Remarks at Tuskegee Normal Industrial Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama
Mr. Washington and each student and graduate of Tuskegee:
You can't be as much inspired by anything I may say, as I have been inspired by what I have seen here. Mr. Washington, it is a liberal education in itself just to come here and see this great focus of civilization. Now, I had read a good deal of your work, and I believe in it with all my heart. I would not call myself a good American if I did not. I was prepared to see what would impress me and please me, but I had no idea that I would be so deeply impressed, so deeply pleased as I have been. I did not realize the extent of your work. I did not realize how much you were doing.
I wish I had the time not merely to go around to see the buildings and the grounds, but to see the finished product outside. I would like to go around and see the houses that are being built up by those who leave this institution. I would like to see the effect in actual life of the training here, and wish that some man with the gift of description would come here and go from here out where the graduates go and visit them in their homes and follow out what they are doing and describe it all. I think there could not be anything better than that so as to show what is being done, and, Mr. Washington, while I have always stood for this institution, now that I have seen it and realize as I had never realized by the descriptions of it, all it means, I will stand for it more than ever.
To the white population as well as to the black, it is of the utmost importance that the negro be encouraged to make himself a citizen of the highest type of usefulness. It is to the interest of the white people that this policy be conscientiously pursued, and to the interest of the colored people that they clearly realize that they have opportunities for economic development here in the South not now offered else where. Within the last twenty years the industrial operations of the South have increased so tremendously that there is a scarcity of labor almost everywhere; so that it is the part of wisdom for all who wish the prosperity of the South to help the negro to become in the highest degree useful to himself, and therefore to the community in which he lives. The South has always depended, and now depends, chiefly upon her native population for her work. Therefore in view of the scarcity not only of common labor, but of skilled labor, it becomes doubly important to train every available man to be of the utmost use, by developing his intelligence, his skill, and his capacity for conscientious effort. Hence the work of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute is a matter of the highest practical importance to both the white man and the black man, and well worth the support of both races alike in the South and in the North. Your fifteen hundred students are not only being educated in head and heart, but also trained to industrial efficiency, for from the beginning Tuskegee has placed especial emphasis upon the training of men and women in agriculture, mechanics and household duties. Training in these three fundamental directions does not embrace all that the negro, or any other race, needs, but it does cover in a very large degree the field in which the negro can at present do most for himself and be most helpful to his white neighbors. Every black man who leaves this institute better able to do mechanical or industrial work adds by so much to the wealth of the whole community and benefits all people in the community. The professional and mercantile avenues to success are overcrowded; for the present the best chance of success awaits the intelligent worker at some mechanical trade or on a farm; for this man will almost certainly achieve industrial independence. I am pleased, but not in the least surprised, to learn that many among the men and women trained at Tuskegee find immediate employment as leaders and workers among their own people, and that their services are eagerly sought by white people for various kinds of industrial work, the demand being much greater than the supply. Viewed from any angle, ignorance is the costliest crop that can be raised in any part of this Union. Every dollar put into the education of either white man or black man, in head, in hand, and in heart, yields rich dividends to the entire community. Merely from the economic stand point it is of the utmost consequence to all our citizens that institutions such as this at Tuskegee should be a success. But there are other and even higher reasons that entitle it to our support. In the interest of humanity, of justice, and of self-protection, every white man in America, no matter where he lives, should try to help the negro to help himself. It is in the interest, and for the protection, of the white man to see that the negro is educated. It is not only the duty of the white man, but it is to his interest, to see that the negro is protected in property, in life, and in all his legal rights. Every time a law is broken every individual in the community has the moral tone of his life lowered. Lawlessness in the United States is not confined to any one section; lynching is not confined to any one section; and there is perhaps no body of American citizens who have deserved so well of the entire American people as the public men, the publicists, the clergy men, the countless thousands of high-minded private citizens, who have done such heroic work in the South in arousing public opinion against lawlessness in all its forms, and especially against lynching. I very earnestly hope that their example will count in the North as well as in the South, for there are just as great evils to be warred against in one region of our country as in another, though they are not in all places the same evils. And when any body of men in any community stands bravely for what is right, these men not merely serve a useful purpose in doing the particular task to which they set themselves, but give a lift to the cause of good citizenship throughout the Union. I heartily appreciate what you have done at Tuskegee; and I am sure you will not grudge my saying that it could not possibly have been done save for the loyal support you have received from the white people round about; for during the twenty-five years of effort to educate the black man here in the midst of a white community of intelligence and culture, there has never been an outbreak between the races, or any difficulty of any kind. All honor is due to the white men of Alabama, to the white men of Tuskegee, for what they have done. And right here, let me say that if in any community a misunderstanding between the races arises, over any matter, infinitely the best way out is to have a prompt, frank and full conference and consultation between representatives of the wise, decent, cool-headed men among the whites and the wise, decent, cool-headed colored men. Such a conference will always tend to bring about a better understanding, and will be a great help all round.
Hitherto I have spoken chiefly of the obligations existing on the part of the white men. Now let you remember on the other hand that no help can permanently avail you save as you yourselves develop capacity for self-help. You young colored men and women educated at Tuskegee must by precept and example lead your fellows toward sober, industrious, law-abiding lives. You are in honor bound to join hands in favor of law and order and to war against all crime, and especially against all crime by men of your own race; for the heaviest wrong done by the criminal is the wrong to his own race. You must teach the people of your race that they must scrupulously observe any contract into which they in good faith enter, no matter whether it is hard to keep or not. If you save money, secure homes, become tax payers, and lead clean, decent, modest lives, you will win the respect of your neighbors of both races. Let each man strive to excel his fellows only by rendering substantial service to the community in which he lives. The colored people have many difficulties to pass through, but these difficulties will be surmounted if only the policy of reason and common sense is pursued. You have made real and great progress. According to the census the colored people of this country own and pay taxes upon something like three hundred million dollars' worth of property, and have blotted out over fifty per cent of their illiteracy. What you have done in the past is an indication of what you will be able to accomplish in the future under wise leadership. Moral and industrial education is what is most needed, in order that this progress may continue. The race can not expect to get every thing at once. It must learn to wait and bide its time; to prove itself worthy by showing its possession of perseverance, of thrift, of self-control. The destiny of the race is chiefly in its own hands, and must be worked out patiently and persistently along these lines. Remember also that the white man who can be of most use to the colored man is that colored man's neighbor. It is the Southern people themselves who must and can solve the difficulties that exist in the South; of course what help the people of the rest of the Union can give them, must and will be gladly and cheerfully given. The hope of advancement for the colored man in the South lies in his steady, commonsense effort to improve his moral and material condition, and to work in harmony with the white man in upbuilding the Commonwealth. The future of the South now depends upon the people of both races living up to the spirit and letter of the laws of their several States and working out the destinies of both races, not as races, but as law-abiding American citizens.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at Tuskegee Normal Industrial Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343659