Booker T. Washington: “Cast down your bucket where you are … Opportunities never come a second time”


On the third of his four voyages, Columbus sailed south along the west coast of Africa before heading west across the Atlantic Ocean.

Then he was caught in the doldrums, a notorious condition of no winds and intense heat.

After drifting aimlessly for eight days and running out of drinking water, Columbus vowed that if the winds returned, he would name the first land he saw after the Holy Trinity.

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The winds returned and on JULY 31, 1498, Columbus sighted an island off the coast of Venezuela which coincidentally had three peaks rising from the bay.

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He obtained fresh water for his sailors and in the process was the first European to see South America.

Columbus named the island Trinidad in honor of the Holy Trinity.

Booker T. Washington, the President of Tuskegee Institute, referred to a story like this in his address to the International Exposition in Atlanta, September 18, 1895, as recorded in Up From Slavery (1901):

“Atlanta was literally packed, at the time, with people from all parts of the country, and with representatives of foreign governments, as well as with military and civic organizations.

The afternoon papers had forecasts of the next day’s proceedings in flaring headlines. All this tended to add to my burden. I did not sleep much that night.

The next morning, before day, I went carefully over what I planned to say. I also kneeled down and asked God’s blessing upon my effort.

Right here, perhaps, I ought to add that I make it a rule never to go before an audience, on any occasion, without asking the blessing of God upon what I want to say…”

Booker T. Washington continued:

“A ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel. From the mast of the unfortunate vessel was seen a signal, ‘Water, water; we die of thirst!’

The answer from the friendly vessel at once came back, ‘Cast down your bucket where you are.’

A second time the signal, ‘Water, water; send us water!’ ran up from the distressed vessel, and was answered, ‘Cast down your bucket where you are.’

And a third and fourth signal for water was answered, ‘Cast down your bucket where you are.’

The captain of the distressed vessel, at last heading the injunction, cast down his bucket, and it came up full of fresh, sparkling water from the mouth of the Amazon River…”

Booker T. Washington continued:

“To those of my race who depend on bettering their condition in a foreign land or who underestimate the importance of cultivating friendly relations with the Southern white man, who is their next-door neighbor, I would say:

‘Cast down your bucket where you are’-cast it down in making friends in every manly way of the people of all races by whom we are surrounded…”

Booker T. Washington continued:

“To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits of the prosperity of the South, were I permitted I would repeat what I say to my own race:

‘Cast down your bucket where you are.’ Cast it down among the eight millions of Negroes whose habits you know, whose fidelity and love you have tested.”

Booker T. Washington stated:

“Opportunities never come a second time, nor do they wait for our leisure.”

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