Events, New Stuff

Booker T. Washington speaks in Biddeford

On December 4, 1896, during a speaking tour of the north in support of the Tuskegee Institute, Booker T. Washington made a stop in Biddeford to speak at the Second Congregational Church (also known as the White Church) on Crescent Street.

The Second Congregational Church, Crescent Street, circa 1890 [Image 1472]

Three male Tuskegee students and Mr. Washington arrived in Biddeford about noon, after a morning speech in Kennebunk, and had lunch (“dinner”) at the Thacher Hotel. They were scheduled to speak locally at 3 PM.

The Thacher Hotel with carriages outside, City Square, circa 1894 [Image 2409]

After eating, the four men then made their way up the block, to the Second Church, where a large audience awaited them to hear their talk on “The Need of the Negro: What the Tuskegee Normal Institute Aims to Do.”

The church was filled with “a good sized crowd, including many of the businessmen of the two cities, and many ladies.” He had spoken in Saco the previous year, so this was not his first time in the area.

From the Biddeford Daily Journal – July 29, 1895, page 3.

Mr. Washington gave a well-received presentation about the Institute, its value and impact in the south. He spoke eloquently why people in the north should support the school to accomplish its goals, and that to lift up Black Americans was to life up America itself. He interestingly included some discussion of cotton, which would have certainly been of some interest locally due to the textile mills, which were in full swing.

From the Biddeford Daily Journal – December 4, 1896, page 3

After speaking to the crowd that afternoon in Biddeford, the four men climbed back into their carriage to continue on to Portland, for a speaking engagement at the State Street Congregational church there in that evening.

The students, who “furnish singing at the meetings led by [Booker T. Washington]”, didn’t speak at the Biddeford stop. One young man – identified only as “Mr. Shultz” (of Americus, Alabama) – did however speak in Portland that evening. You can read the full account of Washington’s talk that night in Portland, which was similar to the Biddeford one, courtesy of the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America site.

From The Portland Daily Press – December 5, 1896 page 2.

If you would like to learn more about this important figure in American history, the National Park Service has an excellent online exhibit/website about Booker T. Washington and the Tuskegee Institute. PBS also has a number of excellent, short videos about Washington and his work, from Tuskegee and beyond. Here is a brief excellent video courtesy of Biography.

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