Booker T. Washington in Atlanta
(Clop-clop of hoofs . . . Sound of carriage)
WIFE: Why do you look so woebegone?
BOOKER: Margaret, to tell the truth, I feel like a man on the way to the
CHILD: Papa, they won't hang you for making another speech, will they?
BOOKER: Not hardly, Portia! But the wrong word said -- and my usefulness in
the South would be finished.
WIFE: You're always nervous before a speech, Booker, as often as you've made
them. But tomorrow in Atlanta, I'm sure you'll give the best talk you've ever
made. There's nothing to worry about.
BOY: Geeminy! It'll be wonderful to see Atlanta, won't it, mom?
GIRL: And the Cotton Exposition!
BOY: Papa, will there be a merry-go-round for colored children?
BOOKER: I reckon so, son. One of the biggest buildings on the grounds is the
colored people's building.
GIRL: Will there be a Ferris wheel?
BOY: And firecrackers?
WIFE: Booker T. Junior, don't bother your father with firecrackers! He's tired
-- working all night on his speech. And besides, if he opens his mouth, clay
dust'll get in his throat and he'll be hoarse.
BOOKER: Margaret, dust can't hurt a country boy like me. When I was Junior's
age I was working in a coal mine twelve hours a day -- and I've still got my
WIFE: Well, save it for speaking and I'll take care of these children. Lucius,
slow Jennie down a bit. There's plenty of time to make the train.
LUCIUS: Yes, ma'am, Mis' Washington.
BOY: Here comes Farmer Krenshaw in his old mule wagon, papa.
GIRL: He's one of the nicest white men around.
BOOKER: Lucius, you might stop a moment.
(Horse slowing down)
FARMER: Howdy, folks.
BOOKER: Howdy-do, Mr. Krenshaw. Nice sun for cotton, isn't it?
FARMER: Plenty! I hear you gonna make a speech tomorrow, Washington, the
opening of the Exposition?
BOOKER: It looks like I am, sir.
FARMER: Well, you pretty good. You've spoke in front of northern white folks,
and southern colored folks, and us farmers around here too. But in Atlanta
tomorrow you gonna have city folks _and_ country folks, Yankees _and_
Southerners -- and colored folks added to that. Now, how you gonna please all
them different kind o' folks, Washington? I figger you got yourself in a
kinder tight place.
BOOKER: (Laughing). I'm afraid I have! But when I come back, I'll tell you
what I said.
FARMER: Well, good luck to you, Washington.
BOOKER: Thank you, Mr. Krenshaw.
(Horse speeds up, blending into)
(Music: Hoofbeat transition)
(Train pulling in)
(Ad libs of "good-bye," "good luck," etc.)
STATION PORTER: Get you-all's bags and bundles together! Here she comes. You
children get back from the track. . . . Auburn, Opelika, West Point, La
Grange, Hogansville, Trimble, Atlanta! . . . Stand back 'cause she's
(Train comes to a stop)
'Board! All 'board!
STUDENT: We with you, Dr. Washington.
SECOND STUDENT: God bless you, Mr. Washington.
THIRD STUDENT: Good luck to you-all. Happy journey!
(Bell of departing train)
ALL: Good-bye! Good-bye! Good-bye!
(Train starting into)
(Music: Special pullman car . . . Music cross-fading to)
BOOKER: The way my students believe in me, Margaret, I can't let then down at
WIFE: You won't, Booker. They believe in you because you have never let them
down. And they know you started out like they did, poor and ignorant, no book
learning, nobody to help you -- but you kept on.
BOOKER: Out of slavery, and the coal mine.
WIFE: And tomorrow you'll sit on the platform with the Governor of Georgia!
BOOKER: It's been a long haul, Margaret, from a slave plantation in Virginia
where I didn't know my father's name -- a one-room cabin and a bundle of rags
on the floor.
GIRL: Papa, you promised to tell us about it again sometime.
BOY: And about the cat hole.
GIRL: But you're always too busy.
BOY: Why don't you tell us now?
GIRL: Tell us, please, papa.
WIFE: Children --
BOY: Tell us about the cat hole.
BOOKER: Well, Junior, you see my mother's cabin on the plantation didn't have
any windows in it -- but there were plenty of holes where the rain leaked
through. And there was a rickety door, and a cat hole cut in the wall for the
cat to pass in and out during the night.
BOY: Why, couldn't the cat go out the door?
BOOKER: Could've. There were plenty of cracks in it. But _everybody_ had a cat
hole -- so we had one, too.
BOY: And did your mother feed the cat?
BOOKER: She hardly had time to feed _us_. She was a slave. Why, I can
remember . . .
(Train sounds fade out)
OLD WOMAN: (Fading on). Get up, you-all chillun -- if you wants to eat this
corn pone. It mighty nigh daybreak. I got to go to my work.
CHILD: (Drowsily). Yes'm, we's comin'.
BOY: I's sleepy, ma.
OLD WOMAN: Sleepy, nothin'! You got no time to be sleepy. (Gently) Here, eat
OLD WOMAN: And get on down yonder to de fields -- 'cause I don't want my
chillun to get no floggin' this mornin'.
(Fade in train)
GIRL: I don't like to hear about floggings, papa.
BOY: Tell us about freedom.
GIRL: And the war.
BOOKER: I didn't see the war. But I heard the white folks talking about the
war, as I fanned the flies away from them at dinnertime. And I knew it meant
freedom -- if the Yankees won. In the slave cabins at night . . .
(Fade train out)
SLAVE: Mars Lincoln, dey say he gonna sot us free!
SECOND SLAVE: Mars Lincoln, he gonna sign a paper that say . . .
THIRD SLAVE: No mo' work in de fields.
SLAVE: No mo' chillun sold away.
SECOND SLAVE: No mo' floggin's.
SLAVE: First thing I gwine do is learn to read.
THIRD SLAVE: First thing I gwine do is _rest_.
SECOND SLAVE: Yes, indeedy! Uh-hum-mmmmm!
THIRD SLAVE: Won't it be fun to be free!
BOOKER: Yet none of us wanted harm to come to our master's family.
BOY: But when freedom came, you went away?
BOOKER: Yes, my mother took us children to West Virginia and I went to work in
the salt furnaces. I was a big boy, yet I couldn't read or write. But the
number on my salt barrel was . . .
FOREMAN: Eighteen. Take that barrel and fill it, boy.
BOOKER: Eigh-teen? Is that what them two numbers mean, boss?
FOREMAN: A one and a eight, that's eighteen.
BOOKER: A one and a eight . . . one and eight . . . eigh-teen.
So I learned to make those numbers and to read them. And I wanted to learn
more. I talked so much about learning till my mother finally got me a battered
blue-backed speller somewhere, and all alone I studied the alphabet.
GIRL: Why didn't you get somebody to help you?
BOOKER: There wasn't a colored person in town who knew how to read. They had
all been slaves.
BOY: And there was no school?
BOOKER: No, son, there was no school. And when a school was finally
established, it was a _pay_ school and I couldn't go because I had to work.
But at night I studied my blue-backed speller by the firelight.
BOY: Like Lincoln did.
BOOKER: And finally I got my chance to go to school -- by rising at daybreak
and working until classtime, then going back to work after school. There were
many big boys in the first grade then, so being large didn't embarrass me. But
what did embarrass me was that first day when the teacher was making out the
roll, because I noticed all the other children had at least two names, or even
three -- but I had just been called Booker all my life. I didn't know what I
would say when he got to me. And he was coming down the line.
TEACHER: Your name, son?
BOY: Aloysius Wilkrus Jones, suh.
TEACHER: And yours?
GIRL: Mary Mackabee Johnson.
SECOND BOY: Franklin Wadson Hall.
TEACHER: Yours, please.
THIRD BOY: I'm Robert E. Lee Grant.
BOOKER: And all the time he kept getting closer to me, and I didn't know what
I was going to say. I was mighty puzzled. I felt like I wanted to cry. But
suddenly a bright idea came to me and when he said:
TEACHER: And your name is . . .?
BOOKER: Booker T. Washington.
It popped out just like that -- as if I'd known it all my life. And ever
since, that's been my name.
GIRL: Then you christened yourself, didn't you, papa?
BOOKER: I christened myself!
BOY: But you didn't stay long in school, did you, papa?
BOOKER: No. I had to go to work again, this time in the coal mines, a mile
down in the dark.
GIRL: Weren't you afraid?
BOOKER: Yes. There were often explosions, and falling slate, and gas. But one
day down there I happened to hear two miners talking about a great school for
colored people somewhere in Virginia, so I crept as close as I could to hear
what they were saying.
MINER: They calls it Hampton. And if a boy ain't got no money, he can just
work for his education.
SECOND MINER: How about his board and keep?
MINER: They say he can work for that too.
SECOND MINER: Dog scat my eyes! Where's it at?
MINER: Somewhere 'way 'cross Virginny. I'm . . .
BOOKER: I didn't know how far Hampton was, nor how to get to it, but I made up
my mind then and there to go.
BOY: And when you got there, they weren't sure they wanted to let you in, were
BOOKER: No, son, because I got there in rags, with no money, and I'd slept the
night before under a sidewalk in Richmond. The school was crowded. There were
so many students some of us slept in tents. And sometimes at night the tents
blew away in the dead of winter -- but we wanted an education -- and we got
GIRL: It's nicer at Tuskegee.
BOOKER: But it wasn't always. We began in a stable and a hen house. We made
our own bricks. I pawned my watch for materials, and begged for money. Then a
white man gave us _ten thousand dollars_.
WIFE: Our first big sum.
BOOKER: And once an old colored woman over seventy brought a gift. She hobbled
in in rags -- but clean -- leaning on a cane. She held out her gift.
OLD WOMAN: Mr. Washington, I's spent de best days o' my life in slavery. And
God knows I's ignorant and po'. But I knows what you's tryin' to do. You
tryin' to make better men and women for de cullud race. I ain't got no money,
but I wants you to take dese here six eggs what I been savin' up, and I wants
you to put these six eggs into de edication of dese boys and girls.
BOOKER: And so we struggled! But I'm glad we had to struggle. We built
Tuskegee from the ground up. Now, when a new student is tempted to mar some
building by carving his initials on it with a jackknife, I've often heard an
old student say, "Don't do that. That's _our_ building. I helped to put it
up." In the beginning folks said we would fail. But I have no patience with
the man who talks of failure, children. I believe only in the man who talks
WIFE: And that's what you should say in your speech tomorrow, Booker.
BOOKER: My speech is ready, Margaret. It's not what I'm going to say that
worries me, but how they'll take it. Will the Southerners be displeased? Will
the Negroes be worried? Will the northern whites think I've compromised? For
they'll all be there -- former slaves and former slaveowners, graduates from
Tuskegee, and teachers from Hampton. And thousands of Georgians . . .
WIFE: And when Governor Bullock introduces you in Exposition Hall . . .
(Fade out train scene)
GOVERNOR: Ladies and gentlemen, we have with us here today a representative of
Negro civilization in the South, Professor Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee.
(A flurry of applause . . . A few cheers . . . Then dead silence)
BOOKER: Mr. President, Gentlemen of the Board of Directors, Citizens: One-
third of the population of the South is of the Negro race. No enterprise
seeking the material, civil, or moral welfare of this section can disregard
this element of our population and reach the highest success. Once a ship lost
at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel. From the mast of the
unfortunate vessel was seen a signal, "Water, water; we die of thirst!" The
answer from the friendly vessel came back, "Cast your bucket where you are." A
second time the signal, "Water, water; send us water!" ran up the distressed
vessel, and was answered, "Cast down your bucket where you are." And a third
and fourth signal for water was answered, "Cast down your bucket where you
are." The captain of the distressed vessel, at last heeding the injunction,
cast down his bucket, and it came up full of fresh, sparkling water from the
mouth of the Amazon River. To those of my race who underestimate the
importance of cultivating friendly relations with the southern white man, who
is their next-door neighbor, I would say, "Cast down your bucket where you
are." Cast it down in making friends in every manly way of the people of all
races by whom we are surrounded. Cast it down in agriculture, mechanics, in
commerce, in domestic service, and in the professions. No race can prosper
till it learns there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a
To those of the white race, I would repeat what I say to my own race, "Cast
down your bucket where you are." Cast it down among the eight millions of
Negroes whose habits you know, whose fidelity you have tested. Cast down your
bucket among these people who have tilled your fields, cleared your forests,
and brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth. Cast down your
bucket among my people, help and encourage them to the education of head,
hand, and heart. Then you will find that they will buy your surplus land, make
blossom the waste places in your fields, and run your factories. But there is
no defense or security for any of us except in the highest intelligence and
development of all. Gentlemen of the Exposition, I pledge that in your effort
to work out the intricate problem which God has laid at the doors of the
South, you shall have at all times the help of my race. Only let this be
constantly in mind . . .
. . . that far beyond material benefits will be that higher good which, let us
pray God, will result in a blotting out of sectional differences and racial
animosities and suspicions, in a determination to administer absolute justice,
and in a willing obedience among all classes to the mandates of law.
(Music: Up to finish)
Originally broadcast: 7 April 1940
on CBS' "The Pursuit of Happiness";
written by Langston Hughes,
starring Rex Ingram,
and directed by Norman Corwin.