"An Address Delivered Before the National Colored Teachers' Association" Primary Source eText

Primary Source

Booker T. Washington often spoke on the importance of education for African Americans. THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS. Booker T. Washington often spoke on the importance of education for African Americans. THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS. Published by Gale Cengage THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS.


By: Booker T. Washington

Date: 1911

Source: Washington, Booker T. An Address Delivered Before the National Colored Teachers' Association, 1911. Reprinted in Davidson, Washington E., ed. Selected Speeches of Booker T. Washington. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran, 1932, 200–207.

About the Author: Booker Taliafero Washington (1856–1915) was born into slavery and worked his way through the Hampton Institute as the school's janitor. Washington taught at the Hampton Institute, and then founded the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1881, which would become one of the foremost schools for African Americans. He was a prominent African American leader, speaker, and author. His autobiography, Up From Slavery, was influential worldwide.


After the Civil War (1861–1865) and the end of slavery, the period of reconstruction in the South ended in disappointment for those working toward full rights for African Americans. Jim Crow Laws and the 1896 Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson created a legal basis for segregation between blacks and whites. The rise of the Ku Klux Klan and other violent, white supremacist groups used non-legal means to keep African Americans "in their place."

It was in this context, near the end of the nineteenth century, that many African American leaders looked to education to improve the circumstances of African Americans and obtain full citizenship rights. Yet education in the South had always lagged behind the rest of the nation. While education for most Southern whites was inadequate, African Americans fared much worse. The physical and economic devastation of the South, after the Civil War, also served to exacerbate the situation.

There was much consensus that among African American leaders and their advocates, quality educational opportunities for African Americans were needed; but what type of education, and leading toward which goals? Differences in philosophy emerged.

The predominant school of thought, led by Booker T. Washington, held that African Americans should temporarily accommodate themselves to the current context of discrimination and prejudice. African Americans, according to Washington, should focus on self-help—improving economically, morally, and culturally. Legal rights, and acceptance within the larger society, naturally would follow. Washington's approach to education for African Americans reflected this philosophy. He advocated that a realistic next step for the majority of African Americans was learning a manual trade, and becoming economically self-sufficient.

Other African American leaders, such as W.E.B. Du Bois, advocated that African Americans engage in an active struggle for civil rights, political power, and acceptance within the larger society. Du Bois believed that improvement for African Americans as a group lay in college education for the "talented tenth," who would then lead their people out of oppression.


Booker T. Washington's speech illustrates the aspects of his political and educational philosophy that appealed to whites at the time. This resulted in the success of the Tuskegee Institute and his other political and social agendas. The image Washington offered—of the hard-working, thrifty, black carpenter of high moral character willing to work within the bounds of segregation and second-class citizenship—was attractive to many wealthy whites in the North and the South. They generously funded Washington's projects. On the other hand, Du Bois, who worked toward the development of a class of African American college graduates able and willing to agitate for their civil rights, often received a chilly response and little funding from white philanthropists.

The speech also illustrates points of commonality between the two men. While this contrast in their views had an enormous impact on the flow of funds and the resulting development of education for African Americans for quite some time, the differences between Washington and Du Bois can be seen as a matter of emphasis and focus. Washington, himself a college graduate and member of Du Bois's "talented tenth," points out that he is not opposed to college education for African Americans. But the emphasis, Washington insists, must be on the development of the ordinary person. Du Bois, who was not against all trades education for African Americans, believed that the development of the majority of African Americans depended on the college-educated African American leader. Both wanted a final outcome of full political, economic, and social rights for African Americans.

Great strides have been made in educational opportunities and civil rights for African Americans, within the context of continuing prejudice and discrimination. Washington is often viewed today, perhaps unfairly, as an "Uncle Tom" currying favor with whites, while advocating an inferior position for his own people. Yet many, then and now, fail to recognize that Washington had as his eventual goal complete equality of whites and African Americans.

Primary Source: "An Address Delivered Before the National Colored Teachers' Association" [excerpt]

SYNOPSIS: In this speech, Washington discusses his belief that the focus of education for African Americans should be practical and useful instruction leading to the mastery of a trade and economic self-sufficiency. Teachers should instill in students the values of hard work, reliability, and thrift; a respect for the dignity of labor with the hands; a feeling of racial pride and respect for other races; and a knowledge of the opportunities available to them.

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I congratulate this association upon the progress it has made during the few years of its existence. I congratulate especially your president, Mr. W. T. B. Williams, and your secretary, Mr. J. R. E. Lee. This association is one of the most potent agencies at work for the elevation of the black citizens of America. I am glad that this association is having its annual meeting in the city of St. Louis. With perhaps one exception, St. Louis has treated the Negro race more generously in providing school accommodations, in the way of buildings, good school terms, and intelligent teachers than is true of any other city in the United States. What I say of the city of St. Louis I can add with equal emphasis of the state of Missouri. The state of Missouri has not only been generous in supporting a good school system for our people in town and country, but it has been equally as generous in supporting the Lincoln Institute at Jefferson City. In return for this generosity I am sure that the colored people of St. Louis and of the state of Missouri feel resting upon them an especial obligation to make themselves good, useful, and law-abiding citizens so that they may not become a burden upon the city or upon the state or constitute an element of danger or irritation.

As to the kinds of education, I believe in all kinds of education—college, university, and industrial education—but I am most interested in industrial, combined with public school education for the great masses of our people; that is our salvation. There is a place, an important one, in our life for the college man, the university man, as well as the man with a trade or with skill in his fingers. To indicate what I think of college education, I would add that the Tuskegee Institute employs more colored graduates of colleges than any single institution in the world.

What is the function of education in our time? In past years it used to be considered that education was for the exceptional man, was for the classes rather than for the masses. It used to be considered that education was only to be used in connection with the extraordinary things of life rather than the ordinary things of life. All that is changing and will change in the future. The education of the future is to be that which will apply itself to the ordinary functions and activities of life, that which will link itself closely to every duty and responsibility of life. This means that education is to enter the kitchen, the dining room, the bed chamber, is to go upon the farm, into the garden, into the shop, and into every activity of life. This also means that the teacher of our race who would do his duty is to not content himself with being a mere salary-drawer but must consider it one of his highest duties to see that what is taught in the schoolroom is linked closely with the life of our people, in the home and in their work.

One of the functions of education is to help our race everywhere to become home owners, to own a little piece of soil somewhere either in town or city. This means that the colored teacher, more perhaps than any other class of teachers, should get among the people, get among the ordinary, hard-working people, study their needs, study their conditions, and enter into systematic and close cooperation with them.

Another important function of education is to see that every boy and girl, no matter what may be his or her condition in life, no matter what may be his or her ambitions, is taught the dignity of labor, is taught that all labor, either with the head or with the hand, is equally honorable. There is no hope for any race or for any group of people until they learn the fundamental lesson that labor with the hands is dignified, is something to be sought after, and something not to be shunned.

Another function of education, especially in a city like St. Louis, should be to get rid as fast as possible of that large loafing and idle element of our race who exhibit themselves on the corners of the streets, around bar-rooms and other places of disrepute. When racial outbreaks take place between white people and black people, in the majority of cases these difficulties can be traced to the idle, loafing, drinking, and gambling classes of both white and colored people. And then I sometimes fear that in many of our cities there is too large a class of our people who exist without steady, reliable employment, who float around from one community to another without any abiding place, who live upon the labor of somebody else and especially upon the labor of hardworking women. I repeat that it should be the function of education in a city like St. Louis to see to it that these loafers are reached and reformed, are gotten rid of.

For our race in its present condition, I believe in trade education as distinguished from mere manual training. Manual training is good so far as it goes in giving the principles of mechanics, but a hungry race cannot live upon "principles." Our people in their present condition need to be taught something that is definite in the way of a trade, something that will enable them to improve their economic condition. It is a dangerous thing in the case of any race of people, and it is especially dangerous in the condition of any race in the same relative stage of civilization which the masses of colored people find themselves in the United States today, to increase the wants of a race through mere book education without increasing the ability of that race to supply these increased wants along the lines in which they can find employment. There is no justification for my coming here to speak unless I am perfectly frank and straightforward in my remarks. In many parts of the country I hear complaints to the effect that Negro labor is not reliable, that the employer cannot depend upon the black workman for steady, constant work; that if the laborer is paid off on Saturday night there is no certainty as to when he will return to his place of employment. If in any degree this charge has a basis of truth in the community where any of you work as teachers, you should see to it that you make your influence felt in changing the reputation of our race. Everywhere we must see to it that the black race becomes just as reliable, just as progressive, just as intelligent in all matters of labor as is true of any other race. If we do not make progress in this direction, the time will soon come when in many parts of this country black labor will be replaced by white labor from European countries.

Another function of education should be to see to it that everywhere our race not only gets a proper idea of the dignity of labor, of proper methods of labor, but equally important, even more important, that they learn to save that which they earn. But many of our young people "scatter their earnings to the wind" as fast as the money comes into their hands. As teachers we should use our influence among the masses, and especially the present generation of young men and young women, in seeing to it that they form the habit of thrift, the habit of saving. As fast as possible we should see to it that every individual in the community whom we can influence has a bank account: a bank account is a great maker of character; a bank account is a great maker of useful citizens; a bank account teaches the lesson of saving today that we may have tomorrow; teaches the lesson of doing without today that we may possess tomorrow. If our present generation of young people are taught to save, are taught to invest their money in land or houses, are taught to put their money in the bank the time will not be long before we shall be counted among the thrifty races of the earth. I have little patience with any man, white or black, with education, who goes through the country whining and crying because nobody will give him a job of work. A man with education should be able to create a job for himself, but in doing so he may have to begin at the very bottom. But we should not be ashamed to perform the most ordinary things in order that we may lay a foundation for future growth and usefulness.

Another function of education in connection with our race should be to teach pride of race; to teach the Negro boy and the Negro girl that he or she should be just as proud of being a Negro as a German, as an Irishman, and as a Frenchman are proud of being members of their races. I have no patience with the man or woman of our race who is continually seeking to get away from the race; is continually seeking to belong to another race. There are some colored people, I am sorry to say, who would rather be classed as third-rate white people than to be classed as first-rate colored people. Personally, if you will excuse the reference, I am just as proud of being a Negro as any white man can be proud of being a member of the white race.

Another function of education should be to see that it is kept in the minds of the youths of our race that there are two races in this country and that each has a duty, that each has a responsibility, to the other; that in the case of our race no boy or girl grows up with a feeling of hatred or bitterness toward any other race. In the last analysis the race that hates will grow weaker, while the race that loves will grow stronger. No one race can harm another race, can inflict injustice upon another race, can strive to keep down another race without that race itself being permanently injured in all the fundamental virtues of life.

Do not misunderstand me: I do not fail for one moment to understand our present conditions. I am not deceived; I do not overlook the wrongs that often perplex and embarrass us in this country. I do not overlook injustice. I condemn with all the strength of my nature the barbarous habit of lynching a human being, whether black or white, without legal trial. I condemn any practice in any state that results in not enforcing the law with a certainty and justice, regardless of race or color.

Another function of education should be to emphasize in the minds and hearts of our youths the fact that in the United States we have great opportunities and tremendous opportunities. The millions of unoccupied and unused lands in the South are open to the black man as freely as to any white man; while the color line may be drawn in certain directions, nature draws no color line; an acre of land in the South will yield her riches as quickly to the touch of the blackest hand as to the touch of the whitest hand in America.

As one example of the progress our race has already made within forty-eight years in one of the states, I find that according to the statistics furnished by the State Comptroller of Georgia, the Negro last year added 71,000 acres to his holdings in Georgia. He added $4,000,000 to the taxable value of his property. The Negroes of Georgia own today 1,607,000 acres of land valued at $10,000,000. Including land, furniture, tools, stock, and what not, the Negroes of Georgia are paying taxes today upon $32,000,000 worth of property.

There is but one salvation for our country, and that is obedience to law, whether this law relates to human life, to property, or to our rights as citizens. For us, however, in our present condition, I believe that our greatest hope for salvation and uplift is for us to turn our attention mainly in the direction of progressive, constructive work. Let construction be our motto in every department of our lives North and South. Pursuing this policy, we will convince the world that we are worthy of the best treatment.

We should see to it too that we not only emphasize in our work as teachers the opportunities that are before our race, but should also emphasize the fact that we ought to become a hopeful, encouraged race. There is no hope for any man or woman, whatever his color, who is pessimistic; who is continually whining and crying about his condition. There is hope for any race of people, however handicapped by difficulties, that makes up its mind that it will succeed, that it will make success the stepping stone to a life of success and usefulness.

Further Resources


Harlan, Louis R. Booker T. Washington: The Making of a Black Leader, 1856–1901. New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.

——. Booker T. Washington: The Wizard of Tuskegee, 1901–1915. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

——. Booker T. Washington in Perspective: Essays of Louis R. Harlan. Raymond W. Smock, ed. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1988.

Harris, Thomas E. Analysis of the Clash Over the Issues Between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois. New York: Garland Publications, 1993.

Moore, Jacqueline M. Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, and the Struggle for Racial Uplift. Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 2003.

Verney, Kevern. The Art of the Possible: Booker T. Washington and Black Leadership in the United States, 1881–1925. New York: Routledge, 2001.

Washington, Booker T. Up From Slavery: An Autobiography. New York: Doubleday Page, 1901.

Wintz, Cary D. African American Political Thought, 1890–1930: Washington, Du Bois, Garvey, and Randolph. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1996.


"African American Education." Available online at http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/flashbks/blacked/aaedint... ; website home page http://www.theatlantic.com (accessed March 10, 2003).

"Tuskegee University." Available online at (accessed March 13, 2003).

"The Two Nations of Black America." Available online at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/race/etc/road... ; website home page http://pbs.org (accessed March 10, 2003).


Black Paths of Leadership. Directed by Pam Hughes. Churchill Films. Videocassette, 1984.

Booker T. Washington: The Life and Legacy. Pathways to Greatness Series. Directed by William Greaves. Academic Industries Video Division. Videocassette, 1993.