Up from Slavery: an autobiography eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 230 pages of information about Up from Slavery.

Consider the change that has come in twenty years in the discussion of the Negro problem.  Two or three decades ago social philosophers and statisticians and well-meaning philanthropists were still talking and writing about the deportation of the Negroes, or about their settlement within some restricted area, or about their settling in all parts of the Union, or about their decline through their neglect of their children, or about their rapid multiplication till they should expel the whites from the South—­of every sort of nonsense under heaven.  All this has given place to the simple plan of an indefinite extension among the neglected classes of both races of the Hampton-Tuskegee system of training.  The “problem” in one sense has disappeared.  The future will have for the South swift or slow development of its masses and of its soil in proportion to the swift or slow development of this kind of training.  This change of view is a true measure of Mr. Washington’s work.

The literature of the Negro in America is colossal, from political oratory through abolitionism to “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “Cotton is King”—­a vast mass of books which many men have read to the waste of good years (and I among them); but the only books that I have read a second time or ever care again to read in the whole list (most of them by tiresome and unbalanced “reformers”) are “Uncle Remus” and “Up from Slavery”; for these are the great literature of the subject.  One has all the best of the past, the other foreshadows a better future; and the men who wrote them are the only men who have written of the subject with that perfect frankness and perfect knowledge and perfect poise whose other name is genius.

Mr. Washington has won a world-wide fame at an early age.  His story of his own life already has the distinction of translation into more languages, I think, than any other American book; and I suppose that he has as large a personal acquaintance among men of influence as any private citizen now living.

His own teaching at Tuskegee is unique.  He lectures to his advanced students on the art of right living, not out of text-books, but straight out of life.  Then he sends them into the country to visit Negro families.  Such a student will come back with a minute report of the way in which the family that he has seen lives, what their earnings are, what they do well and what they do ill; and he will explain how they might live better.  He constructs a definite plan for the betterment of that particular family out of the resources that they have.  Such a student, if he be bright, will profit more by an experience like this than he could profit by all the books on sociology and economics that ever were written.  I talked with a boy at Tuskegee who had made such a study as this, and I could not keep from contrasting his knowledge and enthusiasm with what I heard in a class room at a Negro university in one of the Southern cities, which is conducted on the idea that a college course will save the soul.  Here the class was reciting a lesson from an abstruse text-book on economics, reciting it by rote, with so obvious a failure to assimilate it that the waste of labour was pitiful.

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Up from Slavery: an autobiography from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.