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Booker T. Washington h.'96, president of the Tuskegee Institute, spoke on "Negro Progress" in the Living Room of the Union yesterday evening.
He began by showing that the negro race has advantages as well as disadvantages. Only forty-seven years old, it is a young race with all its future before rather than behind it. Ambitious and eager to learn, the negro people are passing through the new experience of owning land, school-houses, and churches, and even of opening banks and stores. They have the remarkable faculty of adapting themselves more quickly than most races to the habits and customs of the community in which they live, and of absorbing rapidly the ideas of christian civilization. In language, taste for food, matters of dress, and religion, the negro is like the white American, and is willing to lay down his life for his country and its institutions.
Not only Tuskegee Institute, but scores of other institutions are examples of the progress the negro has made. In 1881, Dr. Washington started Tuskegee Institute in an old school-house in Alabama with only one teacher and thirty students. It now includes over 1300 students both men and women, 176 instructors, 3000 acres of land, and about 100 buildings, erected almost entirely by the students. These physical forces are not an end but a means for a great purpose. The negro masses had a consuming ambition for education, but along with this was a feeling that once educated it would be disgraceful to do manual labor any longer. As cooking, farming, carpentering, and other practical occupations, were the chief things taught at Tuskegee, this feeling was one of the chief obstacles to its early growth. Now, however, this old prejudice has largely disappeared and the negro has learned the great difference between being worked and working--that the former is degradation, the latter civilization. This change of spirit in regard to labor is one of the greatest evidences of his progress. Moreover, by learning how to farm, cook, make bricks and so on, the students cannot help but get to understand the earnestness and soberness of life, and after graduation go out to spread these ideas among the mass of people, whose chief obstacle to progress is lack of experience.
Negroes' Economic Progress.
Economically the negro has made remarkable progress. In the last ten years, the number of negro farmers has increased 19 per cent., while the increase of white farmers is only 9 per cent. Again, at the time of Lincoln's emancipation proclamation only 3 per cent. of the negroes in the United States could read or write, whereas now over 57 per cent. can,--a higher average than many countries of Europe can boast.
There is no doubt that the relationship between the negro and the whites is steadily growing closer, and that race prejudice is at the same time being superseded by the spirit of fair play.
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