28 Pages

Booker T. Washington and the White Man's Burden

Some lesser figures of African nationalism also had contact with Wash­ ington. Pixley Ka Isaka Seme, a Zulu who later was a founder of the Afri­ can National Congress, visited Tuskegee in 1906 while a student at Colum­ bia University. He described himself as “carried away with” the Tuskegee plant, and added: “We need your spirit in South Africa.” Seme gained ad­ mission to Tuskegee of a cousin interested in learning the printing trade.88 Seme himself, after graduating from Columbia, studied at Jesus College, Oxford, where he organized a club of African students. He wrote Washing­ ton to ask for an endorsement of the club, whose purpose was not agitation but “the interchange of general ideas.” He assured Washington that “vio­ lence in word or deed has no place in our programme.” Yet, in the long run the club might have great influence. He noted “that here are to be found the future leaders of African nations temporarily thrown together and yet com­ ing from widely different sections of that great and unhappy continent and that these men will, in due season, return each to a community that eagerly awaits him and perhaps influence its public opinion.”89 Washington’s reply indicated good will, but counseled moderation and even conservatism:

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I am sure that English statesmen, the men whose counsels will finally prevail, be­ lieve as you and I do, that in the long run Africa can prosper only on condition that, not only the riches of the soil and the mines but the latent powers of the na­ tive people are developed in a rational manner. What that implies is a practical problem that can only be solved by study and experiment. You can and should help in the solution of that problem and there are ways that you can be helpful, as no one else can, both to your own people and to the government. More and more I am learning that you face in South Africa, in a somewhat different and more difficult form, the same task we have in this country.90 When the two men met in London in 1910 Washington apparently rejected Seine’s appeal to take a more active interest in African national causes. “I shall always regret that our meeting in London had to be marred by inci­ dents of a personal character,” Seme wrote. “Africa is certainly awakening mighty and hopeful. I know that it will be a great cause of inspiration and encouragement to us if you could enlist your interest to our course.” Wash­ ington replied simply that he was “sorry that our meeting in London was not more satisfactory than it was.”91