It Is Not Possible for One Man To Hold Another Man Down in the Ditch Without Staying Down There With Him

Booker T. Washington? Henry H. Proctor? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous educator and orator Booker T. Washington believed that the disadvantaged in society should be uplifted because a thoughtful program of amelioration would help everyone. During speeches Washington used the metaphor of two individuals fighting in a ditch. If one person wanted to hold the other down then both would be required to stay in the ditch. Booker’s audience ruefully recognized that both individuals would benefit from simply leaving the ditch. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1909 Booker T. Washington published “The Story of the Negro: The Rise of the Race from Slavery” which included the following passage. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

. . . the uplifting of the Negro in the South means the uplifting of labour there; for the cause of the Negro is the cause of the man who is farthest down everywhere in the world. Educate him, give him character, and make him efficient as a labourer, and every other portion of the community will be lifted higher. Degrade the Negro, hold him in peonage, ignorance, or any other form of slavery and the great mass of the people in the community will be held down with him. It is not possible for one man to hold another man down in the ditch without staying down there with him.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1904 Reverend Henry H. Proctor spoke at the meeting of the National Council of the Congregational Churches. Proctor who was a noteworthy lecturer and author employed a version of the expression: 2

The black has been stunted by oppression, the white by oppressing. So much of the white man’s energy has been taken up in keeping the black man down that it is not surprising that he has fallen behind what he might have been. One man cannot hold another down without staying down with him. Unshackled from the dead body of slavery, the white man of the south is making great material progress; but his religious progress is not keeping pace with his material.

In 1909 Washington published “The Story of the Negro ” which included the following statement as mentioned previously:

It is not possible for one man to hold another man down in the ditch without staying down there with him.

In January 1909 “The Friend: A Religious and Literary Journal” reported on a speech delivered by Washington in New York. He used a version of the expression with the word “nation”: 3

“When I was a boy,” said B. Washington, “I used to like to fight. I used to like to get a boy down in a ditch and hold him there. But as I got older I saw that I could not hold him down there without staying in the ditch myself. No nation can hold another down without staying down itself.” There was great applause at this remark, it is true.

In July 1910 “The Public: A National Journal of Fundamental Democracy” reviewed Washington’s book and reprinted the quotation under examination. 4

In 1912 Washington published “The Man Farthest Down: A Record of Observation and Study in Europe” which included another instance: 5

If it is true, as I have so often said, that one man cannot hold another down in the ditch without staying down in the ditch with him, it is just as true that, in helping the man who is down to rise, the man who is up is freeing himself from a burden that would else drag him down. It is because the world seems to realize this fact more and more that, beyond and above all local and temporary difficulties, the future of the man farthest down looks bright.

In 1918 “The One Great Society: A Book of Recollections” by Frederick Lynch included a version using the word “gutter” based on the memory of the author: 6

No one who was present will ever forget Dr. Washington’s address, especially one sentence in it, namely, “No man can hold another man down in the gutter without staying in the gutter with him; no race can hold another race down without staying down there with that race.”

In 1940 the bulletin “Pennsylvania Public Instruction” printed an instance without attribution: 7

One man cannot hold another down without staying with him. The principle is universal. Also, it is the Christian ethic. I am my brother’s keeper. Also, that ethic applies at last within nations and to international affairs.

In 1968 “The Forbes Scrapbook of Thoughts” printed a concise version without the word “ditch” or “gutter” while crediting Washington: 8

You can’t hold a man down without staying down with him. — Booker T. Washington

In 1997 “Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes” contained the following: 9

One man cannot hold another man down in the ditch without remaining down in the ditch with him.
—BOOKER T. WASHINGTON

In conclusion, there is solid evidence that Booker T. Washington employed this expression on multiple occasions, e.g., in two books and a speech; the precise phrasing varied. Henry H. Proctor also used the expression, and currently his 1904 citation is the earliest. It is possible that Washington used the saying before this date. Future research may clarify the provenance.

(Great thanks to the anonymous person whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1909, The Story of the Negro: The Rise of the Race from Slavery by Booker T. Washington, Volume 1, Chapter 6: The First Slaves, Quote Page 124, Doubleday, Page & Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) list
  2. 1904, National Council of the Congregational Churches of the United States: Addresses, Discussions, Minutes, Statements of Benevolent Societies, Constitution, etc., Meeting: Twelfth Triennial Session, Location of Meeting: Des Moines, Iowa, Date of Meeting: October 13-30, 1904, Address: The Essential Elements of a True Revival by Reverend Henry H. Proctor of Atlanta, Georgia, Start Page 66, Quote Page 71, Published by the Office of the Secretary of the National Council, Boston, Massachusetts. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  3. 1909 January 9 (“First Month” is January), The Friend: A Religious and Literary Journal, Volume 82, Gathered Notes, Start Page 214, Quote Page 215, Column 3, Printed by Wm. H. Pile’s Sons, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 1910 July 29, The Public: A National Journal of Fundamental Democracy, Volume 13, The Negro’s Own Story (Book Review of “The Story of the Negro” by Booker T. Washington), Quote Page 715, Column 2, Published by Louis F. Post, Chicago, Illinois. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  5. 1912, The Man Farthest Down: A Record of Observation and Study in Europe by Booker T. Washington, with the collaboration of Robert E. Park, Chapter 20: The Future of the Man Farthest Down, Quote Page 386, T. Fisher Unwin, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  6. 1918 Copyright, The One Great Society: A Book of Recollections by Frederick Lynch, Chapter 17: Booker T. Washington, Start Page 189, Quote Page 194, Fleming H. Revell Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  7. 1940 November, Pennsylvania Public Instruction, Official Bulletin, Volume 8, Number 3, America’s Impregnable Defense by Daniel A. Poling (Pastor, Baptist Temple, Philadelphia), Start Page 8, Quote Page 10, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Public Instruction, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  8. 1968, The Forbes Scrapbook of Thoughts on the Business of Life by Forbes Magazine, Quote Page 346, Published by Forbes, Inc., New York. (Verified on paper)
  9. 1997, Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes: Wit and Wisdom for All Occasions, Quote Page 191,Published by Reader’s Digest Association,= Pleasantville, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)