Booker Talliaferro Washington, founder of the famous Tuskegee Institute, was born a slave in Virginia but through education and grit became a man of wide influence. He was the dominant figure in the black community in the United States from 1890 to his death in 1915,
That's why J. S. Clark, the newly elected president of Southern University, asked Washington to visit his Baton Rouge campus in the spring of 1915 and Washington decided to take a little tour of south Louisiana while he was here. His visit was chronicled by Charles T. Vincent in the Spring 1981 issue Louisiana History magazine.
More than 100 black leaders met Washington when he arrived in New Orleans on April 13. He was toasted and feted in the Crescent City and made several speeches there. He apparently had his share of the famous New Orleans cuisine at an affair that lasted until midnight.
Despite the late night, he made it to the train early the next morning to head west. His first stop was New Iberia, where he made brief remarks from the rear of the train. He then moved on to Lafayette, where he was introduced to what was described as "a large crowd of black and white citizens" by educator Paul Breaux, who had been a student at Tuskegee.
Washington told his audience that the way black people could overcome the disadvantages under which they lived was to "apply themselves to profiting by the greater opportunities which they had in the South."
These remarks were characteristic of an approach to fighting racism that was sometimes criticized by other black leaders, such as W. E. B. Du Bois, who wanted a stronger words and tougher action in the civil rights cause. Washington thought that confrontation at that time would lead to disaster for the outnumbered blacks, and that cooperation with supportive whites was the only way to make progress in the long run. At the same time, he quietly paid for litigation for civil rights cases that challenged laws that disenfranchised blacks
During this tour, the Crescent City crowd had nothing on Crowley when it came to feeding the honored guest. In the Rice Capitol the banquet thrown in his honor included oyster cocktails, bouillon, roast turkey with dressing, creamed potatoes, petit pois, shrimp salad, ice cream, cake and coffee.
He told the people of Crowley, "I have come ... to observe the conditions within my race ... and then to try to offer some scheme for the betterment of those conditions. I hope also to study the relationship between the white and black races and to offer suggestions for the development of better understanding between the races."
Washington traveled next to Lake Charles, then turned back east to Baton Rouge for his principal mission, a speech to more than 5,000 people in which he was not hesitant to speak out against racial inequality. He noted for example, "If one negro burns down a house, the news is spread broadcast. If a dozen negroes build houses, it is never known outside of their own town, if even there."
Unfortunately, Washington's influence and his work to develop better racial understanding were near an end. He died just seven months after his Louisiana tour, collapsing in New York City from what might have been a stroke.
He was brought home to Tuskegee, where he died on November 14, 1915, at the age of 59.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.