In 1926, Carter G. Woodson named the second week in February as Black History Week. Eventually the whole month became Black History Month. So it’s fitting that we have this article this week, even though it was publishing before any of that happened, to teach us a little bit about black history that we might not already know.
Booker T. Washington is a familiar name. I remember learning about him and his 1895 speech on race relations that brought him to prominence. He was born into slavery, and later became an educator and black leader. His autobiography, Up From Slavery is available as a free download from Google Books.
But until I read this article, I wasn’t familiar with Willis Nathan Huggins, here proclaimed as Booker T. Washington’s logical successor, even though he was only working as a hotel elevator operator:
Employed as night elevator man in one of the smaller but best-known hotels of Washington, D. C., is a negro whose self-education and mental development is such that many white persons of position and influence at the Capital look upon him as the logical successor of Booker T. Washington in the uplifting of the negro race. Black in color as the proverbial “ace of spades,” and having all the facial characteristics of the true African negro, those who have become interested in him and have studied him describe him as possessing “a black man’s skull filled with a white man’s brains.”
Uh… I think that was meant as a compliment, but yikes.
Huggins eventually moved to New York, where he became a teacher and an activist in the New Negro Movement. He went on to write several books on black history.
Huggins remained a teacher in New York City until December of 1940, when he went missing. His body was found in the Hudson River the following summer. Police ruled his death a suicide, although some were suspicious he was murdered over bad business deals.
BOOKER T. WASHINGTON’S LOGICAL SUCCESSOR: An Elevator Man Who Plans to Carry the Tuskegee Plan Into Oklahoma. Described as Possessor of “a Black Man’s Skull Filled with a White Man’s Brains.” (PDF)
From February 19, 1911