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First Annual Address as President

Delivered at the First Meeting of the National Negro Business League, by Booker T. Washington, August 24, 1900

Ladies and Gentlemen:
I feel almost ashamed to occupy any portion of your valuable time in any general remarks this morning. Whatever degree of success may attend this meeting will be very largely due to the loyal and faithful work of the Local Committee in the city of Boston, who have stood by for a number of days, and for more nights, planning the work of this organization; and I am sure that you join me in giving this Local Committee the most hearty thanks.

In the first place, the program which is before you is far from perfect. It is, perhaps, far from satisfactory. It is not possible to have all the states represented on the program. It is not even possible to have many important organizations represented. It is not possible to have as many persons speak from the platform, as the committee desired to have speak; but I am sure that all of you will agree that in the first meeting it is hardly possible to have that degree of acquaintance with the individual members of the convention which would enable us to have the most perfect program.

I very much hope that each one who speaks will understand it is very necessary that the address, the papers, be short; that they be just as compact as possible. I hope also that there will be no restraint; that you will speak out plainly and openly regardless of rhetoric, and regardless of mere grammatical forms. There is a story to the effect that the Boston people never have a public hearing of any bad grammar; that whenever a stranger comes to Boston with some bad grammar attached to him, when he speaks the winds very softly and gently waft his language out into the harbor and words return to the Boston audience perfectly purified.

One object of this organization of business men and women, as I understand it, is to bring together annually those of our race who are engaged in various branches of business, from the humblest to the highest, for the purpose of closer personal acquaintance, of receiving encouragement, inspiration, and information from each other. The other object is to originate plans by which local business organizations can be made to serve the best interest of the race.

This organization does not overlook the fact that mere material possessions are not, and should not be made, the chief end of life, but should be used as a means of aiding us in securing our rightful place as citizens and of enlarging our opportunities for securing that education and development which enhance our usefulness and produce that tenderness and goodness of heart which will make us live for the benefit of our fellow men and for the promotion of our country's highest welfare.

I have faith in the timeliness of this organization. As I have noted the conditions of our people in nearly every part of our country, I have always been encouraged by the fact that , almost without exception, whether in the North or in the South, wherever I have seen a black man who was succeeding in business, who was a taxpayer, and who possessed intelligence and high character, that individual was treated with the highest respect by the members of the white race. In proportion as we can multiply these examples North and South will our problem, be solved. Let every Negro strive to become the most useful and indispensable man in his community. A useless, shiftless, idle class is a menace and a danger to any community. When an individual produces what the world wants, whether it is a product of hand, head, or the heart, the world does not long stop to inquire what is the color of the skin of the producer.

This meeting will prove a great encouragement to our people in all parts of the country, bringing together, as it does, the men and women of our race who have been most successful in life. The most humble black boy will be made to feel that what you have done, he can do also.

We must not in any part of our country become discouraged, notwithstanding the way often seems dark and desolate; we must maintain faith in ourselves and in our country. No race ever got upon its feet without a struggle, without trials and discouragement. The very struggles through which we often pass give us strength and experience that in the end will prove helpful. Every individual and every race that has succeeded has had to pay the price which nature demands from all. We cannot get something for nothing. Every member of the race who succeeds in business, however humble and simple that business may be, because he has learned the important lessons of cleanliness, promptness, system, honesty, and progressiveness, is contributing his share in smoothing the pathway for this and succeeding generations. For the sake of emphasis, I repeat that not one can long succeed unless he keep in mind the important elements of cleanliness, promptness, system, honesty, and progressiveness.

In conclusion may I add that we shall succeed in our purpose in this organization just in proportion as each individual member is able to forget himself, to hide himself behind the great cause which has brought us together. Let us not lay too much stress upon "point of order" and unless parliamentary machinery , which often occupies valuable time and prevents the accomplishment of the real purpose for which organizations are formed.

I want to congratulate you upon the fact that, thirty-five years after our freedom, so large a body of representative business men and women of the race have assembled in the city of Boston, a city dear to every Negro in all parts of our land. I want to congratulate you that we find ourselves in the home of Garrison Phillips, Shaw, George L. Stearns, and a host of others, and I believe that on this sacred soil, guided and encouraged by the memory of those who have lived and died for us, we shall form an organization which will prove potential in the lifting up of the race in all parts of our country. no matter under what conditions we may find ourselves surrounded, may we ever keep in mind that the law which recognizes and rewards merit, no matter under what skin found, is universal and eternal and can no more be nullified than we can stop the life-giving influence of the daily sun.

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