November 3 - PLD & BTW

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On November 3, 1900, Booker T. Washington in Tuskegee, Alabama, thanked Paul Laurence Dunbar in Washington, D. C., for a poetic tribute that had recently been published.

I thank you very sincerely for sending me a copy of the New England Magazine and more heartily for the poem which you were kind enough to dedicate to me.  You perhaps have noted that the Outlook for the present week reprints it from the New England Magazine.

Booker T. Washington to Paul Laurence Dunbar, November 3, 1900.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).

Washington was the most influential African American in the U. S., and a year later he broke racial boundaries by having dinner with President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House.  As Washington mentioned, Paul's poem was reprinted in other publications after its initial appearance in New England Magazine, and it was also included in Paul's volume of poems Lyrics of Love and Laughter in 1903.  The verse refers to Washington's early life as an enslaved person in Virginia, as well as his bold single-mindedness.

A poor Virginia cabin gave the seed,
And from its dark and lowly door there came
A peer of princes in the world's acclaim,
A master spirit for the nation's need.
Strong, silent, purposeful beyond his kind,
The mark of rugged force on brow and lip,
Straight on he goes, nor turns to look behind
Where hot the hounds come baying at his hip;
With one idea foremost in his mind,
Like the keen prow of some on-forging ship.


Excerpt from "Booker T. Washington," by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  New England Magazine (Boston, Massachusetts). October 1900.  Page 227.

Washington's single-mindedness was often a source of frustration to Paul, since the two men were on opposite sides of important issues.  As founder of the Tuskegee Institute, Washington believed that the Black race would rise by being taught to use their hands through vocational training.  In contrast, Paul believed in teaching African Americans to use their minds through higher education.  Nevertheless, Paul recited his poetry at several benefits that raised enormous amounts of money for Tuskegee.  In an undated document, Paul wrote words of high praise for Washington.

I can never forget my first visit to Tuskegee.  The history of that institution reads like romance.  Twenty years ago, a little school conducted in a log cabin;  today, a great institution for the betterment of our race.  That this is the work of one man seems almost incredible.  I know no one to whom more honor is due than the distinguished gentleman, Mr. Booker T. Washington.

"Booker T. Washington," by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  Undated typescript.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 4).