Nannie Helen Burroughs was an African American educator, orator, religious leader and businesswoman. She was born on May 2, 1879 in Orange, Virginia to John and Jennie Burroughs, who were both ex-slaves.
Her father was a farmer and itinerant Baptist preacher, and her mother was a cook. Her father died when Nannie was five years old and her mother moved Nanny and her younger sister to Washington, D.C. in pursuit of a better education.
In 1896, Nannie graduated with honors in business and domestic science from the Colored High School on M Street (now Dunbar High School which was renovated last year). She received an honorary Master of Arts degree from Eckstein-Norton University in Kentucky in 1907.
In 1909, she founded the National Training School for Women and Girls in Washington, D.C., which was renamed, in her honor to “Nannie Helen Burroughs School” after her death and is a National Historic Landmark.
Mother Nannie trained her students to become respectable employees by becoming pious, pure and domestic, but not submissive. She emphasized the importance of being proud Black African American women to all of her students, by teaching Black African American history and culture through a required course in the Department of Negro History.
In 1906, Mother Nannie created twelve things which she felt were crucial in improving the moral, economic and spiritual status of Black African Americans in general and Black African American women in particular.
Mother Nannie listed the following twelve specific things Black African Americans must do, if we are to get off our knees and rise to our former greatness, prior to the conquering of our ancestors by the White race.
All of the below words in italics are my thoughts alone.
THE FIRST THING WE MUST DO
} The Negro Must Learn To Put First Things First. The First Things Are:
- The importance of obtaining a quality Education. She was aware that an uneducated person was destined to a life of poverty, which would also be detrimental to the race.
- Development of good Character Traits, which mean we must have positive morals, values, and a good temperament.
- We must have a Marketable Trade, which will afford us the opportunity to become financially self-sufficient.
- Home Ownership is a necessity. We all have to live indoors, so it is better to live in our own home as opposed to renting someone else’s home. Besides, as a tenant, we are buying the home that we are living in anyway; we are just not buying it for ourselves. Your Landlord uses your rent money to pay the mortgage on the house that we rent to live in.
} The Negro puts too much of his earning in clothes, food, show and, having what he/she calls, “a good time.” Dr. Kelly Miller said, “The Negro buys what he WANTS and begs for what he NEEDS.”
} Once you own your home, you can borrow money from your equity in that home and use that money to finance the start of your own business; send your children to college, or buy other real estate as rental properties.
} When you send your children off to college, you should not pay for them to live in the dorm. Instead, you should purchase at least a 3 bedroom, 2 bath home close to their college campus and rent two of the bedrooms to other college students. The rents collected from the other college students must be used to pay the mortgage and upkeep of the property. As a graduation present, you can then give this property to your successful graduate.
} Of course, all of this is predicated on your having taught your child the importance of good Character Traits.
} THE SECOND THING WE MUST DO
- The Negro Must Stop Expecting God And White Folk To Do For Him/Her What He/She Can Do For Themselves.
- It Is The ‘Divine Plan’ That The Strong Shall Help The Weak; However, God Does Not Do For Man/Woman What Man/Woman Can Do For Himself/Herself
- The Negro will have to do exactly what Jesus told the man (in John 5:8) to do-“Carry his own load”—“Take up your bed and walk.”
} As a people, we Black African Americans have become a race of beggars, resulting in our developing a false sense of entitlement. Consequently, we have been receiving mere pittance, resulting in our floundering at the very bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder.
} THE THIRD THING WE MUST DO
- The Negro Must Keep Himself, His Children and His Home Clean and Make The Surroundings In Which He Lives Comfortable and Attractive:
- He must learn to ‘run his community up’ — not down.
- We can segregate by law, we integrate only by living.
- Civilization is not a matter of race, it is a matter of standards.
- Believe it or not–some day, some race is going to outdo the Anglo-Saxon, completely.
- It can be the Negro race, if the Negro gets sense enough.
- Civilization goes up and down that way.
} THE FOURTH THING WE MUST DO
- The Negro Must Learn To Dress More Appropriately For Work And For Leisure.
- Knowing what to wear — how to wear it –when to wear it and where to wear it, are earmarks of common sense, culture and also an index to character.
} THE FIFTH THING WE MUST DO
- The Negro Must Make His Religion An Everyday Practice and Not Just A Sunday-Go-To Meeting Emotional Affair.
} Every religion gives a core set of commandments that must be adhered to. This is why they are called commandments and not suggestions.
} In order to live our religion daily, we must first know the true teachings of our religion. This will mean that we must read our sacred books in their entirety instead of relying solely on others to interpret these sacred texts for us. Once you have read the entire texts for yourselves, you will immediately realize that your preachers have not read the entire texts themselves. Therefore, you will become enlightened to the fact that the “blind have been leading the blind.”
} The Sixth Thing We Must Do
- The Negro Must Highly Resolve To Wipe Out Mass Ignorance:
- The leaders of the race must teach and inspire the masses to become eager and determined to improve mentally, morally and spiritually, and to meet the basic requirements of good citizenship.
- We should initiate an intensive literacy campaign in America, as well as in Africa
- Ignorance — is a millstone about the neck of the race.
- It is democracy’s greatest burden.
- Social integration is a relationship attained as a result of the cultivation of kindred social ideals, interests and standards.
- It is a blending process that requires time, understanding and kindred purposes to achieve.
- Likes alone and not laws can do it.
} THE SEVENTH THING WE MUST DO
- It is high time that all races were learning that fact.
- The Negro must first QUALIFY for whatever position he wants.
- Purpose, initiative, ingenuity and industry are the keys that all men use to get what they want.
- The Negro will have to do the same.
- He must make himself a workman who is too skilled not to be wanted, and too DEPENDABLE not to be on the job, according to promise or plan.
- He will never become a vital factor in industry until he learns to put into his work the vitalizing force of initiative, skill and dependability.
- He has gone ‘RIGHTS’ mad and ‘DUTY’ dumb.
} THE EIGHTH THING WE MUST DO
- The Negro Must Overcome His Bad Job Habits.
- He must make a brand new reputation for himself in the world of labor.
- His bad job habits are absenteeism, funerals to attend, or a little business to look after.
- The Negro runs an off-and-on business.
- He also has a bad reputation for conduct on the job — such as petty quarreling with other help, incessant loud talking about nothing; loafing, carelessness, due to lack of job pride; insolence, gum chewing and — too often — liquor drinking.
- Just plain bad job habits!
} THE NINTH THING WE MUST DO
- He Must Improve His Conduct In Public Places.
- Taken as a whole, he is entirely too loud and too ill-mannered.
- There is much talk about wiping out racial segregation and also much talk about achieving integration.
- Segregation is a physical arrangement by which people are separated in various services.
- It is definitely up to the Negro to wipe out the apparent justification or excuse for segregation.
} I contend that the worst thing that has happened to Black African Americans in my lifetime has been integration. What integration has meant for us as a people was to give up all that we had in exchange for the crumbs from White Americans.
- The only effective way to do it is to clean up and keep clean.
- By practice, cleanliness will become a habit and habit becomes character.
} THE TENTH THING WE MUST DO
- The Negro Must Learn How To Operate Business For People — Not For Negro People, Only.
- To do business, he will have to remove all typical ‘earmarks,‘ business principles; measure up to accepted standards and meet stimulating competition, graciously—in fact, he must learn to welcome competition.
} THE ELEVENTH THING WE MUST DO
- The Average So-Called Educated Negro Will Have To Come Down Out Of The Air.
} I believe Mother Nannie was referring to Baba W.E.B. DuBoise and his “Talented Tenth.”
- He is too inflated over nothing.
- He needs an experience similar to the one that Ezekiel had – (Ezekiel 3:14-19).
- And he must do what Ezekiel did
- Otherwise, through indifference, as to the plight of the masses, the Negro, who thinks that he has escaped, will lose his own soul.
- It will do all leaders good to read Hebrews 13:3, and the first thirty-seven chapters of Ezekiel.
- A race transformation itself through its own leaders and its sensible ‘common people.’
- A race rises on its own wings, or is held down by its own weight.
- True leaders are never ‘things apart from the people.’
- They are the masses.
- They simply got to the front ahead of them.
- Their only business at the front is to inspire the masses by hard work and noble example and challenge them to ‘Come on!’
- Dante stated a fact when he said, ‘Show the people the light and they will find the way!’
- There must arise within the Negro race a leadership that is not out hunting bargains for itself.
- A noble example is found in the men and women of the Negro race, who, in the early days, laid down their lives for the people.
- Their invaluable contributions have not been appraised by the ‘latter-day leaders.’
- In many cases, their names would never be recorded, among the unsung heroes of the world, but for the fact that white friends have written them there.
- ‘Lord, God of Hosts, Be with us yet.’
- The Negro of today does not realize that, but, for these exhibits A’s, that certainly show the innate possibilities of members of their own race, white people would not have been moved to make such princely investments in lives and money, as they have made, for the establishment of schools and for the on-going of the race.
} It is important to realize that White Americans contributed to schools that only specialized in training Black African Americans to become better servants to White Americans.
} THE TWELFTH THING WE MUST DO
- The Negro Must Stop Forgetting His Friends. ‘Remember.’
- Read Deuteronomy 24:18. Deuteronomy rings the big bell of gratitude.
- Because an ingrate is an abomination in the sight of God.
- God is constantly telling us that ‘I the Lord thy God delivered you’ — through human instrumentalities.
- The American Negro has had and still has friends — in the North and in the South.
- These friends not only pray, speak, write, influence others, but make unbelievable, unpublished sacrifices and contributions for the advancement of the race –for their brothers in bonds.
- The noblest thing that the Negro can do is to so live and labor that these benefactors will not have given in vain.
- The Negro must make his heart warm with gratitude, his lips sweet with thanks and his heart and mind resolute with purpose to justify the sacrifices and stand on his feet and go forward—
- ‘God is no respecter of persons.
- In every nation, he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is sure to win out.
- Get to work!
- That’s the answer to everything, that hurts us !
- We talk too much about nothing instead of redeeming the time by working.
} In spite of race prejudice, America is brim full of opportunities.
} Go after them!
The above was written in the early 1900’s by a Black African American woman who was among the first generation of our race born after the end of overt slavery. Her name was Mother Nannie Helen Burroughs – A proud, beautiful and intelligent Black African American Woman.
I want to thank Mrs. Charlotte Moats, a very dear long-time friend of mine for introducing me to Mother Nannie Helen Burroughs over ten years ago. I am devoting 2015 to the uplifting of all of our Black African American women, because as a race, we can only rise as high as our females.
Oh, what a blessing it is that my people do not read, think or use common sense says the Pastors, Pimps, and Politicians.