Up From Slavery Study Guide

Chapter 4 - Helping Others

This chapter begins with Booker’s next difficulty: finding somewhere to live during vacation when he had no money to travel home and no money to pay for lodgings. He had a new second-hand coat that was very valuable and he thought he would sell it to earn money. Unfortunately, when one man came to buy the coat for $3.00, he wanted to give him five cents down and pay the rest as soon as he could get it. That was a terrible disappointment for Booker. His next idea was to find work as close as possible to Hampton and he managed to secure a job in a restaurant in Fort Monroe. He thought that the wages here could help pay the sixteen dollars he owed his school. One night, he found a ten-dollar bill under a table and showed his boss what he had found. Unfortunately again, the man decided that since he owned the restaurant, the money belonged to him. Once again, he was discouraged, but not enough to keep him from continuing to try. After this, he went to General J. F. B. Marshall, the treasurer of Hampton, and told him frankly about his problem making enough money to pay off his debt. The General told him he trusted him enough to pay him when he could.

During his second year, Booker continued to work as a janitor and continued to discover the unselfishness of his teachers. He came to learn that those who are the happiest are those who do the most for others. Miss Nathalie Lord, one of the teachers, taught him the use and value of the Bible. He learned it was an important tome for spiritual help, but also as a source of good literature. He made it a rule from then on to read a chapter or portion of one every morning. He also owed what he knew as a public speaker from her. She gave him private lessons, and even though he never liked to speak publicly, she made him aware that he needed to be able to speak to the world if he were going to help it. Booker also enjoyed the debating societies and attended every week. Eventually, he was instrumental in organizing one himself.

At the end of his second year, when vacation rolled around, Booker was able to go home with the help of his mother, his brother, John, and a small gift from one of his teachers. There was no work in the mines or furnaces in Malden that summer, because the workers were on strike. Booker explains that he could never understand the purpose of a strike, because the workers would often eventually return to work in deeper debt than before and having lost their savings to professional labor agitators. He was gratified by the respect and awe the people in his community showed him as an educated man, but he was more concerned about getting a job. One day after looking for employment in a town a considerable distance away, he was too tired to walk all the way home and spent the night in an abandoned house. His brother, John, found him there about three o’clock in the morning and told him that their mother had died that night. Booker was devastated, because he had always pictured himself being with his mother when she died. He had also dreamed of begin in a secure position someday to make his mother’s life more comfortable. Now it was all for naught. As a result, his household became one of confusion, because no one knew how to do the jobs his mother had always done. It was Mrs. Ruffner who the stepped in to help him by giving him a part time job which he worked when he wasn’t working in a coal mine some distance away. He even thought he might have to give up returning to Hampton, but eventually he secured some winter clothes for the school year and enough money to pay for his trip back.

Once he was back in Hampton, he believed his janitorial job would see him through for money for the school year. Then, Miss Mackie sent him a letter asking him to return two weeks early to help her thoroughly clean the school before the students arrived. She taught him the dignity of labor.

During his final year at Hampton, he devoted himself to study and work and was proud to be placed on the honor roll of Commencement speakers. He concluded that he achieved two benefits from his studies at Hampton: contact with the great man, General S. C. Armstrong and learning what education was expected to do. He learned what it meant to live a life of unselfishness.

Because he was completely out of money when he graduated, Booker took a position as a waiter at a summer hotel in Connecticut. However, he knew nothing about waiting tables and when he made unforgivable mistakes, he was severely scolded and reduced to being a dish carrier. However, this didn’t discourage him. Instead, he was determined to learn the business of waiting and once he did, he was restored to his former position.

After the hotel season ended, Booker returned home to Walden. He was elected to teach at the colored school there and he felt he finally had the opportunity to lift up the people of his own town. He did more than teach them about books. He also taught them cleanliness and pride in themselves. He opened a night school, established a reading room, and started a debating society. He also taught Sunday school and gave private lessons to young men he determined were perfect candidates for the Hampton Institute. To add to all that he was already doing, Booker worked to help his brother, John go to Hampton and later, both of them put all their efforts into making education at the Institute available to their adopted brother, James.

While Booker was home in Malden, he noticed the activity of the Ku Klux Klan, a vicious group of white men determined to regulate the activities of colored people, especially when it came to the area of politics. They were very much like the “patrollers” who did the same doing the period of slavery, but more dangerous and brutal. His friend, General Ruffner, was one of the white people injured by the KKK during a confrontation between both races. He saw this as the darkest period of the Reconstruction days. Ironically, given what the reader now knows, Booker’s final assessment that there are no such organizations in the South as he is writing this book is surprising.


This chapter is Washington’s assessment of what he learned at Hampton about the kindness of people and what true happiness is. He gives so much of himself to so many, because he learned such unselfishness from the people at Hampton. These are valuable lessons he then passes on to those he educates. The key is always education as a means to lift up his people. Unfortunately, for his assessment of the KKK, he would have been surprised to see it rear its ugly head again in the 40’s and 50’s.

Cite this page:

Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on Up From Slavery". TheBestNotes.com.