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Up from Slavery: An Autobiography

Teaching School In A Stable And A Hen-House
I confess that what I saw during my month of travel and investigation left me with a very
heavy heart. The work to be done in order to lift these people up seemed almost beyond
accomplishing. I was only one person, and it seemed to me that the little effort which I
could put forth could go such a short distance toward bringing about results. I wondered
if I could accomplish anything, and if it were worth while for me to try.
Of one thing I felt more strongly convinced than ever, after spending this month in seeing
the actual life of the coloured people, and that was that, in order to lift them up,
something must be done more than merely to imitate New England education as it then
existed. I saw more clearly than ever the wisdom of the system which General Armstrong
had inaugurated at Hampton. To take the children of such people as I had been among for
a month, and each day give them a few hours of mere book education, I felt would be
almost a waste of time.
After consultation with the citizens of Tuskegee, I set July 4, 1881, as the day for the
opening of the school in the little shanty and church which had been secured for its
accommodation. The white people, as well as the coloured, were greatly interested in the
starting of the new school, and the opening day was looked forward to with much earnest
discussion. There were not a few white people in the vicinity of Tuskegee who looked
with some disfavour upon the project. They questioned its value to the coloured people,
and had a fear that it might result in bringing about trouble between the races. Some had
the feeling that in proportion as the Negro received education, in the same proportion
would his value decrease as an economic factor in the state. These people feared the
result of education would be that the Negroes would leave the farms, and that it would be
difficult to secure them for domestic service.
The white people who questioned the wisdom of starting this new school had in their
minds pictures of what was called an educated Negro, with a high hat, imitation gold eye-
glasses, a showy walking-stick, kid gloves, fancy boots, and what not--in a word, a man
who was determined to live by his wits. It was difficult for these people to see how
education would produce any other kind of a coloured man.
In the midst of all the difficulties which I encountered in getting the little school started,
and since then through a period of nineteen years, there are two men among all the many
friends of the school in Tuskegee upon whom I have depended constantly for advice and
guidance; and the success of the undertaking is largely due to these men, from whom I
have never sought anything in vain. I mention them simply as types. One is a white man
and an ex-slaveholder, Mr. George W. Campbell; the other is a black man and an ex-
slave, Mr. Lewis Adams. These were the men who wrote to General Armstrong for a
teacher.
 
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