Most of the negroes who gained any prominence or influence in the years just after the Civil War entered politics. Bruce and Revels had been United States Senators; Elliott and Smalls and a dozen others had been Congressmen; Pinchback, Lynch, Langston, Gibbs, and Greener had been sent for diplomatic service to foreign countries, and others had held high State offices; and a multitude of negroes had been county and city officials of various kinds.
Everybody expected Washington to accept some kind of political position, but he steadfastly refused. Time after time, men of his own race and white men urged him to run for office, or accept an appointment by the President to high office. This he absolutely refused to do. He said that his service, whatever it was worth, would be given, not in politics but in education. He believed that entirely too much emphasis had been placed on holding office by the negro, just after the war. He was more concerned about whether or not his people could have the opportunity to earn an honest living than he was about getting some political job.