgment, that we reap our rewards daily, and that whenever we sin we
are punished by mental and physical anxiety and by a weakened character
that separates us from God. Every day is, I take it, a day of judgment,
and as we learn God’s laws and grow into His likeness we shall find
our reward in this world in a life of usefulness and honor. To do this
is to have found the kingdom of God, which is the kingdom of character
and righteousness and peace.



vi

On Making Our Race Life Count in the Life of the Nation


In the Bible one finds over and over again the words “a peculiar
people.” Reference is made to the Jews as “a peculiar people,”--a
people differing in thought and temperament and mode of life from
others by whom they were surrounded. Now the race to which Americans
of African lineage belong is often described as “a peculiar people,”
having had, as we know, a peculiar history. They differ in color and in
appearance, and in a very large degree their temperament and thought
differ from that of the people about them. Now the Jews because they
were different from the peoples by whom they were surrounded, because
of their peculiar religious bent, were able to give to the world the
doctrine of the unity and Fatherhood of God, and Christianity, the
finest flower of Jewry. It is then, I think, not too much to hope that
the very qualities which make the Negro different from the peoples by
whom he is surrounded will enable him, in the fulness of time, to make
a peculiar contribution to the nation of which he forms a part.

What that contribution is to be no man can now tell, but we must keep
in mind that the race is made of individuals and

          “every man God made
    Is different, has some deed to do,
    Some work to work. Be undismayed.
    Though thine be humble, do it, too.”

As with an individual, so with a race. When you and I and all the other
individuals that go to make up our race shall have learned to do well
our own peculiar work, we shall be able to determine the bent of the
race. It must fall upon you and me, who have had opportunity to work
out in some measure our own individual problems, to give direction
to the race. It is for us, therefore, to bring to the enrichment of
our lives, as individuals, every quality which we are capable of
cultivating.

There is in the New Testament a passage which I like to refer to and to
think of; it reads something like this: “He that overcometh shall be
clothed in white raiment.” The expression “He that overcometh” occurs
several times in the New Testament. I am anxious that the Tuskegee
students shall get the idea firmly fixed in their minds that there
are definite rewards coming to the individual or to the race that
overcomes obstacles and succeeds in spite of seemingly insurmountable
difficulties. The palms of victory are not for the race that merely
complains and frets and rails. I do not mean to say that there is not
a place for race loyalty and enthusiasm. There is a proper and vital
place for protests against the wrongs that are inflicted without cause
or reason. Every race, like every individual, should be swift to
protest against injustice and wrongs, but no race must be content with
mere protests. Every race must show to the world by tangible, visible,
indisputable evidence that it can do more than merely call attention
to the wrongs inflicted upon it. The reward of life is for those who
choose the good where evil calls out on every hand. That reward is
moral character. The more temptations resisted--the more difficult the
struggle--the more robust the character. The wholly innocent person is
much less praiseworthy than is he who has faced temptation and has come
out of it unscarred. The virtues of foresight and thrift and frugality,
brought bravely to the front, will bring large material possessions
which if properly used will refine and enrich life.

I am constrained to refer once more to that “peculiar people,” the
Jews,--a race that has been handicapped in very much the same way as
the colored people. Their opportunities have been limited in many
directions. In Russia to-day they are in many cases debarred from
schools and from entrance into the professions. And, notwithstanding
the barriers in this country, one of the most noted banking firms in
the United States is composed of Jews. Members of a despised race,
they made up their minds that in spite of difficulties they would
not stop to complain, but would compel recognition by making a real
contribution to the country of which they formed a part. The Japanese
race is a convincing example of the respect which the world gives to a
race that can put brains and commercial activity into the development
of the resources of a country. What material difficulties the thrifty
Hollanders have had to overcome in the development of their country!
But the battle against water and wind has developed not only a country,
but an energetic, thrifty people. The Netherlands have literally been
made by these sturdy Hollanders, who because they overcame are looked
upon as a great and happy people.

There is, then, opportunity for the colored people to enrich the
material life of their adopted country by doing what their hands find
to do, minor duties though they be, so well that nobody else of any
race can do them better. This is the aim that the Tuskegee student
should keep steadily before him. If he remembers that all service,
however lowly, is true service, an important step will have been taken
in the solution of what we term “the race problem.”

For it must be remembered that no individual of any race can contribute
to the solution of any general problem until he has first worked out
his own peculiar problem. Some months ago I met a former schoolmate
whom I had not seen for a number of years. I was naturally interested
to hear about his progress, and began to question him. I asked him
where he lived, and he said he had no abiding-place, in fact he had
lived in a half dozen places since we parted. In answer to other
questions, I found that he had no special trade, no special business,
no bank account. I asked then what he had been doing in the intervening
years, and he answered he had been travelling about over the country,
doing his best to solve the race problem. That man should rather
have been at work at the solution of his own individual problem. An
individual circumstanced as he was could not solve anybody’s problem.
It is important to have one’s own dooryard clean before calling
attention to the imperfection in the neighbor’s yard. Each Negro can
put much into the life of his race by making his own individual life
present a model in purity and patience, in industry and courage, in
showing the world how to get strength out of difficulties. The late
President Garfield once said that no person ever drowned, no matter
how many times he was thrown overboard, who was worth saving, and that
remark, with a few modifications, might be applied to a race. No race
is ever lost that is worth saving, and no race need be lost that wants
to save itself. The world is full of little people who through lack of
wisdom and patience and perseverance merely add to the world’s burdens.
The despised Negro has the chance to show to the world that charity
which suffereth long and is kind and which never faileth. In the face
of discouragements and difficulties the Negro must ever remember that
nobody can degrade him. Nobody can degrade a big race or a big man. No
one can degrade a single member of any race. The individual himself
is the only one who can inflict that punishment. Frederick Douglass
was on one occasion compelled to ride for several hours in a portion
of a freight car. A friend went into the freight car to console him
and said to him that he hated to see a man of his intelligence in so
humiliating a position. “I am ashamed that they have thus degraded
you.” But Douglass, straightening himself up in his seat, looked the
friend in the face and said, “They cannot degrade Frederick Douglass.”
And so they cannot degrade a single individual who does not want to
be degraded. Injustice cannot work harm upon the oppressed without
injuring the oppressor. The Negro people must live the precepts taught
by the Christ. They must go on multiplying, day by day, deeds of
worthiness, piling them up mountain high. And just as you and I, as
individuals, are called upon to serve the race of which we are a part,
so let us as a race recognize the fact that we are a part of a great
nation which we are bound to serve.


The End



Transcriber’s Notes


Simple typographical errors were corrected. Punctuation, hyphenation,
and spelling were made consistent when a predominant preference was
found in the original book; otherwise they were not changed.

The Frontispiece illustration is a photograph of Booker T. Washington.
The illustration on the Title page is decorative.





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