Up from Slavery: An Autobiography
At the end of my first year at Hampton I was confronted with another difficulty. Most of
the students went home to spend their vacation. I had no money with which to go home,
but I had to go somewhere. In those days very few students were permitted to remain at
the school during vacation. It made me feel very sad and homesick to see the other
students preparing to leave and starting for home. I not only had no money with which to
go home, but I had none with which to go anywhere.
In some way, however, I had gotten hold of an extra, second-hand coat which I thought
was a pretty valuable coat. This I decided to sell, in order to get a little money for
travelling expenses. I had a good deal of boyish pride, and I tried to hide, as far as I
could, from the other students the fact that I had no money and nowhere to go. I made it
known to a few people in the town of Hampton that I had this coat to sell, and, after a
good deal of persuading, one coloured man promised to come to my room to look the
coat over and consider the matter of buying it. This cheered my drooping spirits
considerably. Early the next morning my prospective customer appeared. After looking
the garment over carefully, he asked me how much I wanted for it. I told him I thought it
was worth three dollars. He seemed to agree with me as to price, but remarked in the
most matter-of-fact way: "I tell you what I will do; I will take the coat, and will pay you
five cents, cash down, and pay you the rest of the money just as soon as I can get it." It is
not hard to imagine what my feelings were at the time.
With this disappointment I gave up all hope of getting out of the town of Hampton for my
vacation work. I wanted very much to go where I might secure work that would at least
pay me enough to purchase some much-needed clothing and other necessities. In a few
days practically all the students and teachers had left for their homes, and this served to
depress my spirits even more.
After trying for several days in and near the town of Hampton, I finally secured work in a
restaurant at Fortress Monroe. The wages, however, were very little more than my board.
At night, and between meals, I found considerable time for study and reading; and in this
direction I improved myself very much during the summer.
When I left school at the end of my first year, I owed the institution sixteen dollars that I
had not been able to work out. It was my greatest ambition during the summer to save
money enough with which to pay this debt. I felt that this was a debt of honour, and that I
could hardly bring myself to the point of even trying to enter school again till it was paid.
I economized in every way that I could think of--did my own washing, and went without
necessary garments--but still I found my summer vacation ending and I did not have the
One day, during the last week of my stay in the restaurant, I found under one of the tables
a crisp, new ten-dollar bill. I could hardly contain myself, I was so happy. As it was not
my place of business I felt it to be the proper thing to show the money to the proprietor.