Thursday, February 27, 2014

Booker T. Washington Spoke In Erie, PA

Booker T. Washington article, Erie Evening Herald, June 1914.
Believe it or not, Booker T. Washington spoke in Erie, PA one hundred years ago. He appeared at the Central Presbyterian Church on the northeast corner of 10th and Sassafras Street on Sunday, June 21, 1914. Dr. Washington spoke to a large audience at 10:45 a.m. about "Negro Education With Relation to the Development of the South."

"The talk to the Erie audience was one of a series being given by the famous Negro instructor in Western Pennsylvania and New York, for the object of acquainting the people of this section with the work being done by this great place of learning [the Tuskegee Institute]. After his talk here Dr. Washington left for Jamestown, NY, where he was scheduled to speak in the evening." Erie Daily Times, June 22, 1914.

At Jamestown, Dr. Washington explained to the audience, "When we first told the parents of the students that, they must work at Tuskegee, they rebelled and said 'why we have been worked as slaves for 250 years and a school is the last place for work.' I explained that there was a vast difference between being worked and working. We have now reached a point where all prejudice is removed. We have entirely changed the spirit of the black people of the South. We have taught them the disgrace of idleness and the dignity and beauty of work. If we educate the mind and strengthen the hand we have accomplished much. Our work is practical. We do not use the book much. It is easier to learn about a horse from the horse than it is to learn it from a book." -Fredonia Censor, July 8, 1914.

Dr. Washington spoke in Auburn, New York on June 12, 1914 at the unveiling of a Harriet Tubman memorial. This was nine days before he appeared in Erie. 

"It is most fitting and proper from every point of view that the name of Harriet Tubman should be perpetuated by means of this tablet so that her memory and deeds can live in the minds and hearts of the present generation, and can be held up as an object lesson for all time to the generations that follow. Harriet Tubman was a unique and great character of which any race and any age should be proud. Here in the city where she spent the larger part of her life, and here where her body rests, is the place of all places where this tribute of love and affection should be expressed.  The citizens of Auburn had a chance to know her better than the citizens of any other community. Indeed, she was a prophet not without honor in her own home." -The Advertiser-Journal, Saturday, June 13, 1914.

Booker T. Washington died on November 14, 1915 in Tuskegee, Alabama. The Central Presbyterian Church at 10th and Sassafras in Erie, PA was demolished many years ago. The Booker T. Washington Center, named in honor of the famous educator, is located at 18th and Holland Street in Erie, PA.

Find more amazing historical facts about Erie, Pennsylvania at Old Time Erie


  1. Debi the EHS has a letter from Booker T. Washington to the Battles Family (bankers in Girard) thanking them for their contribution and seeking aid. Discovered it during the PA Museum meeting in Erie in 1994 or 1998.

    1. Johnny, thanks for the lead. I'll have to explore the collections at the Erie County Historical Society and see what treasures they are preserving for the community. In addition, I bet there are some incredible letters tucked away in shoeboxes and scrapbooks (along with pictures and postcards) in the homes of many people in Erie. I got to look through several large boxes of photos recently and it was a fun way to spend an afternoon.