The Early Years
Emmett Jay Scott
T. Washington, Builder of a Civilization
& Its People: Their Ideals and Achievements
Official History of the American Negro in the World War
Migration During the War
From "Who's Who in America," we learn that Mr. Scott was born February 13th, 1873, at Houston, Texas, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Horace L. Scott. At an early age, after he completed the course of instruction in the Colored High School.
He was influenced by Bishop I. B. Scott and Rev. W. H. Logan, D. D., to enter Wiley University. In order to help provide funds for his education young "Emmett" carried the mail from the post-office at Marshall, to the school, a distance of a mile and a half.
For his services he received Five Dollars per month. This was during the years of 1887-1888.
Having to divide his summer earnings with the younger children of the family, he did not return to Wiley, during the 1889 term until late, for the lack of funds, and in consequence lost his position of mail carrier. Nothing daunted, he chopped wood and fed the school's hogs ; later on, however during the same year, he became bookkeeper in the President's office, which "job" he held until the end of the school year. The following summer young Scott was employed as janitor in the Pillot Building, and it was here that he first had a real opportunity to demonstrate his natural aptitude for office work. He attracted the attention of a good- hearted Yankee, who was President of the Warren Lumber Company and publisher of the "Texas Trade Journal." During odd hours of the day when he was around in the building he was given an opportunity to make a little extra money addressing wrappers and envelopes for this company and a little later on, through the kindness of a Southern White man, he was permitted to do similar work for the Houston Commercial Club, and finally became one of their regular workers until the club was disbanded. For several months after this he was unable to find any work to do until a colored man, Mr. Gibbs McDonald, who was generally known in Houston as "Old Man Gibbs," secured for him a position as assistant janitor and messenger in the office of the "Houston Daily Post."
Mr. J. L. Watson, Secretary and Treasurer of the Post Publishing Company, very soon noticed his good penmanship, and on one occasion, on a very busy day, put him to addressing envelopes. Later, as they found his willing and ambitious, other responsibilities were given him, to all of which he measured up with surprising satisfaction.
Even at that time the "Houston Post" was the leading paper of the Southwest and under Mr. Watson's management became a strong and powerful influence in the political and business development of the South, a place which it still holds.
Mr. Scott himself did not know how well-developed were his powers of observation and expression until on one occasion, when the commencement exercises at Prairie View Normal School were being held and "The Post" could not spare a reporter to go to attend, Mr. Johnson suggested that he go to Prairie View and secure the story for "The Post." The story which he brought back from Prairie view, and which was published in "The Post" was prepared with all the detail and finesse of a veteran reporter. When he left the employ of the "Houston Post" he had reached that stage of his growth where he needed a further outlet for his natural talents. About that time the "Texas Freeman" was launched at Houston with J. S. Tibbitt as Editor; Emmett J. Scott, Associate Editor, and Charles N. Love as Business Manager. Later Mr. Scott and Mr. Love acquired Mr. Tibbitt's interest and for three years "The Freeman," under their management, was the most powerful and influential organ of the colored people of Texas. Mr. Love continues the publication.
It was one of the most significant occurrences in Mr. Scott's career as Editor of "The Freeman" that he was one of the first colored men with sufficient vision and interpretation of the signs of tinies to see that Booker T. Washington was destined to be the leader of thought among his race. This is best told in the recent book, entitled "Booker T. Washington Builder of a Civilization," of which Mr. Scott and Mr. Lyman Beecher Stowe, grandson of the late Harriet Beecher Stowe, are co-authors. Concerning Dr. Washington's famous Atlanta address in 1895 the book says :
"One of the first colored men so to acclaim him was Emmett J. Scott, who was then editing a Negro newspaper in Houston, Texas, and little realized that he was to become the most intimate associate of the new leader. In an editorial Mr. Scott said of this, the famous Atlanta address: 'Without resort to exaggeration, it is but simple justice to call the address great. Great in the absolute modesty, self-respect and dignity with which the speaker presented a platform upon which, as Clark Howell, of the "Atlanta Constitution" says, "both races, blacks and whites, can stand with full justice to each."
Since he went to Tuskegee in 1897 as Mr. Washington's secretary, the part which he has played in the, development of .Tuskegee Institute and its varied activities is well known to those of our race who are conversant with current activities. In 1901, he was elected Secretary of the National Negro Business League, which position he has held regularly ever since, and no one in touch with the work of the Business League can think of this splendid organization without associating with it the name of Emmett J. Scott. In 1909, Mr. Scott was a member of the American Commission to Liberia, appointed by President William H. Taft. His study of Liberian conditions has been put in pamphlet form, under the title "Is Liberia Worth Saving?" and is recognized as an authoritative treatise on Liberia and its possibilities. In 1912 he was Secretary of the International Conference on the Negro, which met at Tuskegee Institute.
Mr. Scott's larger activities, other than these here outlined, have been his co-authorship with Dr. Washington in writing the book "Tuskegee and Its People," published in 1910, and with Lyman Beecher Stowe in writing the book "Booker T. Washington," published in 1916.
When America entered the war in 1917, there was considerable uneasiness as to what would be the status of the Negro in the war and quite naturally Tuskegee Institute was one of the centers which helped in adjusting these conditions. Dr. Moton, Principal, and Mr. Scott, made frequent visits to New York and Washington, and were constantly in consultation with the authorities at Washington. Out of these discussions and together with the activities of other agencies working towards the same end, the Officer's Training Camp for Negro Officers was established at Des Moines, Iowa, and later, following a conversation between Dr. Moton and Mr. Scott, Dr. Moton interviewed President Wilson and suggested that a colored man be designated as an Assistant or Advisor in the War Department to pass upon various matters affecting the Negro soldiers who were then being inducted into the service and as the result, Mr. Scott went to Washington on October 1st, 1917, and from then until July 1st, 1919, served as Special Assistant to the Secretary of War.
Among the things that the record of Mr. Scott's work in the War Department will show are the following:
1. The formation of a Speakers' Bureau, or "Committee of One Hundred," to enlighten the Colored Americans on the war aims of the government.
2. Aiding in the breaking up of discrimination, based on color, in the great shipbuilding plant at Hog Island.
3. Establishing morale officers and agents at the Industrial plants, North and South where large numbers of colored workmen were employed.
4. He was largely instrumental in the enrollment of Colored Red Cross Nurses and securing authorization for the utilization of their services in base hospitals at six army camps, in which colored soldiers were located Funston, Dix, Taylor, Sherman, Grant and Dodge.
5. The continuance of the training camps for colored officers and the increase in their number and an enlargement of their scope of training.
6. Betterment of the general conditions in the camps where Negroes are stationed in large numbers, and positive steps taken to reduce race friction to a minimum wherever soldiers or opposite races are brought into contact.
7. The extension to young colored men the opportunity for special training in technical, mechanical, and military science in the various schools and colleges of the country, provision having been made for the training of twenty thousand through the Students' Army Training Corps, and other practical agencies of instruction.
8. An increase from four to sixty in the number of colored chaplains for the army service.
9. The recall of Colonel Charles Young to active service in the United States Army.
10. The establishment of a Woman's Branch under the Council of National Defense, with a colored field agent, Mrs. Alice Dunbar Nelson, to organize the colored women of the country for systematic war work.
11. The appointment of the first colored regularly-commissioned war correspondent, to report military operations on the western front in France.
12. The opening of every branch of the military service to colored men, on equal terms with all others, and the commissioning of many colored men as officers in the Medical Corps.
13. Large increase in the number of colored line officers the total increasing from less than a dozen at the beginning of the war to more than 1,200.
14. Direct aid and material encouragement in the "drives" for the Liberty Loans, the Red Cross, the Y. M. C. A., Y. W. C. A., and United War Work Relief Agencies in general.
15. The calling and successful direction of a Conference of Colored Editors and Leaders, which went far to promote the morale of the 12,000,000 colored Americans, and led to a declaration of the Government's sympathetic attitude toward the de sires and aspirations of its colored citizenry. No conference held for the consideration of Negro problems has been so fruitful of big results as this.
Dr. Moton, in making his annual report to the Trustees of Tuskegee Institute in 1918, said of Mr. Scott :
"Our Secretary, Mr. Emmett J. Scott, who labored so faithfully with Dr. Washington during his lifetime, and who is standing by the present Principal with equal loyalty, was loaned to the Government to become Special Assistant to the Secretary of War. Mr. Scott is fitted, as perhaps no other man in the country, to do this work with rare tact and good judgment. Added to his splendid native ability, he has had a peculiar experience here at Tuskegee, which has given him as broad a conception of and insight into the problems of race relationship as any man I know.
"I wish I could put into this report some of his real accomplishments which are having a far- reaching effect in making lighter the burdens of our wise, patient and courageous President, and the Secretary of War, in meeting many of the problems which have grown out of the enlistment of thousands of colored soldiers, and at the same time making it easier for approximately 400.000 colored soldiers now in the service to adjust them selves to the many trying and difficult situations which must necessarily arise in the new life into which they have been so suddenly entered."
Late in June, 1919, it was announced through the press that Mr. Scott had been elected Secretary- Treasurer of Howard University, thus bringing to a close twenty-two years of successful, faithful, service to Tuskegee Institute, and upon July firs* he entered upon his new duties.
Perhaps the most beautiful estimate of Mr. Scott is the following comment from Dr. Booker T. Washington, which appeared in his book entitled, "Tuskegee and Its People."
"For many years now, Mr. Scott has served the school with rare fidelity and zeal, and has been to the Principal not only a loyal assistant in every phase of his manifold, and frequently trying duties, but has proved a valuable personal friend and counselor in matters of the most delicate nature, exhibiting in emergencies a quality of judgment and diplomatic calmness seldom found in men of even riper maturity and more extended experience."
Sketch from The
National Cyclopedia of the Colored Race