Up From Slavery. Chapter 9:. A Brief Recap. Anxious Days A nd Sleepless Nights.
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Up From Slavery
Booker begins this chapter by describing Christmas among the coloured people. It worried him how they believed in taking off so much time from work and drinking and having parties while not understanding the true meaning of the holiday.
“During the days of slavery, it was a custom to give the members of the white race about a week’s holiday at Christmas. Men and women were expected to get drunk, We found that for a whole week the coloured people in and around Tuskegee dropped work the day before Christmas, and that it was difficult for any one to perform any service from the time they stopped work until after the New Year. There was a widespread hilarity, and a free use of guns, pistols, and gunpowder generally. The sacredness of the season seemed to have been almost wholly lost sight of.”
He had decided to visit plantations a little away from the town of Tuskegee. What he saw was that the coloured people were trying to celebrate Christmas, to spread some Christmas cheer with the meagre resources that they had. In some cases, a family with five children had to share a single bunch of firecrackers to celebrate. In another family, half a dozen people had to share barely ten cents worth of ginger cakes. In another cabin, he found that there was nothing but a jug of cheap whiskey, which the husband and wife were making free use of. It appeared as though people had forgotten about the coming of Jesus Christ, and that only the freedom from work seemed as a celebratory reason.
“While I was making this Christmas visit I met an old coloured man who was one of the numerous local preachers, who tried to convince me, from the experience Adam had in the Garden of Eden, that God had cursed all labour,
and that, therefore, it was a sin for any man to work. For that reason this man sought to do as little work as possible.”
People seemed to have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas. Mr. Washington decided to take up this matter at school by giving lessons on its proper observance. He was pleased to note that he was successful in this endeavor as he was in most others as well.
Mr. Washington was of the view that the institute should not be shunned by the white folk and was determined to see that it became a part of the community, of both the coloured and the whites. He wanted to make the school a real service to all people, regardless of their race. Gradually, the disposition of the white people towards the school turned into one of contribution and encouragement.
For several months the work of securing the money with which to pay for the farm went on without ceasing. At the end of three months enough was secured to repay the loan of two hundred and fifty dollars to General Marshall, and within two months more they had secured the entire five hundred dollars and had received a deed of the one hundred acres of land.
Here again, Mr. Washington describes the feeling of satisfaction from work, and how contributions were made in plenty on parts of both races.
The next thing that the school decided to concentrate on was cultivation of the hundred acres of agricultural land in an attempt to turn a profit while at the same time providing students with some agricultural experience and providing food for the community at Tuskegee.
Many students could only remain at school for a maximum of two to three weeks at a time as they had insufficient funds with which they could pay for their board. Thus, a need ose to be able to create a system within the Tuskegee institute with which students would be able to pay for their board.
By then, the number of students attending the school had grown substantially, and soon there were plans being drawn for another building within the institute for further boarding. The building was estimated to cost six thousand dollars. This, being a tremendous sum that it was at that time, seemed a little large for Mr. Washington and his associates. But they had decided that the school could either go forward or stop its growth, and backwards was not an option. It was at this time, a white man came and offered the school lumber for construction of the building. He had nothing but Mr. Washington’s word for money for the lumber. Even when Booker had told him frankly that, the school had not even a dollar of the money, the man told him to pay it as and when they get the money.
Miss Davidson began collecting money in small sums for the construction of the building through various contributions. She travelled north for weeks, speaking to various organisations, in Sunday schools, in churches, all for the purpose of raising funds for the erection of the school.
The first major contribution made by a northerner was a cheque of fifty dollars which was handed to Miss Davidson on her boat ride north.
In fact, Miss Davidson would work so hard that she would be exhausted by the end of every day. The following is an excerpt from the autobiography-
“A lady upon whom she called, in Boston, afterward told me that at one time when Miss Davidson called her to see and send up her card the lady was detained a little before she could see Miss Davidson, and when she entered the parlour she found Miss Davidson so exhausted that she had fallen asleep.”
In the end, despite all odds, the building was constructed and named Porter Hall, after a Mr. A.H. Porter who had donated a generous sum towards the same.
Soon after the foundations were built, the time for the laying of the corner-stone had come. It was the inauguration of the building’s construction and the principal address was made by Hon. Waddy Thompson, the superintendent of education of the county.
Without a doubt, the period during the construction of the new building was indeed the most trying period in Mr. Washington’s first few years in Tuskegee. To quote his words-
“Perhaps none but one who has not gone through the experience, month after month, of trying to erect buildings and provide equipment for a school when no one knew where the money was to come from, can properly appreciate the difficulties under which we laboured.”
During these hard times, the presumption of success was against the school. Had a white man undertaken this venture, it would have been said that he would succeed-- “but in our case I felt that people would be surprised if we succeeded.”
At one time, during a time of greatest need for money, Mr. Washington placed their current situation frankly in front of General Armstrong. The old general immediately wrote a cheque of all his savings that he had saved for himself over the past few years and contributed it to Tuskegee institute.
At the end of his first year of work at Tuskegee, Booker T Washington was married to Miss Fannie M. Smith, of Malden, who was also a graduate of the Hampton Institute. They began to make a house in Tuskegee for themselves and the teachers of Tuskegee institute.
Sadly, After two years of helping the school grow and overcome, together with her housekeeping duties, Mrs. Washington passed away in 1884.