Saturday, November 3, 2012

Booker T. Washington Visits New Bern

Booker T. Washington
Booker T. Washington
(From the Wikimedia Commons.)
On November 3, 1910, Booker T. Washington visited New Bern and gave a speech at the Masonic Theater. According to The Sun (3 Nov 1910), Dr. Washington and party reached the town from Washington on the Norfolk-Southern at 11:35 that morning and proceeded to the New Bern Collegiate Institute for a reception. Rev. A.L.E. Weeks, President of the Collegiate Institute, served as escort for Dr. Washington.

The doors of the Masonic Theater opened at 12:30 and "one thousand or more" gathered, despite a seating capacity of 800. Chairs were placed "at every vacant point" according to the New Bern Weekly Journal (4 Nov 1910).

Quoting The Sun (3 Nov 1910)
The Masonic Opera House was beautifully decorated with patriotic colors and a profusion of flowers.
On the rostrum sat Ex-Mayor Jas. A. Bryan, who delivered the introductory address; County Superintendent S.M. Brinson, R.A. Nunn, Chairman Board of Education, H.B. Craven, superintendent City Graded Schools, Sheriff J.W. Biddle, Daniel Lane, of the Board of Education, members of Dr. Washington's party and of the local committee on arrangements.

The house was called to order by Isaac H. Smith, president of the local Negro Business League, who presented Bishop G.W. Clinton, of Charlotte. Bishop Clinton introduced the various members of the party. Major R.R. Moten, of Hampton Institute led the audience in the singing of negro plantation songs. A chorus was rendered by the students of the New Bern Collegiate Institute, after which Rev. D.J. Beckett offered prayer. Leonia Harris rendered effectively a soprano solo, "Carol of the Lark."
After which, Ex-Mayor Bryan introduced Dr. Washington to the crowd, who "heartily greeted [him] when he rose to speak." After his speech (quoted below), Washington left New Bern bound for Wilmington, then back to Tuskegee.

The following is the speech of Booker T. Washington during his New Bern visit, as quoted in the 3 Nov 1910 issue of The Sun.

In accepting the invitation of Bishop Clinton and other prominent citizens  of North Carolina, I have but one object in view, and that is to see for myself some of the progress of which I have heard so much. Let me say right here that from what I have been able to see, I feel that the people of North Carolina of both races have good reason to congratulate themselves upon the success which the negroes of North Carolina are making. The negro has done well in North Carolina. I repeat, he has done well, but he can make himself still more useful in the future than he has in the past, and my object in coming here, as I have stated, is to say something and as far as I am able to suggest something to make the negro more useful to himself, more useful to the State and to the nation, than he has been in the past.

As I have said, I have sought to keep in close touch with the progress of your state, but one who lives outside of North Carolina is at a certain disadvantage in learning about what the actual progress has been.

Both races in the South suffer at the hands of public opinion in one respect, and that is by reason of the fact that the outside world hears of our difficulties, hears of crimes, hears of mobs and lynchings, but the outside world does not hear of, neither does it know about the evidences of racial friendship and good will which exist in the majority of the communities of Mississippi and other Southern States. When we consider all that has taken place during the past forty years, I believe that we have every reason to congratulate ourselves that things have gone as well as they have, that they are no worse than they are.

I am well aware of the fact that there is an element of our white friends who often refrain from helping the negro to the extent they otherwise would, on account of the bugbear of what is sometimes referred to as social equality. I am constantly mingling among members of my own race, North and South, and of all the subjects discussed that is very rarely referred to. Let me say as emphatically as I can, that judging by my experience and observation with my race, nowhere in this country is it seeking to obtrude itself on the white race, and especially here in the South. I think you will find that the more sensible negro is, the more he is educated, the more he finds satisfaction in the company of his own race.

To a very large extent the problem of the negro in the Southern States is a labor problem. In order to secure effective and satisfactory labor from any race, two things have got to be borne in mind. First, people must be taught a love for labor, must be taught the dignity of labor and at the same time given proper methods in the direction of skill. Secondly they must have their minds and their ambitions awakened so that their wants will be increased. No individual labors except as he has a motive for doing so.

The Southern negro wants land, wants a house with two or three rooms in it, wants some furniture, books, newspapers, education for his children; wants to support the minister and the Sunday School, and in  proportion as those wants are increased, he is led to work an increasing number of days in order to satisfy them.

If we would make the negro more useful as a laborer, we must increase his wants, we must arouse his ambitions, we must give him something to live for, to hope for, and just in proportion as his wants are multiplied, are increased in many directions, so that he will want better homes, better furniture, better churches, better schools, more books, more newspapers, in the same degree will he be led to work with more regularity and a longer number of days in order that his increased wants may be satisfied. The mere matter of paying a high wage to an individual, unless his wants have been increased along sensible and rational lines, does not solve the problem.

In all that concerns the welfare of the negro in the South, there is no person in the world who can be so helpful to him as his white neighbor. For instance, our white friends will agree with me, I am sure, that they can help the people of my race in preventing migration in so large numbers to the cities. Our white friends can help in this respect in several ways. First, by seeing to it that life in the country is made just as attractive and safe as life in the city.

The negro wants education for his children. He has an ambition to improve the conditions of his family. If he finds in the city, as he usually does, a school well equipped with good teacher either by missionary effort of by public school funds that is in session eight or nine months in the year, and if he finds in his own community the public school taught in a broken down log cabin with a poor teacher and the school term not longer than four or five months in the year, the negro is tempted to move to the city where he can educate his children.

This is natural and any other race would yield to the same temptation under the circumstances. Our white friends can help the negro, and help themselves at the same time, by seeing to it that the negro family is provided with just as good accommodations in the country as in the city.

Our white friends can help again in preventing the influx of our people to the cities in so large numbers by seeing to it that the people are just as well protected in their lives and property in the country as in the city. When the negro feels that he is likely to be lynched or likely to be made to suffer for any kind of crime, here again, he is tempted to move into the city where he can receive police protection. In all these respects, by facing conditions frankly each race can help promote the interest the happiness, the prosperity of the other race.

There are some things in the life of every race that must settled as speedily as possible before they will be able to make any permanent progress. One of them is the matter of permanent abode, a definite place to live in. A race can not make the highest progress, become in the highest degree useful, until it makes up its mind to settle down somewhere on the soil and become a useful part of the community in which it lives. We must get rid of the habit, which in a very large degree still clings to the race, of being an unsettled people. Some portion of our race moves every year. People live on one plantation this year, on another next year, and on still another  next year. Some have been doing this for a period of twenty years. We can not make progress, we can not make ourselves respected as we should be until this habit has changed.

There is no place in this country where the negro is better off, of in any other country, all things considered, than in our Southern States, and particularly in the country districts. I have had the privilege of traveling pretty extensively throughout this country and in some foreign countries, and I have no hesitation in stating that taking the matter on the whole, there is no place where the masses of negro people are doing so well, are so healthy in mind and body as they are in the country districts of the South. In my opinion, the mass of my people have definitely determined to stay where they are in what in known as the black belt of the Southern States.

All races in the primitive period of their lives who have gotten upon their feet have gotten their start in the country cultivating  the soil. In the city, the temptation to live in idleness, the temptation to drink, the temptation to gamble, the temptation to commit crime are far greater than in the country. In the country we can find plenty of work, can find a good place to live where there is plenty of pure air, where we can become owner of a piece of property, rear a strong, healthy and vigorous family. I urge our ministers, teachers and other leaders to use their influence wherever possible to help keep our people out of the large cities. One influence that is working against the negro today, that is making public sentiment grow against him, is the object lesson of scores and sometimes hundreds of idle men and women loafing about the streets and around the bar-rooms and dens of vice and misery in our large cities. In the country we can save our money, we can invest it in something that will be permanent and useful. In the city the temptation to spend money is against us.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting! Thanks for sharing this tidbit of information. I've seen so many mentions of Booker's travels as I too have perused old papers, so it's neat to see he also visited near why my own family lived.