Dateline: 20 January 2016 AD
In This Previous Post, and This Previous Post I introduced you to Booker T. Washington’s little-known book, Working With The Hands. You will be hard pressed to find any other internet discussion or even a mention of this book. I believe it is almost a lost volume.
You will also be hard pressed to find any in-depth internet explanation or discussion of the Tuskegee Institute as it was when Booker T. Washington ran the place.
I’m starting to realize that Booker T. Washington’s opinions and writings (aside from his autobiography, Up From Slavery) would not be popular among the vast majority of black Americans of today. His approach to educating and elevating his race are profoundly contrary to our current-day narrative.
I’m pretty sure that most of the mainstream black “leaders” of our time would rather that no blacks of today knew anything about what Booker T. Washington wrote on the subject of race relations. And his thoughts about how to help his people help themselves would be looked at as outdated and archaic.
But I’m of the mind that Booker T. Washington knew better than any mainstream black leader of today how to best lead his race into true freedom. Washington’s teachings on this subject are distilled into a “declaration of principles” in his book, Working With The Hands. These principles are a summation of the objective of the annual “Farmer’s Conference” (also referred to as the “Tuskegee Negro Conference”).
Here is what Washington has to say about the Conference in “Working With The Hands”…
The purpose of the Tuskegee Negro Conference is to help the farmers who are too old, or too bound down by their responsibilities, to attend schools or institutes; to do for them in a small way, what Tuskegee and other agencies seek to do for the younger generation.
Coloured men and women make long and expensive journeys to be present, coming from all the Southern and several of the Northern states. They have found that their money is not wasted, for they learn much by seeing what has been done at the school, from the advice of experts, but more especially by the exchange of opinions and by comparing experiences in their own field of work. These meetings are not for whining or complaints. Their keynote is hopeful courage. To look up and not down, forward and not backward, to be cheerful and mutually helpful, is the golden rule of the conference.
It was decided from the first to confine the proceedings to matters which the race had closely within its control, and to positive, aggressive effort, rather than to mere negative criticisms and recitations of wrongs. I wanted these coloured farmers and their wives to consult about the methods and means of securing homes, of freeing themselves from debt, of encouraging production, of paying their taxes, of cultivating habits of thrift, honesty, and virtue, of building school-houses, and securing education and high Christian character, of cementing the friendships between the races.
In these conventions, as in other ways, we have tried to keep alive the feeling of hope and encouragement. We have seen darker days than these, and no race that is patient, long-suffering, industrious, economical, and virtuous, no race that is persistent in efforts that make for progress, no race that cultivates a spirit of good-will toward all mankind, is left without reward.
The Farmers’ Conference each year adopts a declaration of principles, which sums up its objects in such words as these:
Our object shall be to promote the moral, material, and educational progress of this entire community. Believing, as we do, that we are our own worst enemies, we pledge, here and now, from this time forth, to use every effort—
** To abolish and do away with the mortgage system just as rapidly as possible.
** To raise our food supplies, such as corn, potatoes, syrup, peas, hogs, chickens, etc., at home rather than to go into debt for them at the store.
** To stop throwing away our time and money on Saturdays by standing around towns, drinking and disgracing ourselves in many other ways.
** To oppose, at all times, the excursion and camp-meeting, and to try earnestly to secure better schools, better teachers, and better preachers.
** To try to buy homes, to urge upon all negroes the necessity of owning homes and farms, and not only to own them, but to beautify and improve them.
** Since the greater number of us are engaged in agriculture, we urge the importance of stock and poultry raising, the teaching of agriculture in the county schools, the thorough cultivation of a small acreage, rather than the poor cultivation of a large one, attention to farm work in winter, and getting rid of the habit of living in one-room houses.
** We urge more protection of life and property, better homes for tenants, and that home life in the country be made more attractive, all this with the view of keeping such great numbers of our people out of the large cities.
** In connection with the better schools and churches, we emphasize the need of careful attention to the morals of our ministers and teachers, and all others acting in the capacity of leaders.
** Prosperity and peace are dependent upon friendly relations between the races, and to this end we urge a spirit of manly forbearance and mutual interest.
The chapter then goes on to give many examples of Conference attendees who, in spite of the cultural limitations they faced, were making great progress in breaking free from the ignorance, debt slavery, material dependencies, race hostilities, and bad personal habits that conspired to oppress them.
Now, here's the amazing thing about the above passage, and the Declaration of Principles...
I believe the wisdom of those principles and objectives (that were set forth for a recently-enslaved race seeking to achieve security, self respect and meaning) are, for the most part, still wise and appropriate today—112 years after they were written.
Furthermore, I believe the wisdom of those principles is applicable to ALL Americans in this day and age, not just black Americans.
And, amazingly, I see those principles as a reflection of the same things that I have advocated in this Deliberate Agrarian blog for the past 11 years. Fundamentally, they are Christian-agrarian principles.