The individual who puts the most into life is the one who gets the most out of life. The first requisite for making life effective for one’s self or society is a sound body. There have been many people who in spite of weak bodies have enriched the world by noble thought and work. There has been a long line of physically weak men who have helped the world onward; but the rule holds that the best work has been done by men and women of vigorous health.
It is important that the Negro race in its present condition shall learn just as quickly as possible how to have good, strong, healthy working bodies, for so much is dependent upon them. In the world of industry, the world of commerce, all mental activity and spiritual endeavor,—no matter in what direction one’s attention or energies may be turned, strong bodies are needed to meet the demand. There are a few simple rules which should serve as guide-posts to those who would make the most of their physical being. One of the conditions of a good, strong, working body is contact with fresh air. In the early days of this school, when we were housed in shacks and cabins, whatever else we lacked, we were, by virtue of necessity, abundantly supplied with air; but now that we are getting into plastered buildings, with good floors and windows and doors, there is danger of suffering from poorly ventilated rooms and a lack of health-giving air.
Those who live in the large cities would do well to become disciples of Wordsworth, and with him learn to know the inspiration and strength that come from wood and forest,—the joy of intimate acquaintance with birds and flowers. The individual who has the privilege of living on the farm, and coming in contact with the earth and grass and trees and real things, is the individual who, provided he has an eye to see and an ear to hear, is most to be envied.
Next in importance to an abundance of fresh air is the habit of regular, systematic exercise. People often think that this kind of exercise costs a great deal of money, that it means costly apparatus and artificial fixtures. Not so. It requires no great outlay of time or energy for the boy on the farm to breathe deeply as he follows the plough or scatters the seeds. And yet, simple exercises of this kind are essential to the life of a race whose mortality from pulmonary diseases is alarming. Every boy in the machine shop knows how necessary it is to keep his machinery well oiled and in good running condition. Then, too, every such boy knows the importance of keeping every part of his machinery as clean as possible. Now, your body is a machine, but how much more delicate and intricate than any made by man! how much more necessary to keep it in good running condition and absolutely clean in order that it may do its best work!
In addition to pure air and cleanliness, I want to speak of the wearing of comfortable clothing as another essential to right living. I am glad to see that the world is fast getting away from the old habits that used to enslave people in this matter of dressing—the habit exercised by many of wearing small shoes, for instance, until their feet were cramped in severe pains merely to have the world think they had small feet. What does it matter to the world whether a person has small feet or large feet? Who ever stops to think whether great poets, historians, the great workers in economic and religious life,—men and women who have really accomplished something,—had large or small feet, whether they wore fours or eights, or wore large or small corsets or none. I am glad to see that all peoples and races are getting away from that kind of thing, and I want the Tuskegee students to make up their minds to buy shoes to fit no matter what the number. We consider the Chinese ridiculous to keep their feet cruelly cramped in order that they may be small, but many of us in somewhat less degree are guilty of the same thing.