I Hope You
Will Catch the Inspiration
August 23, 1912 — 13th Annual Convention of the National Negro Business League, Institutional Church, Chicago IL
Surely [turning to Booker T. Washington] you are not going to shut the door in my face. I feel that I am in a business that is a credit to the womanhood of our race. I am a woman who started in business seven years ago with only $1.50. I went into a business that is despised, that is criticized and talked about by everybody — the business of growing hair. They did not believe such a thing could be done, but I have proven beyond the question of a doubt that I do grow hair!
The first year I was in business, I took in $1,366; the second year I took in $3,652 . . . [the third year she increased her profits from $6,672 ]
This year (up to the 19th day of this month) I had taken in $18,000. This makes a grand total of $63,049 all told, made in my hair business in Indianapolis.
I have been trying to get before you business people to tell you what I am doing. I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the wash-tub. Then I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations.
I am not ashamed of my past. I am not ashamed of my humble beginning. Don’t think because you have to go down in the wash-tub that you are any less a lady. Everybody told me I was making a mistake going into this business, but I know how to grow hair as well as I know how to grow cotton.
[She says she owns property valued at $10,000]
I have built my own factory on my own ground, I employ in that factory seven people, including a bookkeeper, a stenographer, a cook and a house girl. I own my own automobile.
Please don’t applaud — just let me talk!
Now my object in life is not simply to make money for myself or to spend it on myself in dressing or running around in an automobile. I love to use a part of what I make in trying to help others.
Perhaps many of you have heard of the real ambition of my life, the all-absorbing idea which I hope to accomplish, and when you have heard what it is, I hope you will catch the inspiration, grasp the opportunity to do something of far-reaching importance, and let me your support. My ambition is to build an industrial school in Africa — by the help of God and the cooperation of my people in this country, I am going to build a Tuskegee Institute in Africa!
Source: Records of the National Negro Business League, Part I, Annual Conference Proceedings and Organizational Records, National Negro Business League 1900-1919, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.