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In the midst of my struggles and longing for aneducation, a young coloured boy who had learnedto read in the state of Ohio came to Malden. Assoon as the coloured people found out that he couldread, a newspaper was secured, and at the close ofnearly every day's work this young man would besurrounded by a group of men and women whowere anxious to hear him read the news contained inthe papers. How I used to envy this man! Heseemed to me to be the one young man in all the worldwho ought to be satisfied with his attainments.
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or anybody else had even thought anything aboutthe need of covering for my head. But, of course,when I saw how all the other boys were dressed, Ibegan to feel quite uncomfortable. As usual, Iput the case before my mother, and she explainedto me that she had no money with which to buy a"store hat," which was a rather new institution atthat time among the members of my race and wasconsidered quite the thing for young and old toown, but that she would find a way to help me outof the difficulty. She accordingly got two piecesof "homespun" (jeans) and sewed them together,and I was soon the proud possessor of my firstcap.
The time that I was permitted to attend schoolduring the day was short, and my attendance wasirregular. It was not long before I had to stopattending day-school altogether, and devote all ofmy time again to work. I resorted to thenight-school again. In fact, the greater part of theeducation I secured in my boyhood was gatheredthrough the night-school after my day's work wasdone. I had difficulty often in securing asatisfactory teacher. Sometimes, after I had securedsome one to teach me at night, I would find, muchto my disappointment, that the teacher knew butlittle more than I did. Often I would have towalk several miles at night in order to recite mynight-school lessons. There was never a time inmy youth, no matter how dark and discouragingthe days might be, when one resolve did notcontinually remain with me, and that was adetermination to secure an education at any cost.
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In the midst of the difficulty I summoned a greatdeal of courage and wrote to my friend GeneralJ. F. B. Marshall, the Treasurer of the HamptonInstitute, putting the situation before him andbeseeching him to lend me the two hundred and fiftydollars on my own personal responsibility. Withina few days a reply came to the effect that he hadno authority to lend me money belonging to theHampton Institute, but that he would gladly lendme the amount needed from his own personal funds.
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While writing upon this subject, it is a pleasurefor me to add that in all my contact with thewhite people of the South I have never received asingle personal insult. The white people in andnear Tuskegee, to an especial degree, seem to countit a privilege to show me all the respect within theirpower, and often go out of their way to do this.
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I knew that the audience would be largelycomposed of the most influential class of white men andwomen, and that it would be a rare opportunity forme to let them know what we were trying to do atTuskegee, as well as to speak to them about therelations of the races. So I decided to make thetrip. I spoke for five minutes to an audience oftwo thousand people, composed mostly of Southernand Northern whites. What I said seemed to bereceived with favour and enthusiasm. The Atlantapapers of the next day commented in friendly termson my address, and a good deal was said about it indifferent parts of the country. I felt that I had insome degree accomplished my object - that of getting a hearing from the dominant class of the South.
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On the morning of September 17, together withMrs. Washington and my three children, I startedfor Atlanta. I felt a good deal as I suppose a manfeels when he is on his way to the gallows. Inpassing through the town of Tuskegee I met awhite farmer who lived some distance out in thecountry. In a jesting manner this man said:"Washington, you have spoken before the Northernwhite people, the Negroes in the South, andto us country white people in the South; but inAtlanta, to-morrow, you will have before you theNorthern whites, the Southern whites, and theNegroes all together. I am afraid that you have gotyourself into a tight place." This farmer diagnosedthe situation correctly, but his frank words did notadd anything to my comfort.