photo: Booker T. reading

Sowing And Reaping

by Booker T. Washington

(1st Published 1900)


IT is proper that I should say that the thoughts contained in this little volume have been amplified by me from several of the "Sunday Evening Talks to Students" at the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, at Tuskegee, Ala.

        Booker T. Washington
        Tuskegee, Ala., June 30, 1900

chapter 1

"Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap." Again: "He which soweth sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully." (II Cor. ix. 15.)

These quotations are applicable to man in all the activities of life, both spiritual and material. Our harvest is always in proportion to the amount of earnest labour that we put into our work. A farmer who puts earnest effort into his fieldwork will reap a profitable harvest. The student who puts earnest effort into a lesson will get pleasure and satisfaction from it; he need not, however, be a student only in the closet, but in the great world as well, where practice takes the place of theory. In either case, when he has performed duty his conscience will be clear; he will be free.

Clear, he will be free from any restraint; he will have courage to face the obligations which confront all of us in the battle of life. A man gets knowledge and lays the basis of substantial influence in so far and no farther as he applies himself to the mastery of the thing to which he is most inclined.

Take, for example, the man, engaged in business pursuits. His profits are always in proportion to the amount of money, the skill and the labour that he puts into his business. If he fails to keep his eyes open to the main chance, if he does not know when to advance and when to reduce the price of his goods, he will have no profit; his rivals win get the best of him, and he may have to go out of business. And this is true of all the pursuits of life. We get out of every venture just what we put into it; no more, no less. To attain success we must put forth hard and honest labour. At the back of all success there is hard, persistent labour. There is no royal road. Those who think there is always fail. No man ever reaped any success in life who did not sow wisely. As each man takes up the serious business of life he must do something, - he must labour and wait. In order to reap something, something must be done. Value for value is the real standard of life's exchange of benefits.

Show me a man who is always grumbling, always finding fault with his condition, never satisfied with his opportunities, and I will show you a man who does not appreciate the opportunities in the environment in which he is to work out his weal or woe. Hard labor is the keynote to success. One of the wisest things Ex-senator B. K. Bruce ever said was that "luck is a fool." So it is. There is no luck; it is all labour and patience.

And every man who wants to succeed must learn the process of overlapping. That is, no man who wishes to succeed should be afraid of doing just a little more than lies in the direct line of his duty. He must be interested in his work.

No man lives to himself. He is a related creature. He cannot confine himself to himself. He is his brother's keeper, because his brother is his keeper in more ways than one. No man lives to himself. He is a related creature. He cannot confine himself to himself. We lean one upon the other. When we do this we establish a feeling of confidences of appreciation, of helpfulness, in the estimation of a neighbour, that nothing can destroy. If a person asks us to do a certain thing which is fair and honest, do that thing; not only do that, but do more. Combine your force with his, and win his undivided confidence. This process of overlapping establishes the greatest happiness, since it creates, a community of feeling and interest, without which no man can hope to succeed in every pursuit of life. It may be accepted as an axiom that we get out of every effort just what we put into it of hard, honest labour. That is to say: "Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap."

chapter 2

"BE mindful of what you attempt to do," is a safe motto, for old and young alike, to adopt as a rule of conduct. Every man should have a definite purpose in life, and he should have a substantial reason for everything he does.

It is a useless effort for any man to attempt to do a thing unless he knows definitely what he desires to accomplish. By far the greater portion of human wrecks on the highway of life are responsible for their own failures, simply because they started out with no definite end in view; or because such view as they may have had was of the vague sort, which is often worse than no sort.

The great work of the present day is to so shape our educational system as to make it reach ignorance, to make it useful and helpful to those of the race less fortunate than we are. Education should be so imparted that it will give the light of inspiration to those who live in ignorance and poverty.

There are six hundred thousand Negroes in the State of Alabama who are waiting to be "lifted up." The real teachers are those who undertake their work, not with the purpose to "lift themselves up." The Tuskegee graduate, for example, should go out among the people and make sacrifices; suffer, and help the masses to bear their ills, for a little while.

I do not mean that you are to make such sacrifices as will cause you to suffer in order that you may cause others to do better and live better; I mean that you are to go out and help the masses to help themselves, while at the same time you are helping yourselves. The condition of the Negro is a hopeless one, if his educated brethren do not help to lift him up out of the ignorance and poverty with which he entered his lease of life as a free man and citizen. Time and patience are necessary to bring forth perceptible improvement in the condition of the masses, but we should undertake the work with brave hearts and with trained intellects and hands. We must not get discouraged. Life, in this respect, will naturally seem hard for awhile, but we must not be overcome because of this, if we expect to help others and thereby help ourselves.

The self-sacrificing missionary spirit and work are needed in the country districts at this time more than anywhere else. We wish very much that the Tuskegee graduates, who go out year after year from our institution, would go into the country districts and labour where their services are most urgently needed. They should make their lives an example, an inspiration to the masses among whom they cast their lot. They should teach the people how to be independent, manly, and economical in their living, and they should impress upon them the supreme importance of owning the homes in which they live. They should purchase homes themselves, and build good houses that will be models for their neighbours.

Great responsibility rests upon the educated Negro of to-day. The great masses look to him for inspiration, for guidance, in plodding their way out of the darkness into the light.

chapter 3

WE are constantly being confronted with opposites in almost everything with which we come into contact, both in the material and spiritual sense. Nature, in giving us day and night and alternation of seasons, furnishes a very clear illustration of my meaning. If we are not successes we are failures. Success or failure depends very largely upon the side of life we choose. Every person desires to choose either the higher or the lower side of life, and with tie choice a determination is made to live for higher or for lower things. It is evident that: if a person chooses the higher side of life, and lives up to his choice, he will succeed; but, on the other hand, if he chooses the lower side of life he will fail. "The way of the transgressor is hard." There is no escape.

We should always strive to see things from the higher-life point of view. Instead of picking flaws in the character, and making unjust and uncalled for criticisms upon our neighbours and their work, we should encourage them in order that they may improve. If there is any good in a person, let us seek to find it; the evil will take care of itself.

One of the greatest temptations young people have, who live on the lower side of life, is to engage in profane, vulgar, and boisterous conversation. The nature of a person's conversation largely determines what he is. Young people especially should seek to converse with persons whose conversation, whose thought, is pure and refined. The influence of unhealthy conversation is so great that nothing can counteract the harm it does a person's character. If a young person finds himself associated with a person of either sex who has no regard for healthy thinking and pure expression, he should rid himself of the association. If he does not do so, he will eventually fall to the level of his companion. It is true that "birds of a feather flock together."

Young as well as old people should avoid the habit of speaking ill of others. The person who is always talking about somebody else must necessarily possess a low and cowardly nature. You may talk disparagingly of a person all your life, but if the person be good and honest you cannot permanently injure him. On the contrary, the gossiper and vilifier usually gets the worst of it in the end. So, above all things, avoid the habit of talking about others.

Evil association is another thing that will injure the reputation of a person. Nothing is so likely to injure the reputation of a young person as associating with persons who are low and vulgar in their conduct and speech. Young people, especially, should never associate with persons whose influence will drag them down. If their companionship is not a help it should be abandoned, because in all conditions of life "evil communications corrupt good manners." The tendency of our nature, at the very best, is downward. If we do not associate with the best people possible in our condition of life, shame and degradation will inevitably be our portion. We should seek always the companionship of people who live high and think high and act high.

Show me a person who entertains high thoughts, endorses high actions, and who possesses a broad and generous nature, and I will show you a person who is respected and beloved by his neighbours. On the other hand, show me a person whose thoughts, words, and acts are low, and I will show you a person who is distrusted by his neighbours and constantly watched by the police.

chapter 4

Things seen are temporal; things unseen are eternal, spiritual. Hidden things stand for character; temporal, visible things stand for reputation. After all, it is the hidden things which are most important - which stand for the highest things in the world. Take the matter of giving conscientiously. You will find that the persons who give most generously are thus: those who are depended upon when the world needs charity are those who give quietly, those who give without being seen. Those who delight in marching up to the table when giving to the support of the church are rarely those who give much. It is the quiet, unseen giving, which never reaches the ear of the public, which makes possible the best things in the world.

The student, as an example, will find the same thing true all through his school life - that he will have to get into the habit of doing a thing because it is right, because he can put his conscience into his work. If the student fails to form this habit in the school, he will not only fail in his school life, but in his life out in the big world. A student should not be satisfied with himself until he has grown to the point where, when simply sweeping a room, he can go into the corners and crevices and remove the hidden trash which, although it should be left, would not be seen.

It is not very hard to find people who will thoroughly clean a room which is going to be occupied, or wash a dish which is to be handled by strangers; but it is hard to find a person who will do a thing right when the eyes of the world are not likely to look upon what has been done. The cleaning of rooms and the washing of dishes have much to do with forming characters.

A man who builds a house and gives it a presentable exterior is reputed to be a conscientious and reliable contractor; but, if the real character of the man is to be known, we must tear down the house and ascertain of what the hidden timbers are composed and how they are laid. The character of the man is disclosed in the quality of his work. A man is growing when he can be relied upon to do his best seen or unseen, observed or unobserved.

Now, here, at Tuskegee Institute, for example, we want to prepare for the work of life the type of students who will put just as much energy, just as much hard work, into a lesson that is to be recited, as into one that is not to be recited. The average student will take a great deal of pains with an essay which he is to read before the class; but in order to get at the real character of that student you must break open one of the letters that he writes to his parents, and see whether he has written with lead-pencil or pen, on clean, good paper, or on soiled paper.

So, it is always the hidden thing, the thing not likely to be seen, by which the man is to be judged.

It is not difficult to find persons who will speak generous words and be unselfish in delivering a discourse before a large audience; but the way to test the real character of the person is to watch his conduct toward his neighbours, those who come into daily contact with him.

chapter 5

You have all, doubtless, read that portion of the Scriptures which tells of the woman who touched the hem of Christ's garment, and thus showed her faith. The act in itself was a little thing; and yet this power of human confidence is something that we do not always fully understand and appreciate. Here we have an example of one person merely touching another, and one of them becoming healed of her infirmities simply by reason of that contact.

How often do we come in contact with men and women, in whose presence we may be only a short time, and are made better, are lifted up, as it were! And all of us are constantly having the opportunity of coming into contact with such persons. Every time human life touches human life one person is made better or worse by the contact. We are always surrounded by persons who are sick, diseased by reason of their wickedness, people who fall into temptation, who are sick, down and discouraged in the race of life, weary of living, because of some misfortune of their own making. There are others who want to be made whole again, and be rid of their ignorance; others want to be helped because of their poverty and misery, people who are suffering in one way or another, craving for the health and strength that we can give them. We have the power to make these people strong, to heal them of their infirmities, even as Christ had when he lived among men. We have the opportunity in our business life constantly.

We can often heal these necessitous people by a simple visit, by speaking a kind word, by giving them something for which they most crave; if they be sick, by giving them a small bunch of flowers. There are thousands of ways in which we can heal those afflicted in mind or body. You, students of Tuskegee, will go out among a class of people who are cast down, discouraged by the many disadvantages and infirmities of life; people craving for the health that you can give them. The question, then, presents itself to every teacher, every captain prepared for leadership: Are you going to live such a life that, when these people come in contact with you, look you in the face, they will be made stronger and better by the contact? There are persons whose lives are so much like that of Christ's, who have so much genuine Christianity in them, that we cannot come in contact with them, we cannot even steal a glance at their faces, without being made stronger and better.

It is said that on one cold wintry day, when the rain was falling, just such a day as to make one feel despondent, Phillips Brooks was walking through one of the streets of Boston. Those who looked into his face discovered a ray of sunshine there.

Why? Be cause that man was so full "of the milk of human kindness," so overflowing with love of humanity, that no man, however degraded, could look into his face without being helped, without feeling that he had a place in the great heart of Phillips Brooks. It is true that Phillips Brooks was an Episcopalian, but no denominational ties could bind him; he was a pastor of a certain church, but every man in Boston loved him, because he had the healing power in him.

Now, if those who annually go out from the schools of our great country, wherever they go, will carry with them something of this healing power, this power that will cure men merely by letting them come in contact with them, even in the slightest manner, if they will catch something of the Christ like spirit, we can have a heaven, as it were on earth. I do not believe in waiting for the heaven of the future. If we imitate the life of Christ as nearly as possible, heaven will come about more and more right here on earth.

No person can expend any life force without receiving life force in return. When we give out this spirit, something of this healing power, we receive in return more strength for ourselves, for virtue, like vice, thrives upon what it feeds.

chapter 6

IT is impossible for a farmer, or for a man in any sort of occupation, to succeed unless he is capable of looking into the future, of planning ahead. For instance, take the dry goods merchant who keeps on hand the same kind of goods during all seasons; it is not hard to forecast that that man is going to fail in his business. In order to succeed, he must plan in the winter for what the public will want in the spring and summer.

The same thing is true of the teacher. The teacher who goes into the classroom without first having planned out his work cannot hope for success. The teacher who does not plan his work for the coming year, during the summer vacation, is going to find himself behind in his profession. It is not hard to tell that a man is going to be a failure sooner or later.

This matter of making preparation for what the hands find to do is true in all the relations of life. No person can hope to succeed who does not make careful preparation before he undertakes any sort of work: and the more thorough his preparation the more successful he will likely be.

An ordinary life, in this active, pushing age, does not amount to a great deal unless it is carefully lived, and it cannot be carefully lived unless it is carefully planned. Many are going to succeed or fail in life just in proportion as they are wise in laying the foundation upon which character and reputation are to be built.

It is very often said that the man who has succeeded is fortunate. It is not so. Fortunate persons, in nine out of ten cases, are those who have had sense enough to lay their plans and bend all of their energies to accomplish what they have laid out.

A race of people succeed in proportion as they are able to plan today for a century to come. And this is true of all races.

One of the hardest tests of our civilization is this: To what extent does a man or a race look ahead? When we study matters relating to the English government the thing that impresses us most is to note how thoroughly English statesmen are prepared on all the questions relating to the British Empire. The Prime Minister does not seem to be studying so much for the present generation as for the next. A race of people succeed in proportion as they are able to plan today for a century to come. And this is true of all races.

We shall find that the person who is disposed to lead an aimless life, who fails in advance to prepare for the duties which society will exact of him, is one who is ashamed of the position in which he finds himself. He is ashamed of his mistakes and failures, ashamed of what he has failed to do from day to day; and proceeding upon this false notion, the person is led on by one failure and another into a life of dissipation and shame and, perhaps, of crime.

It is easy to see how a man succeeds who takes plenty of time to prepare the groundwork of success. He simply reaps where he has sown.

chapter 7

The Negro race must recognize that their condition is, in a large measure, different from that of the White race. Now, this difference in condition demands a certain difference in education. It is true that the Negro labours under a great many disadvantages; still, he is in a position to profit by the mistakes of the white race. The White race has been two or three centuries learning that they have made a mistake in simply cultivating the head, in not coupling education of the head with education of the hand. They have only discovered their mistake in the closing years of the nineteenth century. Most that has been done in the development of industrial education has been done in the past three decades. While the White race was three thousand years discovering this fundamental error in education, the Negro was born right into a condition of activity in industrial and scientific education, in which he can take advantage of the mistakes the White race has been making.

Negro children have educational advantages that thousands of White children never had. Take the President of the United States. The smallest Black boy on the grounds of the Tuskegee Institute has four or five times the advantages in education that the President had when he was a boy. Speak to a White man who is forty or fifty years of age about kindergartens, about learning the alphabet without going through the old humdrum methods and he will tell you that he knows nothing about the subject. Now, Negro as well as White children are born into the kindergarten system.

But, in spite of all the educational and other advantages that the Negro enjoys, his condition is not the same as that of other people. Why? Because, as I have often said, the whole race is hungry. I was talking to the president of Alcorn College, at Rodney, Miss., recently, about the condition of the Negroes in Mississippi and Louisiana, and he said those people were hungry. I have letters from South Carolina and other States which contain the one general piece of information that the people are hungry. If you will agree that the Negro race is hungry - hungry morally, mentally, spiritually, and materially, then you will also agree with me that the most sensible thing to do is to give most of our time and strength toward supplying for the masses the thing they most stand in need of.

I am not now, and never have been, opposed to any man or woman getting all the education he or she can. The more the better. It does not matter where or how they get it; the main question is, What are they going to do with it when they have got it? The system of education is false the whole strength of which shall not be applied during the next fifty or one hundred years to preparing the masses to wring from our social conditions the means to supply their hunger with the food of life.

And are not the masses of all races in all lands hungry? Are they not waiting and crying for the sort of education that will enable them to conquer their hunger by conquering the forces of nature and the ignorance which wastes more than it utilizes? I may appropriately conclude this little volume, as I began it, with the words from the Inspired Book, which were intended more for the educated few than for the ignorant many: "be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap."