Finding a Way Out: An Autobiography

by Robert Russa Moton.New York: Double-day, Page & Co. 1920. 8vo, x+296 pp.
IF one is tempted to discouragement over present conditions, especially, perhaps, over race-antagonisms, one should read the autobiography of Dr. Moton, the successor of Booker Washington at Tuskegee. He does not minimize the difficulties and dangers that confront the negro in America to-day, but he shows that the leaders of the race are ‘finding a way out.’
He is well qualified to understand the situation, and the feeling of both races. Brought up by a wise Christian mother, who worked in a fine Southern family, he was on intimate terms with the white boys. It was a rude shock when one of his friends came back from school and refused to shake hands, though he threw his arms around the old colored cook. Moton slept very little that night. He ‘was thinking.’ Before the next night, lie ‘had firmly resolved that getting an education was the best thing’ he could do. So he went to Hampton.
Two years later he went home for a vacation, and, impressed with the needs of his whole community, decided that ‘there was nothing more worth while than helping just such people in just such a community.’ He did teach one term in a similar place, but was persuaded by General Armstrong to take charge of the discipline at Hampton, a task hitherto performed by a white man. He undertook the work ‘with many misgivings,’ but ‘by taking time when any trouble arose to hear both sides, and to lead them both if possible to see their mistakes,’ he never had any serious difficulty. ‘I have always felt,’ he says, ‘that much of the friction between races is due to misunderstanding.’
All his life his efforts have been directed to bringing about a better understanding on all sides. During his twenty-six years at Hampton, his intimate relations with Dr. Frissell gave him the point of view of the best white people. Together they worked out plans of inestimable value. Together they served on many boards started by wise friends of Southern education. When Booker Washington died, Dr. Frissell, already ill himself, said to Moton, ‘You will have to go to Tuskegee.’ Both Dr. Frissell and Moton always considered the larger need, and Moton’s experience, his sane judgment, his hopefulness, and his fine character made him an ideal successor to Washington.
During the war, he coöperated with the government in every way, and was sent by the President to France on a very delicate mission. He was given every chance to investigate conditions and to refute the rumors started by the ‘whispering gallery’ against the negro troops. Just before the war ended he was instrumental in inaugurating a very important movement to remove racefriction by bringing together groups of white and black leaders throughout the South. He ends his book by saying that he knows nothing more satisfactory than to share ‘the labors of both races in their efforts to bring men to that goodwill which is the highest hope of humanity.’
E. P. M.