Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

By Philip S. Foner; Robert James Branham | Go to book overview

142 WE MUST HAVE A CLEANER "SOCIAL MORALITY"

Margaret Murray Washington

One of ten children born to her sharecropper parents in Mississippi, Margaret Murray Washington ( 1865-1925) played a significant role in the Tuskegee Institute enterprises and was active and influential in the women's club movement. Murray graduated from Fisk University in 1889 and the following year became "Lady Principal" of Tuskegee, where she met the recent widower Booker T. Washington. They married in 1892. She advised him on his speeches and occasionally accompanied him on lecture tours as he gained increasing fame. Margaret Murray Washington served on the executive board of Tuskegee and later became its dean of women.

In February 1892, she initiated a program of "mother's meetings" that provided child care for working mothers, literacy training, and information and training for women in household management and hygiene. This organization was an important forerunner of the black women's club movement. Margaret Murray Washington attended the July 1895 meeting in Boston that resulted in the organization of the National Federation of Afro-American Women. The following year, she was elected its president, and helped the organization unite with the Colored Women's League to form the National Association of Colored Women, which she served as secretary of the executive board. Washington was elected president of the NACW in 1914.

A stirring speaker, Washington often addressed women's clubs and sometimes shared the program with her husband on his lecture tours. On September 12, 1898, the Washingtons visited Charleston, South Carolina. Her husband addressed a large audience in the church that morning and a community gathering in the evening. During the afternoon, Margaret Murray Washington offered a "plain, earnest talk" to "a very large assemblage" of black women at the Old Bethel A.M.E. Church. She draws attention to statistics of disproportionate infant mortality and general morbidity among the African American population, as well as the problem of unwanted pregnancy. Her answer is self-improvement in habits and hygiene. The task of moral uplift she lays upon those in her audience who have enjoyed greater advantages in education or social opportunity. "Stoop down now and then and lift up others," she admonishes.

The text of the speech was published in the Charleston News and Courier ( September 13, 1898) and was reprinted in volume 4 of Louis R. Harlan , ed., The Booker T. Washington Papers ( Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975), 461-68. For further information, see Wilma KingHunter

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