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BOSTON, Mass., June, 1896 - A pre-maturely aged man, born a slave of a Negro mother and a white father, who worked in salt mines and iron foundries before he was able to go to school, came here today as honored guest of Harvard University to receive the honorary degree of Master of Arts, conferred on distinguished educators.
The recipient was Booker T. Washington, who at 38 years of age already is noted as the founder and head of Tuskegee Institute, in Alabama, which with the support of Northerners and Southerners alike offers educational opportunities to Negroes.
Mr. Washington's acceptance speech seemed to give to its auditors as much as he was receiving in honor, for it was one of rare understanding of the long road stretching ahead in the complex work of integrating a free black race into the patterns of the white culture of the United States. It was, too, the speech of a cultured man, an understanding man. It follows:
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 today. 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, a humble representative, seven millions of my people in the South might be permitted to send a message to Harvard - Harvard that offered up on earth'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 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 we 'are coming up, and with proper habits, intelligence, and property, there is no power on earth that can permanently stay our progress."
If my life in the past has meant anything in the lifting up of my people and the bringing about of better relations between your race and mine, I assure you from this day it will mean doubly more. In the economy of God, there is but one standard by which an individual can succeed-there is but one for a race. This country demands that every race measure itself by the American standard. By it a race must rise or fall, succeed or fail, and in the last analysis mere sentiment counts but little.
During the next half-century or more, my race must continue passing through the severe American crucible. We are to be tested in our patience, our forbearance, our perseverance, our power to endure wrong, to withstand temptations, to economize, to acquire and use skill; our ability to compete, to succeed in commerce, to disregard the superficial for the real, the appearance for the substance, to be great and yet small, learned and yet simple, high and yet the servant of all. This, this is the passport to all that is best in the life of our Republic, and the Negro must possess it, or be de barred.
In working out our destiny, while the main burden and center of activity must be with us, we shall need in large measure in the years that are to come as we have in the past, the help, the encouragement, the guidance that the strong can give to the weak. Thus helped, we of both races in the South soon shall throw off the shackles of racial and sectional prejudices and rise as Harvard University has risen and as we all should rise, above the clouds of ignorance, narrowness and selfishness, into that atmosphere, that pure sunshine, where it will be our highest ambition to serve man, our brother, regardless of race or previous condition.