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(1898) Margaret Murray Washington, “We Must Have a Cleaner Social Morality,”

Margaret Murray Washington, the third wife of Booker T. Washington was a well-known educator and womens activist in her own right before she married the founder of Tuskegee.  She continued that activism during their marriage.  The Washingtons gave twin lectures at Old Bethel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina on September 12, 1898.  Booker T. Washington addressed audiences in the morning and evening.  Margaret Washington spoke to African American women in the church that afternoon.  She used the occasion to describe the disproportionate infant mortality, the problem of unwanted pregnancy and the high death rate among African Americans.  She also called on the largely middle class women in her audience to engage in moral uplift and community service to address these problems.  Her speech appears below.

I want to say in the beginning that I do not come before you to criticize or find fault especially, but you know that a great deal of harm has been done us as a race by those who have told us of our strong points, of our wonderful advancement, and have neglected to tell us at the same time of our weak points, of our lack of taking hold of the opportunities about us. Praise a child always and he soon gets to the point where he thinks it impossible for him to make mistakes. If we wish to help each other let us not only praise ourselves, but also criticize.

Plain talk will not hurt us. It will lead each woman to study her own condition, that of her own family and so that of her neighbors family. If I can do anything to hasten this study, I shall feel repaid for any effort I may put forth. In consenting to come before you women to day I am influenced by this thought more than anything else: We need, as a race, a good, strong public sentiment in favor of a sounder, healthier body, and a cleaner and highertoned morality. There is no use arguing; we do not think enough of these two conditions; we are too indifferent; too ready to say: O, well, I keep well, my girls and boys behave themselves, and I have