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(1896) Booker T. Washington, “Address to the Harvard Alumni Dinner"

One year after his Atlanta Compromise Speech 40-year-old Booker T. Washington was on his way to becoming the most influential African American in the United States.  One example of that growing influence was the invitation from the Harvard Alumni to speak at their annual dinner in Cambridge while he was on a national lecture tour.  Washington’s brief address appears below.

MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN:

It would in some measure relieve my embarrassment if I could, even in a slight degree, feel myself worthy of the great honor which you do me to-day. Why you have called me from the Black Belt of the South, from among my humble people, to share in the honors of this occasion, is not for me to explain; and yet it may not be inappropriate for me to suggest that it seems to me that one of the most vital questions that touch our American life, is how to bring the strong, wealthy and learned into helpful touch with the poorest, most ignorant, and humble and at the same time, make the one appreciate the vitalizing, strengthening influence of the other. How shall we make the mansions on yon Beacon street feel and see the need of the spirits in the lowliest cabin in Alabama cotton fields or Louisiana sugar bottoms? This problem Harvard University is solving, not by bringing itself down, but by bringing the masses up.

If through me, an humble representative, seven millions of my people in the South might be permitted to send a message to Harvard--Harvard that offered up on death"s altar, young Shaw, and Russell, and Lowell and scores of others, that we might have a free and united country, that message would be, "Tell them that the sacrifice was not in vain. Tell them that by the way of the shop, the field, the skilled hand, habits of thrift and economy, by way of industrial school and college, we are coming. We are crawling up, working up, yea, bursting up. Often through oppression, unjust discrimination and prejudice, but through them all we are coming up, and with proper habits, intelligence and property, there is no

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