The story starts at a coal-mine while he was working at a
coal-mine he happened to overhear two miners talking which was about a great
school (for coloured people) in Virginia. It was for the first time that he had
heard about a school which was more pretentious than school in his town. In the
darkness of mine he silently moved closely to the two men who were discussing
about great school.
After knowing about the school, he felt that place would be
the greatest place on the earth than any place. He also feels that not even
heaven will present more attractions than the school while the two men were
talking. He decided to go to that school even though he does not have idea on
where it is, way to travel, how much it costs to travel. He remembered only that
he was on fire and desired to reach the school. He was thinking all the day and
night about school.
For some days after hearing about that institute, he worked
few months in coal mine. While he was working coal-mine he came to know that
there was a vacant position in household of General Lewis Ruffner (owner of
salt-furnace and coal mine). Mrs. Viola Ruffner (Yankee woman, wife of Lewis
Ruffner) had a reputation all through the proximity for being very strict with
her servants. And especially she was very strict with the boys who tried to
serve her. Only few people served for some days that too not more than two or
He decided to serve her than being remained in the same
coal-mine. There he employed at salary $5 dollars per month. He was trembled
when he went into her presence. He soon began to learn, how to clean the things
and how she wanted things done properly what are the qualities that he needs to
have like honesty and frankness in order to work there for a long time. Every
door, fence must be kept in repair in Mrs. Ruffner’s house. She daily checks
floor and furniture after cleaning.
He honestly feels that the lessons which he learnt in the
house he worked were as valuable to him as any education. From fearing Mrs.
Ruffner he soon learnt to look upon her as one of his best friends. When she
found his honesty, she had done implicitly. When he was with her during two
winters he was given an opportunity to go to school for an hour per day and
most of his studying is almost done at night. Mrs. Ruffner always encouraged
with him in all his efforts to get an education. He started to have his own
library while he was working at her. He began putting every kind of book that
he could get into a secured dry-goods box (library).
While working at Mrs. Ruffner, he did not give up his idea
of going to Hampton institute. In the fall of 1872 he determined to make an
effort to get there (Hampton). He got only a half-hearted consent from his
mother to go there.
The small amount of money that he earned in Mrs. Ruffner
house was consumed by his stepfather and remainder of the family. He had only
little amount of money to buy clothes and to pay his travelling expenses. His
brother helped him that he could which was not a great deal as he earns very
less and most of the money that he earns goes to pay household expenses.
The thing that touched and pleased him was that many of the
older coloured people took in the matter. They had spent the best days of their
lives in slavery and hardly expected to see the time when they would see a
member of their race leave home to attend a boarding school.
Finally, the great day came and he started to Hampton. He
felt very sad as her mother was already sick during his travel time.
While travelling to Hampton he faced may difficulties. He
doesn’t have enough money to pay his fare to Hampton. When the coach is stopped
somewhere at the hotel all passengers had money but he doesn’t have money to
pay for bed and supper. He had stood in front of the man at desk. He asked that
man that he wanted to get indoors for the night but the man at the desk by
seeing his colour without asking that he has money or not he refused to even
consider the matter of providing him food or lodging.
It was the first experience that he found out what the colour
of his skin meant. Someway he managed to keep warm by walking and got through
the night. Somehow, he reached the city of Richmond, Virginia which is about 82
miles away from Hampton. When he reached there he was completely tired and felt
hungry and dirty. After reaching the city of Richmond he was completely out of
money. He doesn’t know where to go. He applied at several lodgings but they all
wanted money. Again, he started walking on the streets.
When he was completely exhausted he creeped under the
sidewalk and laid for the night. Then the next morning when he was feeling
hungry he found that he was near a large ship. He went into the vessel and
asked the captain of ship to permit him to help unload vessel in order to get
money for food. The captain permitted him to work in vessel.
He worked long enough to earn money for his breakfast. With
his great and honest work, he impressed the captain and he was asked to work as
long he can work by the captain of ship.
He worked there until he found that he had enough money to
reach Hampton and then he thanked captain for his kindness and started to
Hampton again. He reached Hampton with surplus of only fifty cents with which
he can begin his education. After reaching the institute he presented himself
in front of head teacher of Hampton institute. There the head teacher looked
him completely from top to bottom and took others applications.
He felt sad and stood there for some time in front of the
head teacher. Then after sometime the head teacher gave him an assignment i.e.
to clean the whole institute i.e. every door, every fence to be kept clean. He
cleaned whole institute very keenly and impressed the teacher. He felt passing
this examination as the best than other.
He found hundreds of people who got admission in a way that
he came through. His work of cleaning got had paved the way for him to get
through Hampton. For his best work he was offered a position of janitor by his
head teacher. He accepted because it was a place where he could work out nearly
all cost of his board. His work was very hard but he successfully completes his
work without fail daily.
He has been privileged to meet a great man, late General
Samuel C. Armstrong. He felt as his fortune to meet personally many of great
characters. He has not met a man who was the equal of General Armstrong. He
felt privileged to know personally about General from the time he entered
Hampton and till he died. He felt that that the education that one gets from
and costly apparatus will never equal to the education which can be gotten from
experience with great people.
At the last six months of General’s life he was paralyzed
and lost control over his body in a large extent. Author felt very bad at
General’s condition when he was paralyzed. Author do not believe that General
never had a selfish thought/idea in his mind. General was worshipped by
students. While author have been as a student at Hampton once the dormitories
became so crowded which became impossible to find room for people who wanted to
be admitted. To help the remedy, general got idea of putting up tents to be
used as rooms.
Every student in school volunteered to go. He was one of the
volunteers. He spent whole winter in tents and suffered lot but he did not
complain to General. He was happy because by the General’s idea as additional
number of students will secure an education. His life at Hampton was constant
report to him because life at Hampton took him into new world.
He sometimes feels that the most valuable lesson at Hampton
was the value of bath. The charges for his board at Hampton was ten dollars per
month. He had no money to pay. However, he succeeded from that issue as he was
informed earlier his charges will be paid by the institution for his work as
janitor at Hampton. He wanted to go to tuition which costs seventy dollars per
year. As he was unable to pay he kept sad. Luckily General Armstrong, very
kindly pleased Mr. S. Morgan to defray cost of tuition during his whole time at
After living for some days at Hampton he found difficulty as
he did not have books and clothes. He borrowed books from others somehow without
great trouble. When compared to books he felt more trouble with clothes as he
was nothing to wear. His anxiety about clothes increased as General Armstrong
made an inspection to young boys to see their cloths were clean, shoes had to
be polished and there must be no button offs in clothing with any dirt. He
managed to get on until the teachers knew that he was in earnest and meant to
succeed. Then he was provided second-hand clothes by some of his teachers. He
had a bed with two bed sheets to sleep with seven people in the same room,
which is very precious his roommates most of them are aged than him. He was not
only youngest among his roommates but also in entire school. Most of the
students are almost forty years old. He saw many struggles of the people who
had old parent’s dependent on them and wives.
He feels happy about his teachers as they worked hard and
feels luckiest as his teachers struggled whole the day along with students at