Dr. Booker T. Washington’s southern tour came to Washington

Published 12:03 pm Monday, February 12, 2018


On Wednesday, Nov. 2, 1910, Dr. Booker T. Washington, as part of his “Five States Southern Tour,” spoke at Brown’s Opera House located at Main and Market streets here in Washington.

Speaking to a standing-room-only capacity crowd of about 1,000 people, one third of whom were white, Dr. Washington delivered a powerful, thought-provoking speech. The Nov. 3 edition of the Washington Daily News called his speech “strong and vigorous.”

The five-states tour covered the sates of Tennessee, Mississippi, Texas, Florida and North Carolina. The North Carolina tour began in Charlotte on Oct. 20 and made stops in High Point, Salibury, Concord, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Reidsville, Lexington, Durham, Wilson, Rocky Mount, Parmele, New Bern and ended in Wilmington on Nov. 4. The purpose of the tours was to boost the spirits of blacks living in appalling conditions in the five states. The tours constituted remarkable organizational efforts in the face of what seemed like at times virtually insurmountable challenges.

Washington stated he “took these tours to meet the masses of my people and to instruct them as far as I can through speaking to them in their industrial and moral life.”

The local arrangements to bring Dr. Washington here were made by the North Carolina State Negro Business League, which was an off shoot of the National Negro Business League that Dr. Washington had formed. Washington city resident and business leader Prof. William G Saunders, superintendent for the N.C. Mutual and Provident Association, and Rev. Cornelius E. Askew, pastor of the Spring Garden Baptist Church and secretary for the North Carolina Negro Business League, spearheaded the campaign to bring not only Dr. Washington here, but some of the nation’s most prominent black business leaders, professionals, educators and clergy, as well, from all parts of the country.

Accompanying Dr. Washington were his personal secretary Bennett J. Scott, Nathan Hunt, personal stenographer, Dr. J.A. Henry, his personal physician, his brother, John H. Washington, C.W. Green, president of Tuskegee Institute, Maj. R.R. Morton and W.B. Williams, Hampton Institute, William H. Lewis, United States District Attorney, Boston, R.W. Thompson, National News Bureau in Washington D.C., Horace Slater, general news correspondent, Hopkinsville, Kentucky, E.H. Clement, editor of the Star Of Zion newspaper, J.P. Dudley, president of A&M College, S.A. Peeler, president of Bennett College, and John Merrick and C.C. Spaulding, founders of the N.C. Mutual and Provident Insurance Company.

Taking the rostrum at the Opera House, Dr. Washington was joined by Rev. Nathaniel Harding, rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Rev. M.T. Plyler, pastor of the local Methodist Church, Rev. W.A. Cleveland, of Charlotte’s Presbyterian Ministry, Attorney Norwood L. Simmons, organizer of the Young Men’s Movement and the state Democratic executive committee, and Professor N.C. Newbold, superintendent of public schools in North Carolina.

Bishop George Clinton of the AME Zion Church in Charlotte presented members of Dr. Washington’s party. Rev. Askew presented Rev. Harding, and Rev. Harding introduced Dr. Washington.

Rev. Harding, according to the Washington Daily News, said, “I have been asked by the local committee of arrangements to introduce to you this evening, a man who under God has made his own place and fills it in our American civilization. It is a powerful thing for any man amid difficulties, perplexities and obstacles to fit well in the place which Almighty God has put him. Dr. Washington by what he has already accomplished has not only made himself respected in his own commonwealth, but has won for himself national fame if not worldwide reputation.  He comes to us not as a politician, not as a demagogue, seeking self-aggrandizement, but as a recognized leader of his race. He has sought to lead his people in the paths of moral and intellectual uplift and development. I bespeak for him cordial and respect for hearing.”

With that, Dr. Washington was greeted with a hearty applause and spoke for an hour and a half.

Of the many things Dr. Washington said in the course of his remarks, he said, “in accepting the invitation of Bishop Clinton and other prominent citizens of North Carolina, I have but one object in view, and that is to see for myself some of the progress of which I have heard so much about.  Let me say right here, I feel that the people of North Carolina of both races have good reason to congratulate themselves upon the success the Negroes of North Carolina are making. The Negro has done well in North Carolina and I repeat he has done well, but he can make for himself still more useful in the future than he has in the past.  My object in coming here is to say something as far as I am able to suggest something to make the Negro more useful to himself, more useful to the state and more useful to the nation.” According to David Jackson in his book, “Booker T. Washington and the Struggle Against White Supremacy,” in Washington, North Carolina, Dr. Washington, with tremendous emphasis at the close of his magnificent address said, “we would not thrust ourselves socially upon anybody. What we want is justice in the courts, education and a fair chance.”

At the end of his speech, Rev. Harding presented Dr. Washington with flowers and a gold-decorated ink pen.

The following day, the Wilmington Morning Star reported on Dr. Washington’s visit to Washington and called him the “foremost Negro educator in the country and probably the world.” The Raleigh Times in the Saturday, Nov. 10, 1910, edition said in part, “Dr. Washington, in speaking to a large audience of white and colored people at Brown’s Opera House, made many friends in Washington and did much good for the colored people in Washington.”

Leesa Jones is the executive director of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.