Up from Slavery: An Autobiography
Before going to Europe some events came into my life which were great surprises to me.
In fact, my whole life has largely been one of surprises. I believe that any man's life will
be filled with constant, unexpected encouragements of this kind if he makes up his mind
to do his level best each day of his life--that is, tries to make each day reach as nearly as
possible the high-water mark of pure, unselfish, useful living. I pity the man, black or
white, who has never experienced the joy and satisfaction that come to one by reason of
an effort to assist in making some one else more useful and more happy.
Six months before he died, and nearly a year after he had been stricken with paralysis,
General Armstrong expressed a wish to visit Tuskegee again before he passed away.
Notwithstanding the fact that he had lost the use of his limbs to such an extent that he was
practically helpless, his wish was gratified, and he was brought to Tuskegee. The owners
of the Tuskegee Railroad, white men living in the town, offered to run a special train,
without cost, out of the main station--Chehaw, five miles away--to meet him. He arrived
on the school grounds about nine o'clock in the evening. Some one had suggested that we
give the General a "pine-knot torchlight reception." This plan was carried out, and the
moment that his carriage entered the school grounds he began passing between two lines
of lighted and waving "fat pine" wood knots held by over a thousand students and
teachers. The whole thing was so novel and surprising that the General was completely
overcome with happiness. He remained a guest in my home for nearly two months, and,
although almost wholly without the use of voice or limb, he spent nearly every hour in
devising ways and means to help the South. Time and time again he said to me, during
this visit, that it was not only the duty of the country to assist in elevating the Negro of
the South, but the poor white man as well. At the end of his visit I resolved anew to
devote myself more earnestly than ever to the cause which was so near his heart. I said
that if a man in his condition was willing to think, work, and act, I should not be wanting
in furthering in every possible way the wish of his heart.
The death of General Armstrong, a few weeks later, gave me the privilege of getting
acquainted with one of the finest, most unselfish, and most attractive men that I have ever
come in contact with. I refer to the Rev. Dr. Hollis B. Frissell, now the Principal of the
Hampton Institute, and General Armstrong's successor. Under the clear, strong, and
almost perfect leadership of Dr. Frissell, Hampton has had a career of prosperity and
usefulness that is all that the General could have wished for. It seems to be the constant
effort of Dr. Frissell to hide his own great personality behind that of General Armstrong--
to make himself of "no reputation" for the sake of the cause.
More than once I have been asked what was the greatest surprise that ever came to me. I
have little hesitation in answering that question. It was the following letter, which came
to me one Sunday morning when I was sitting on the veranda of my home at Tuskegee,
surrounded by my wife and three children:--
Harvard University, Cambridge, May 28, 1896.