8 Things You Might Not Know about Booker T. Washington

8 Things You Might Not Know about Booker T. Washington

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1. The plantation where Washington was born was a far cry from “Gone With the Wind.”

It’s now a National Monument, but the Franklin County, Virginia, plantation where Washington was born on April 5, 1856, was hardscrabble at best. Washington himself would later call the place “about as near to Nowhere as any locality can be.” Washington’s mother was an enslaved woman named Jane; his father was a white man whose identity Washington said he never knew. His owners were James and Elizabeth Burroughs, who had moved to the 207-acre tobacco farm in 1850. James and his sons worked in the fields alongside their slaves, and the farm was not particularly profitable. At the end of the Civil War, a Union soldier announced all the slaves on the Burroughs plantation were free. Jane, with 9-year-old Booker and his siblings, immediately moved her family to West Virginia.

2. He had an Italian middle name.

The T. in Booker T. Washington stands for Taliaferro (locally pronounced “Tolliver”), a relatively common surname in Maryland and Virginia. The Taliaferro name itself can be traced to one Bartholomew Taliaferro, who immigrated to London from Venice in the 1560s. Its meaning in Italian is “iron-cutter.” Washington chose his own last name when he enrolled in his first school in Malden, West Virginia. His mother only allowed him to go to school after much begging and a commitment that he would work in a local salt works from 4:00-9:00 a.m. each morning before class.

3. Booker T. Washington’s chief mentor was born and raised in Hawaii.

Washington also worked in a local coalmine, where one day he heard two black workers talking about the Hampton Institute, a newly established school for former slaves in southeastern Virginia. Washington resolved to attend the school, and in 1872 set out on the 500-mile journey for Hampton. The Hampton Institute was established in 1868 by Brigadier General Samuel Chapman Armstrong, who had commanded an African-American unit during the Civil War. Chapman was born on Maui in the Kingdom of Hawaii, the son of New England missionaries, and graduated from the Punahou School (famously attended 120 years later by Barack Obama). Chapman was impressed by Washington’s work as a student at Hampton, and invited him to return as a teacher in 1879. When a group of Alabamans sent him an inquiry asking for “a well qualified white man” to become principal of a new school in Tuskegee, Armstrong replied recommending Washington as “the best man we ever had here,” saying “I know of no white man who could do better.” The 25-year-old Washington got the job and led the Tuskegee Institute from 1881 until his death in 1915.

4. Washington had a great sense of humor.

Booker T. Washington threw himself and his students into forming the fledgling Tuskeegee—working to build the physical campus while studying a curriculum that mixed academic and vocational education. As the college grew, more and more of Washington’s energy went into travel and fundraising to keep Tuskegee solvent and growing. Washington became well known as a powerful public speaker to both black and white audiences, putting people prone to disagree with him at ease through humor. Washington’s contemporary James Hardy Dillard reported that he could “not only tell a good joke well, but tell what was only the shadow of a joke so well that his audience would be shaken with laughter.” Many of Washington’s recorded one-liners utilize—sometimes ironically—racial stereotypes and dialect that would be seen as inappropriate today. A milder example of this came at the ceremony in which Washington became the first African American to receive an honorary masters’ degree from Harvard, when he quipped, “I feel like a huckleberry in a bowl of milk.”

5. Washington’s best-known speech became fodder for his leading rival.

On September 18, 1895, Washington addressed a mostly-white audience at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta. In his speech, Washington laid out a vision for African-American progress that emphasized self-improvement and encouraged blacks to “dignify and glorify common labor” while remaining separate from—and with different rights than—white Americans. Washington’s sentiment placated the crowd, and at the time was shared by many in the African-American community, who believed that directly fighting for equality would only lead to more anti-black violence. The most important critic of this view was sociologist and activist W.E.B. Du Bois, who devoted a full chapter in his 1903 book “The Souls of Black Folk” to repudiating Washington (whose speech he dubbed the “Atlanta Compromise.”) He wrote, “the way for a people to gain their reasonable rights is not by voluntarily throwing them away and insisting that they do not want them.” Du Bois’ dissatisfaction with Washington’s de facto leadership of the African-American community led him to help found the NAACP in 1909.

6. Theodore Roosevelt invited Washington to dine at the White House—and then tried to pretend their dinner never happened.

On October 16, 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt extended a last-minute invitation to Booker T. Washington to join him that night for a simple family supper. After casually announcing the dinner in a press release, members of Roosevelt’s administration were shocked by the vociferously negative response from many white Southerners. The Memphis Scimitar declared Washington’s invitation “the most damnable outrage which has ever been perpetrated by any citizen of the United States.” Black citizens sometimes visited the president there on official business, but Washington’s invitation to dinner as the presumed equal of a white leader hit a nerve. (Few of the visit’s critics recalled that John Adams had dined with a Haitian diplomat and his wife at the White House in 1798.) Seeking to put out the fire, Roosevelt’s staff backpedaled, suggesting the dinner hadn’t taken place, or that it had been a lunch, and that in any case Roosevelt’s wife and daughters were not present. In the African-American community, if the dinner was seen as a mark of progress, the reaction was a reminder of how much progress was still needed. In 1903 ragtime composer Scott Joplin produced an opera about the incident (now lost), titled “A Guest of Honor.”

7. Unsatisfied with his first autobiography, Washington wrote and published another just a year later.

As is common with many busy public figures, Booker T. Washington collaborated with a hired writer, Edgar Webber, on his first autobiography, “The Story of My Life and Work”, published in 1900. The book sold well but Washington soon became convinced that it was flatly written and poorly edited. So a year later, in conjunction with another hired writer, Max Thrasher, Washington produced a second autobiography, “Up from Slavery,” which was even more successful, and remains one of the classics of African-American literature.

8. Washington spent decades cultivating relationships with the rich and powerful.

When traveling from Tuskegee, Washington frequented places where he could advise and receive aid from men with power and money, spending many summers among the wealthy in Bar Harbor, Maine and Saratoga Springs, New York. He counted famous people among his friends and acquaintances, from Mark Twain to William Howard Taft to Queen Victoria, and successfully solicited personal contributions from tycoons like J.P. Morgan, Collis P. Huntington and John D. Rockefeller. In 1911 he met Julius Rosenwald, the philanthropy-minded president of Sears, Roebuck & Company. The two shared a passion for the education of poor blacks in the rural South, and put together a scheme to offer matching funds for the construction of rural schools. Washington died of hypertension in 1915 at age 59, but Rosenwald continued the program, eventually contributing $4 million towards the construction of more than 5,000 schools, shops and teacher’s homes throughout the South.

8 Things You Might Not Know about Booker T. Washington - HISTORY

The slave who would later call himself Booker Taliaferro Washington was born April 5, 1856, on a small tobacco plantation in the back country of Franklin County, Va. On the 1861 plantation inventory he was listed, along with his late owner's cattle, tools, and furniture, as "1 negro boy (Booker)," and valued at $400. ("Booker" was as much of a name as the 5-year-old slave boy had.) His mother, "1 negro woman (Jane) . . . $250.00," was the plantation cook her childbearing years were over, and she was worth little at a time when a prime field-hand brought more than $1,000. A half-brother and half-sister were also listed, but Booker's father was not. In all probability, he was the shiftless white son of a neighboring farmer named Ferguson. His child never knew him.

James (left) and Elizabeth (right) Burroughs. (Booker T. Washington National Monument)

The 207-acre plantation on which Booker was born and spent his childhood years consisted of a plain log house, a few head of livestock, and about 10 slaves. It was typical of the region—a stark contrast to the now - popular image of the extensive and luxurious Old South estate. The owner was James Burroughs, whose wife Elizabeth bore him 14 children. With only two of his slaves adult male fieldhands, Burroughs and his sons were no strangers to hard labor. Production of tobacco and the subsistence crops for master, slave, and livestock left little leisure for anyone.

"My life had its begining in the midst of the most miserable, desolate, and discouraging surroundings."

Booker T. Washington

The Burroughs family enjoyed few comforts, and for their slaves, life was a bare existence indeed. Washington vividly recalled the ramshackle cabin in which he spent 9 years in slavery:

The cabin was not only our living-place, but was also used as the kitchen for the plantation. . . . The cabin was without glass windows it had only openings in the side which let in the light, and also the cold, chilly air of winter. There was a door to the cabin— that is, something that was called a door— but the uncertain hinges by which it was hung, and the large cracks in it, to say nothing of the fact that it was too small, made the room a very uncomfortable one. . . . Three children—John, my older brother, Amanda, my sister, and myself—had a pallet on the dirt floor, or, to be more correct, we slept in and on a bundle of filthy rags laid upon the dirt floor.

"1 negro boy (Booker). " The 1861 Burroughs property inventory also lists his mother Jane, his brother John, and his sister Amanada. (Booker T. Washington National Monument)

The slave child's diet was in keeping with the quality of his living accommodations. As Washington remembered it,

meals were gotten by the children very much as dumb animals get theirs. It was a piece of bread here and a scrap of meat there. It was a cup of milk at one time and some potatoes at another.

"One of my earliest recollections," he wrote, "is that of my mother cooking a chicken late at night, and awakening her children for the purpose of feeding them. How or where she got it I do not know."

As might be expected, clothing worn by slaves was of the poorest sort. Adults often wore the master's cast-offs, but the children's only garments were commonly knee-length shirts woven from rough flax. Washington called wearing this shirt "the most trying ordeal that I was forced to endure as a slave boy" and compared its discomfort to "the feeling that one would experience if he had a dozen or more chestnut burrs, or a hundred small pin-points, in contact with his flesh."

Though life for the Burroughs' slaves was hard, there was not the harsh cruelty often found on the larger plantations managed by overseers. With the master and his family working alongside the slaves, there was a feeling of belonging—of sharing in the family's joys and sorrows. Booker was too young for heavy work but was kept busy with such tasks as could be performed by a small boy. Among his chores were carrying water to the men in the fields, taking corn to the nearby mill for grinding, and fanning the flies from the Burroughs' dining room table.

For Booker, the worst aspect of slavery was its suppression of a child's natural desire to learn. Teaching a slave to read and write was prohibited by law in Virginia, as it was throughout most of the South. On occasion, Booker would accompany one of the Burroughs' daughters to the door of a nearby common school. "The picture of several dozen boys and girls in a schoolroom made a deep impression upon me," he later wrote, "and I had the feeling that to get into a schoolhouse and study in this way would be about the same as getting into paradise."

The Civil War years were a time of hardship for the Burroughs family. James Burroughs died in 1861. With her sons in the Confederate army, his widow found it difficult to maintain the plantation. What simple luxuries the family had normally enjoyed—coffee, tea, sugar—were no longer available in wartime. Two of the Burroughs boys lost their lives in the conflict, and two others were wounded.

But for the slaves, the war was a source of hushed excitement and expectation. Washington wrote:

When war was begun between the North and the South, every slave on our plantation felt and knew that, though other issues were discussed, the primal one was that of slavery. Even the most ignorant members of my race on the remote plantations felt in their hearts, with a certainty that admitted of no doubt, that the freedom of the slaves would be the one great result of the war, if the Northern armies conquered.

Booker himself first became aware of the situation one morning before daybreak when "I was awakened by my mother kneeling over the children and fervently praying that Lincoln and his armies might be successful, and that one day she and her children might be free."

Jane's prayer was answered in April 1865 after the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee to Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, some 60 miles from the Burroughs plantation. When the slaves had gathered in front of the Burroughs house, Washington recalled, "some man who seemed to be a stranger (a United States officer, I presume) made a little speech and then read a rather long paper—the Emancipation Proclamation, I think. After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased."

"I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life, as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed."

Booker T. Washington

Unlike most slaves, Booker and his family were fortunate in having a place to go when their freedom was proclaimed. During the war, Booker's stepfather had escaped to Malden, W.Va., where he obtained work in a salt furnace. After emancipation he sent for his family to join him there.

Despite the fact of freedom, physical conditions at Malden were even worse than on the plantation. Nine-year-old Booker was put to work in the salt furnace, often starting at 4 o'clock in the morning. A few years later, he labored as a coal miner, hating the darkness and danger of the work. Home was a crowded shack in the squalor of Malden's slums.

Pages from Webster's Elementary Spelling-Book called the "blue-black speller" because of the book's blue-cloth cover. Booker learned the alphabet from painstaking study of this book.

The trials of Booker's new life, far from discouraging him, stimulated his desire for education. His mother sympathized with his longing, and managed to get him a copy of Webster's "blue-back" spelling book.

I began at once to devour this book, and I think that it was the first one I ever had in my hands. I had learned from somebody that the way to begin to read was to learn the alphabet, so I tried in all the ways I could think of to learn it,—all of course without a teacher, for I could find no one to teach me. . . . In some way, within a few weeks, I had mastered the greater portion of the alphabet.

Bitter disappointment came when a school for Negroes opened in Malden and Booker's stepfather would not let him leave work to attend. But Booker arranged with the teacher to give him lessons at night. Later he was allowed to go to school during the day "with the understanding that I was to rise early in the morning and work in the furnace till nine o'clock, and return immediately after school closed in the afternoon for at least two more hours of work." Noting that his classmates all had two names, Booker adopted the surname "Washington." He would add the "Taliaferro" later when he learned that it was part of the name given to him by his mother shortly after his birth.

The strongest influence shaping Washington's character at Malden was Viola Ruffner, Vermont-born wife of the owner of the salt furnace and coal mine. In 1871 Washington became her houseboy and was thoroughly indoctrinated in the puritan ethic of cleanliness and hard work. Thirty years later Washington stated, "the lessons that I learned in the home of Mrs. Ruffner were as valuable to me as any education I have ever gotten anywhere since."

"There is no education which one can get from books and costly apparatus that is equal to that which can be gotten from contact with great men and women."

Booker T. Washington

While working in the coal mine, Washington overheard two miners talking about a large school for Negroes at Hampton, Va. With no clear idea of where it was or how he would get there, he resolved somehow to attend this school.

Booker T. Washington, about the time he attended Hampton Institute. (Booker T. Washington National Monument)

In the autumn of 1872, when he was 16 years old, Washington set out on the 400-mile journey to Hampton. An early experience with discrimination occurred on this trip—he was refused food and lodging at a "common, unpainted house called a hotel" and spent the cold night walking about to keep warm. Begging rides and traveling much of the way on foot, Washington arrived penniless in Richmond, 80 miles short of his destination. He worked there for several days to get money so he could continue his trip. He slept under a board sidewalk.

Washington was so dirty and ragged upon reaching Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute that the head teacher was reluctant to admit him. When he persisted, she finally asked him to sweep one of the classroom floors. Recalling his training at the hands of Mrs. Ruffner, Washington cleaned the entire room thoroughly.

I had the feeling that in a large measure my future depended upon the impression I made upon the teacher in the cleaning of that room. . . . When she was unable to find one bit of dirt on the floor, or a particle of dust on any of the furniture, she quietly remarked, "I guess you will do to enter this institution."

Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, Hampton, Va. What Washington learned here he would later put to use at Tuskegee. (Booker T. Washington National Monument)

Washington studied at Hampton Institute for 3 years, working as a janitor to earn his board. His experience there influenced him profoundly. Hampton's emphasis on vocational training in industry, agriculture, and teaching was a revelation to him:

Before going there I had a good deal of the then rather prevalent idea among our people that to secure an education meant to have a good, easy time, free from all necessity for manual labour. At Hampton I not only learned that it was not a disgrace to labour, but learned to love labour, not alone for its financial value, but for labour's own sake and for the independence and self-reliance which the ability to do something which the world wants done brings.

Gen. Samuel C. Armstong, Hampton's founder and principal. Washington called him "a perfect man". (Hampton Institute, Office of Public Relations)

Of equal importance was Washington's association with the dedicated, selfless teachers of Hampton—particularly with Gen. Samuel C. Armstrong, principal of the school. Like many of the teachers, Armstrong had gone south after the Civil War with a missionary zeal to uplift the newly freed slaves. His philosophy of practical education and his strength of character made a lasting impression on the young student. Years later, Washington called Armstrong "a great man—the noblest, rarest human being that it has ever been my privilege to meet."

"Knowledge will benefit little except as it is harnessed, except as its power is pointed in a direction that will bear upon the present needs and condition of the race."

Booker T. Washington

After graduating with honors from Hampton in 1875, Washington returned to Malden to teach elementary school. Here an incident impressed him with the importance of using practical demonstrations in education. His pupils displayed little interest in a classroom geography lesson on islands, bays, and inlets. But during recess, while they were playing by the edge of a creek, the boy who was "most dull in the recitation" pointed out these features among the rocks and tufts of grass. The animated response of the class gave Washington a teaching lesson he never forgot.

The Class of 1875 of Hampton Institute. Washington is seated second fom the left in the first row. (Hampton Institute, Office of Public Relations)

Two years later, Washington went to the Wayland Seminary in Washington, D.C., where he studied for 8 months. There he was able to compare the value of academic education to that of vocational training:

At Hampton the student was constantly making the effort through the industries to help himself, and that very effort was of immense value in character-building. The students at the other school seemed to be less self-dependent. . . . In a word, they did not appear to me to be beginning at the bottom, on a real, solid foundation, to the extent that they were at Hampton. They knew more about Latin and Greek when they left school, but they seemed to know less about life and its conditions as they would meet it at their homes.

At General Armstrong's request, Washington returned to Hampton in 1879 as an instructor and "house father" for 75 Indian youths being trained at the Institute. Armstrong was highly impressed with Washington's ability. In May 1881, the principal received a letter from a group in Tuskegee, Ala., asking him to recommend a man to start a Negro normal school there. The group appeared to expect a white man for the job. Armstrong replied that he could suggest no white man, but that a certain Negro would be well qualified. The answer came by telegram: "Booker T. Washington will suit us. Send him at once."

"From the very outset of my work, it has been my steadfast purpose to establish an institution that would provide instruction not for the select few, but for the masses, giving them standards and ideals, and inspiring in them hope and courage to go patiently forward."

Booker T. Washington

On July 4, 1881, at the age of 25, Washington founded Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. The obstacles facing him were formidable. While the State of Alabama had appropriated $2,000 for teachers' salaries, no provision had been made for land, buildings, or equipment. Washington reported:

the most suitable place that could be secured seemed to be a rather dilapidated shanty near the coloured Methodist church, together with the church itself as a sort of assembly-room. Both the church and the shanty were in about as bad condition as was possible. . . . whenever it rained, one of the older students would very kindly leave his lessons and hold an umbrella over me while I heard the recitations of the others.

Under Washington's firm guidance, Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in his own lifetime grew from a small collection of dilapidated buildings (top) and 30 students to a 2,000-acre campus of 107 buildings, more then 1,500 students, and nearly 200 faculty members. The students themselves constructed most of the school's buildings. (Top: Booker T. Washington National Monument Bottom: Library of Congress)

Washington found, too, that his notions of practical education ran counter to those of many parents and prospective students with whom he talked. They saw education solely as "book learning" which would allow the student to escape labor—a view with which Washington had little sympathy. As he toured the Alabama countryside surveying the poverty and squalor prevalent among his race, he became increasingly convinced that economic advancement through vocational training was the essential first step forward for the black masses. Later Washington summarized this philosophy:

I would teach the race that in industry the foundation must be laid—that the very best service which any one can render to what is called the higher education is to teach the present generation to provide a material or industrial foundation. On such a foundation as this will grow habits of thrift, a love of work, economy, ownership of property, bank accounts. Out of it in the future will grow practical education, professional education, positions of public responsibility.

As Washington saw it, trained labor would lead to economic prosperity, and economic prosperity to full citizenship and equal participation in American life.

Washington expected each student who attended Tuskegee to acquire a practical knowledge of some one trade "together with the spirit of industry, thrift and economy, that they would be sure of knowing how to make a living after they had left us." (Library of Congress)

Tuskegee Institute opened with 30 students selected chiefly for their potential as teachers. Though the students had some prior education, they had little appreciation for the virtues of personal and household cleanliness so valued by their instructor. Washington keenly felt the need for on-campus dormitories so the students' living habits might be supervised and improved. There also was no land or facility with which to teach manual skills and furnish a means for the students to earn their expenses.

Making mattresses. All the mattresses and pillows used at the Institute were made by the students. (Library of Congress)

To meet these needs, the school soon acquired an abandoned farm nearby. The property had no buildings suitable for classrooms or dormitories. But through Washington's efforts, enough money was raised for construction materials, and the students erected the first brick building. After repeated failures the students built a kiln, and they learned to manufacture bricks for future buildings and public sale. The "learning by doing" approach was carried over into agricultural education on the school land, where students raised crops and livestock. In such ways as these, Tuskegee not only taught trades, crafts, and modern agricultural methods, but enabled students to earn the money for their tuition and other expenses.

Top: Scene in the college library. Washington considered the library the center of Tuskegee's academic program. It was built with funds provided by industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Bottom: The story o the Negro's role in the development of the United States was an integral part of Tuskegee's courses in American history. (Library of Congress)

As Tuskegee and its facilities grew, its courses in the building trades and engineering subjects were greatly expanded. Washington sought to give his industrial students "such a practical knowledge of some one industry, together with the spirit of industry, thrift, and economy, that they would be sure of knowing how to make a living after they had left us." At the same time, the desperate need for Negro teachers in the Southern rural districts was not forgotten. Tuskegee also offered students

such an education as would fit a large proportion of them to be teachers, and at the same time cause them to return to the plantation districts and show the people there how to put new energy and new ideas into farming as well as into the intellectual and moral and religious life of the people.

"I knew that, in a large degree, we were trying an experiment—that of testing whether or not it was possible for Negroes to build up and control the affairs of a large educational institution. I knew that if we failed it would injure the whole race."

Booker T. Washington

Tuskegee Institute survived its early years only through the unwavering perseverance of its founder and the dedication of those men and women who became his assistants. In the school's second month Washington was joined by Olivia A. Davidson, a graduate of Hampton and the Massachusetts State Normal School. This young Ohio-born Negro woman (whom Washington would later marry) combined a selfless nature with practical experience as a teacher and nurse. Besides teaching at Tuskegee, she served as Washington's general assistant and made several fund-raising trips in the North. Washington said, "No single individual did more toward laying the foundations of the Tuskegee Institute . . . than Olivia A. Davidson."

Student teacher. Teacher training was popular among the girls. (Library of Congress)

The men responsible for the school's operation during Washington's absences were Warren Logan and John H. Washington. Logan, a Hampton graduate, went to Tuskegee as a teacher in 1883 and was soon appointed treasurer. John Washington, Booker's half-brother, joined the staff in 1895. Also trained at Hampton, he became Tuskegee's superintendent of industries and supervised much of the school's educational activity.

John Washington, Tuskegee's superintendent of industries. (Booker T. Washington National Monument)

Left: Emmett J. Scott, Booker T. Washington's secretary. Right: Warren Logan, teacher and the Institute's treasurer. (Booker T. Washington National Monument)

In its second decade, Tuskegee acquired a teacher who would become as famous as its founder. The State of Alabama provided for an agricultural experiment station at Tuskegee in 1896 to be run in connection with the school's agricultural department. Dr. George Washington Carver was called from Iowa State College to lead these operations. He spent the rest of his life at Tuskegee, where he carried out his noted work in agricultural science.

George Washington Carver (top) came to Tuskegee in 1896 to head the Institute's newly formed agricultural department. Under his tutelage, in the classroom, laboratory, and field, students learned the inter-relationsips between the soil, plants, and man. Most people know Carver today as the man who made the peanut and the sweet potato staples of the South's agricultural economy. (Top: George Washington Carver National Monument Middle and Bottom: Library of Congress)

The year after Dr. Carver's arrival, Washington engaged Emmett J. Scott as his personal secretary. Scott became Washington's most trusted confidant, serving as his contact with Tuskegee during the principal's long absences from the school in later years. Washington wrote of Scott that he

handles the bulk of my correspondence and keeps me in daily touch with the life of the school, and . . . also keeps me informed of whatever takes place in the South that concerns the race. I owe more to his tact, wisdom, and hard work than I can describe.

Two of the three women Washington would marry were members of the Tuskegee staff. The exception was Fannie Smith, a Malden girl who became his first wife in 1882. She died 2 years later, after bearing a daughter. Washington married his assistant, Olivia Davidson, in 1885 she gave birth to two sons before her death in 1889. His third marriage was to Margaret Murray, a Fisk University graduate, in 1893. Initially a teacher, she became Tuskegee's "lady principal" and was in charge of industries for girls. Margaret Murray Washington worked energetically in community and club affairs and accompanied her husband on many of his travels in later years.

Though he had a highly capable staff, Booker T. Washington was the great guiding force at Tuskegee—so much so that the man and the school were held to be virtually synonymous. His ability and determination in the face of the greatest obstacles were an inspiration to all those associated with him. At the same time, Washington's exacting, demanding manner made him difficult to work for. He drove himself and expected his assistants to keep pace.

Tuskegee faculty about 1900. Washington expected each teacher to maintain certain standards and personally rebuked those who failed to measure up. (Booker T. Washington National Monument)

Despite his full schedule, he paid great attention to detail, often riding about the campus at daybreak to inspect the facilities and teachers' homes. Any evidence of carelessness—trash lying about, a picket missing from a fence—was bound to provoke a reprimand. Everyone at Tuskegee was affected by Washington's puritannical insistence on personal cleanliness, typified by his "gospel of the toothbrush" which stipulated that no student could remain in the school unless he kept and used a toothbrush. Even in later years the principal himself often inspected the students, sending anyone with a missing button or soiled clothing to the dormitory to correct the deficiency.

Members of Washington's own family on the Tuskegee staff were shown no favoritism where official matters were concerned. The principal's memoranda to his wife Margaret were impersonally addressed to "Mrs. Washington." One such message, typical of those he sent, complained that "The yard of the Practice Cottage does not present a model appearance by any means. So far as I can see there is not a sign of a flower or anything like a flower or shrub in the yard." Perhaps it was this criticism that prompted a terse note from Margaret found in Washington's papers: "Umph! Umph!! Umph. "

Away from the office, Washington appears to have been an affectionate husband and father to his three children. He was often seen carrying his young sons about the campus, and his daughter was delighted to play the audience at her father's speech rehearsals. At home, too, Washington practiced his frequent preachments about the values of agriculture. He maintained his own kitchen garden, and took great interest in the progress of his pigs and other livestock.

"I never see a filthy yard that I do not want to clean it, a paling off of a fence that I do not want to put it on, an unpainted or unwhitewashed house that I do not want to paint or whitewash it, or a button off one's clothes, or a grease-spot on them or on a floor, that I do not want to call attention to it."

Booker T. Washington

Paralleling the story of Tuskegee's development and growth is the story of constant efforts to raise money. In the early years, the school was continually on the brink of insolvency.

Perhaps no one who has not gone through the experience, month after month, of trying to erect buildings and provide equipment for a school when no one knew where the money was to come from, can properly appreciate the difficulties under which we laboured. During the first years at Tuskegee I recall that night after night I would roll and toss on my bed, without sleep, because of the anxiety and uncertainty which we were in regarding money.

Tuskegee's first income (other than the Alabama appropriation) was $250 borrowed from the treasurer of Hampton Institute for a down payment on the farm property. The loan and the balance of the $500 purchase price were paid by fund-raising concerts, suppers, and other local activities. During construction of the brick kiln, finances were so low that Washington pawned his watch for $15. In the following years, Washington traveled throughout the Nation to raise funds, making hundreds of visits and speeches to publicize the program and needs of Tuskegee Institute.

Commencement day parade at Tuskegee, about 1913. Washington used the graduation exercises to inform visitors about Tuskegee programs. (Library of Congress)

Sunday afternoon band concerts on White Hall lawn were always well-attended by the students. The band also played every schoolday morning for inspection and drill. (Library of Congress)

Booker T. Washington and his Tuskegee program came to have strong appeal for many white Americans sincerely concerned about the economic plight of the Negro. In an age that worshiped individual effort and self-help, this extraordinary former slave working to elevate his race from poverty was hailed by many as the answer to a great national problem. The appeal of Washington's educational philosophy and the force of his dynamic personality eventually won financial support from many of the era's foremost philanthropists. During Washington's lifetime, Tuskegee's more prominent benefactors included Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Julius Rosenwald, Collis P. Huntington, and the Phelps-Stokes family. Carnegie's gifts included a life income for Washington and his family.

"My experience has taught me that the surest way to success in education . . . is to stick close to the common and familiar things that concern the greater part of the people the greater part of the time."

Booker T. Washington

For Tuskegee Institute, the result was success beyond its founder's most optimistic expectations. At Washington's death, 34 years after his establishment of the school, the property included 2,345 acres and 107 buildings which, together with equipment, were worth more than $1-1/2 million. The faculty and staff numbered nearly 200, and the student body more than 1,500. The school had an endowment of $2 million. Tuskegee Institute was the world leader in agricultural and industrial education for the Negro.

Each morning, mounted on his horse "Dexter," Washington made an inspection tour of the Institute's farms, truck gardens, dormitories, and shops. If he found any deficiency he expected it to be corrected immediately. (Library of Congress)

"The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera-house."

Booker T. Washington, Atlanta Speech

Washington's insistence on absolute cleanliness is reflected in the neat and orderly appearance of Alabama Hall, one of the first buildings erected on the campus and used as the girls' dormitory. (Library of Congress)

By the mid-1890's Booker T. Washington and Tuskegee Institute were well known to educators and philanthropists, but not to the general public. Then Washington was asked to speak at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta in 1895. The speech he gave (reproduced in the appendix) catapulted him into national prominence-not only as an educator, but as leader and spokesman of his race.

The Atlanta speech, delivered before a large, racially mixed audience, contained Washington's basic philosophy of race relations for that unhappy period in American Negro history. At a time when blacks had been virtually eliminated from political life, Washington spoke disparagingly of Negro political activity during Reconstruction:

Ignorant and inexperienced, it is not strange that in the first years of our new life we began at the top instead of at the bottom that a seat in Congress or the state legislature was more sought than real estate or industrial skill that the political convention of stump speaking had more attractions than starting a dairy farm or truck garden.

Top: Fannie Smith Washington Middle: Olivia Davidson Washington Bottom: Margaret Murray Washington. (Booker T. Washington National Monument)

Booker T. Washington and his family about 1899. Shown here with their father and stepmother Margaret Murray Washington are (left to right) Ernest Davidson Washington, born in 1889, Booker Taliaferro Washington, Jr., born in 1887, and Portia M. Washington, born in 1883. Washington's marriage to Margaret Murray was childless. (Booker T. Washington National Monument)

He advised Southern Negroes to "cast down your bucket where you are" by cultivating friendly relations with white neighbors and concentrating on agriculture, industry, and the professions. "Our greatest danger," he said,

is that in the great leap from slavery to freedom we may overlook the fact that the masses of us are to live by the productions of our hands, and fail to keep in mind that we shall prosper in proportion as we learn to dignify and glorify common labour and put brains and skill into the common occupations of life shall prosper in proportion as we learn to draw the line between the superficial and the substantial, the ornamental gewgaws of life and the useful.

For the time being, at least, Washington classed social integration with the "ornamental gewgaws":

The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly, and that progress in the enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing.

Washington giving one of his sons a lesson in nature study. He wanted his children to learn, like his students at Tuskegee, something about the cultivation of flowers, shrubbery, vegetables, and other crops. (Booker T. Washington National Monument)

Essentially, the speech was a bid for white support of Negro economic advancement, offering in exchange—at least for the present—black acceptance of political inactivity and social segregation. The "Atlanta compromise" is summarized in Washington's most remembered phrase: "In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress."

Response to the Atlanta speech—particularly white response—was highly enthusiastic. As the audience cheered wildly, Georgia's ex-Governor Rufus B. Bullock rushed across the platform to grasp Washington's hand. Newspapers throughout the country printed the speech in full and praised its author editorially. The Boston Transcript commented that the speech "seems to have dwarfed all the other proceedings and the Exposition itself. The sensation that it has caused in the press has never been equalled." The Atlanta Constitution called it "the most remarkable address ever delivered by a colored man in America . . . . The speech stamps Booker T. Washington as a wise counselor and a safe leader."

Much of Washington's effectiveness as a leader was due to his abilities as a public speaker. Whether exhorting a crowd in Louisiana (top) or addressing a gathering of socialites at Carnegie Hall (bottom), his speeches were usually extemporaneous, informal, conversational, and filled with personal experiences and observations. He consciously avoided "the language of books or the statements in quotations from the authors of books." (Top: Library of Congress Bottom: Underwood and Underwood)

After the speech, Washington became an object of nationwide attention and honor. Frederick Douglass, the great 19th-century Negro leader, had died only 7 months earlier, and Washington was widely acclaimed as his successor. Harvard awarded him an honorary M.A. degree in 1896, the first granted any Negro by that university. Dartmouth followed with an honorary doctorate. President William McKinley visited Tuskegee in 1898. A year later white friends sent Washington and his wife on a European tour, during which they had tea with Queen Victoria. Deluged with speech offers, Washington—a brilliant orator—spent an increasing portion of his time on the lecture circuit. He became friendly with the Nation's leading citizens in the business and literary worlds and was accepted in white society to a degree never before achieved by a Negro.

In response to numerous requests for his autobiography, Washington wrote Up From Slavery. Published in 1900, the book was an immediate best seller. It related the dramatic story of Washington's personal rise to prominence, and gave particular attention to his educational philosophy. Royalties and contributions from readers were a major source of income for Tuskegee. (Andrew Carnegie, its greatest single benefactor, became interested in the school only after reading Up From Slavery.) Washington also wrote or contributed to 12 other books and countless articles on the life of the Negro.

"Friction between the races will pass away as the black man, by reason of his skill, intelligence, and character, can produce something that the white man wants or respects in the commercial world."

Booker T. Washington

In his books, articles, and speeches, Washington continually stressed the educational and social views expounded in the Atlanta speech and Up From Slavery. His fundamental thesis was that economic progress held the key to Negro advancement in all other areas. With material betterment, the race would rise naturally, without "artificial forcing," in the political and social spheres. "The black man that has mortgages on a dozen men's houses will have no trouble in voting and having his vote counted," he declared. "No race that has anything to contribute to the markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized."

Washington was a pragmatist, not given to speaking out for lost causes. When Louisiana was preparing to disfranchise Negroes, he made a strong public appeal against such discrimination. His appeal failed, and thereafter Washington usually accommodated his pronouncements to Southern realities. He said in Up From Slavery,

I believe it is the duty of the Negro . . . to deport himself modestly in regard to political claims, depending upon the slow but sure influences that proceed from the possession of property, intelligence, and high character for the full recognition of his political rights.

He rationalized that propertied Negroes often exerted political influence in matters concerning their race even without going through "the form of casting the ballot."

Despite the deterioration of the Negro's position in American society, optimism ran through nearly all of Washington's utterances. "On the whole," he stated, "the Negro has been and is moving forward everywhere and in every direction." He played down the ill effects of discrimination, and stressed the benefits to be derived from meeting the challenges of adversity. After a second trip to Europe in 1910, he wrote The Man Farthest Down, portraying American Negroes as better off than the European peasantry. Washington's optimistic stance was intended less to reflect reality than to encourage "positive thinking":

There is no hope for any man or woman, whatever his color, who is pessimistic, who is continually whining and crying about his condition. There is hope for any people, however handicapped by difficulties, that makes up its mind that it will succeed . . . .

The key ingredients in Washington's public pronouncements—materialism, pragmatism, optimism—were among the dominant values of the age in which he worked. His skill in applying these values to the problems of Negro education and race relations was largely responsible for his success in gaining support from the contemporary Establishment. He told white society what it wanted to hear, in terms it could understand. In return, he was hailed by that society as "reasonable," "safe," and "constructive." Booker T. Washington was thoroughly in tune with the majority sentiment of his time.

"I do not like politics, and yet, in recent years, I have had some experience in political matters."

Booker T. Washington, 1911

While Washington the spokesman was a figure of national prominence, Washington the politician was far less known. He never held public office and expressed aversion to political dealings. Yet during the Roosevelt and Taft administrations, he played an important role as unofficial adviser on racial matters and Negro political appointments throughout the Nation.

Theodore Roosevelt's close relationship with Washington occasioned, in the eyes of many Southern whites, a rare instance in which the Negro leader stepped "out of his place." After learning that Washington had dined at the White House with the Roosevelt family, Southern newspapers and politicians loudly berated both him and the President for ignoring the color line. "The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that nigger will necessitate our killing a thousand niggers in the South before they learn their place again," ranted Senator Ben Tillman. Less concern was expressed over the more significant fact that Washington had been conferring with the President on political matters.

Theodore Roosevelt (shown here during his 1905 visit to Tuskegee) relied heavily upon Washington's advice when making Negro appointments. Washington's influence with the Roosevelt administration was much criticized, as the cartoon (at bottom) indicates. (Booker T. Washington National Monument)

Washington worked quietly for William Howard Taft's election in 1908 and continued to wield some influence during his administration. A letter from Washington to Taft defines his relationship with both Presidents:

It was very kind of you to send me word that you wished to consult with me fully and freely on all racial matters during your administration. I assure you I shall be glad to place myself at your service at all times. . . . The greatest satisfaction that has come to me during the administration of President Roosevelt is the fact that perhaps I have been of some service to him in helping to raise the standard of the colored people, in helping him to see that men holding office under him were men of character and ability. . . .

Washington's political skills also served him in private affairs. Paralleling his role as Presidential adviser on public appointments was his role as adviser to philanthropists aiding Negro causes. As noted earlier, he was remarkably successful in securing funds for Tuskegee from the foremost industrialists and financiers of the day. At the same time, he obtained their support for other agencies working on behalf of Negro education in the South.

Among Tuskegee's most influential backers were merchant and philanthopist Robert C. Ogden, Secretary of War (later President) William Howard Taft, and industrialist Andrew Carnegie. (Booker T. Washington National Monument)

Washington's commanding influence in the white world concerning Negro affairs led to what W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, a black critic, called the "Tuskegee Machine":

It arose first quite naturally. Not only did presidents of the United States consult Booker Washington, but governors and congressmen philanthropists conferred with him, scholars wrote to him. Tuskegee became a vast information bureau and center of advice. . . . After a time almost no Negro institution could collect funds without the recommendation or acquiescence of Mr. Washington. Few political appointments [of Negroes] were made anywhere in the United States without his consent. Even the careers of rising young colored men were very often determined by his advice and certainly his opposition was fatal.

Convinced that Negro progress necessitated the good will of the white South, Washington seldom dropped his accommodating, conciliatory tone. Publicly, he often minimized the evils of segregation and discrimination. Privately, and unknown to his critics, he was deeply involved in fighting many of the racial injustices then sweeping the South.

"My check book will show that I have spent at least four thousand dollars in cash, out of my own pocket, during [1903-1904], in advancing the rights of the black man."

Booker T. Washington to J. W. E. Bowen, 1904

Washington used his personal funds and influence to combat disfranchisement in a number of States, often working through legal test cases. While publicly accepting railroad segregation, he acted behind the scenes to halt its spread. He was involved in court cases opposing Negro exclusion from juries, helping with money and personal attention until their successful conclusion in the Supreme Court. For more than 2 years he worked on a case against Negro peonage, or forced labor, obtaining the services of prominent Alabama lawyers. He fought the Republican "Lily-White" movement which repudiated that party's traditional support for the Negro. To preserve his "safe" public image, Washington often masked his role in such activities with the greatest secrecy: during the battle against disfranchisement in Louisiana, his secretary and lawyer corresponded using pseudonyms and code.

August Meier, a modern historian researching Washington's private correspondence, helped bring to light this "militant" side of Washington—a side virtually unknown to his contemporaries:

. . . in spite of his placatory tone and his outward emphasis upon economic development as the solution to the race problem, Washington was surreptitiously engaged in undermining the American race system by a direct attack upon disfranchisement and segregation . . . in spite of his strictures against political activity, he was a powerful politician in his own right. The picture that emerges from Washington's own correspondence is distinctly at variance with the ingratiating mask he presented to the world.

Washington concluded early that if his educational efforts were to prosper, he would need the support of three divergent groups: Northern philanthropists, Southern whites of the "best class," and Negroes. All of his public pronouncements were carefully composed for their effect on these factions. Then as now, however, it was impossible for anyone involved with race relations to please all of the people all of the time. Washington was highly popular with Northern philanthropists. He seldom lost the "best class" of Southern whites—the aftermath of the White House dinner was a rare exception. Significantly, members of his own race were his most outspoken critics.

Negro dissent from Washington's policies dated from the Atlanta speech. As Washington observed, some blacks "seemed to feel that I had been too liberal in my remarks toward the Southern whites, and that I had not spoken out strongly enough for what they termed the 'rights' of the race." His most vocal opposition came from a small group of Negro intellectuals, who in the following years criticized both his educational and social views.

". . . there is among educated and thoughtful colored men in all parts of the land a feeling of deep regret, sorrow, and apprehension at the wide currency and ascendancy which some of Mr. Washington's theories have gained."

W. E. B. Du Bois, 1903

Most bitterly critical was William Monroe Trotter of the Boston Guardian. Trotter denied that Washington was a true leader of the race, claiming that he had been elevated to that position by whites alone. He regarded Washington's concentration on manual training for blacks and his accommodating approach to the loss of civil rights as traitorous and charged that he was being used by whites to "master the Colored Race."

Charles W. Chestnutt (left) and W. E. B. Du Bois (right). (Booker T. Washington National Monument)

Author Charles W. Chesnutt, in a review of Washington's book The Future of the American Negro, approved his goal of gaining white good will and, despite disagreement with his materialistic emphasis, generally supported his educational work. But Chesnutt strongly opposed Washington's apparent acceptance of inequality:

He has declared himself in favor of a restricted suffrage, which at present means, for his own people, nothing less than complete loss of representation . . . and he has advised them to go slow in seeking to enforce their civil and political rights, which, in effect, means silent submission to injustice. Southern white men may applaud this advice as wise, because it fits in with their purposes but Senator McEnery of Louisiana . . . voices the Southern white opinion of such acquiescence when he says: "What other race would have submitted so many years to slavery without complaint? What other race would have submitted so quietly to disfranchisement? These facts stamp his (the Negro's) inferiority to the white race." . . . To try to read any good thing into these fraudulent Southern constitutions, or to accept them as an accomplished fact, is to condone a crime against one's race. Those who commit crime should bear the odium. It is not a pleasing spectacle to see the robbed applaud the robber. Silence were better.

Washington's most influential critic was W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, the first Negro to receive a Ph.D. degree from Harvard. A professor at Atlanta University, Du Bois advocated higher education for a "talented tenth" of Negroes who would serve as leaders. He felt that by overemphasizing industrial training and yielding to racism, Washington was in effect accepting the myth of black inferiority. Wrote Du Bois:

In other periods of intensified prejudice all the Negro's tendency to self-assertion has been called forth at this period a policy of submission is advocated. In the history of nearly all other races and peoples the doctrine preached at such crises has been that manly self-respect is worth more than lands and houses, and that a people who voluntarily surrender such respect, or cease striving for it, are not worth civilizing.

Du Bois noted that Washington's ascendancy was accompanied by black disfranchisement, loss of civil rights, and withdrawal of aid from Negro institutions of higher learning. He blamed Washington's policies for encouraging these developments, and asked,

Is it possible . . . that nine millions of men can make effective progress in economic lines if they are deprived of political rights, made a servile caste, and allowed only the most meagre chance for developing their exceptional men?

Many criticisms of Washington centered around his exercise of power. Widely acclaimed as the foremost Negro leader, he came to hold a virtual monopoly over "acceptable" racial policies and practices. The dominance of the "Tuskegee Machine" made it extremely difficult for individuals or institutions with differing ideas to prosper. Most critics did not deny the need for training of the type offered at Tuskegee, but they felt it should not rule the day at the expense of liberal education. Especially resented was Washington's widespread control of the Negro press, through clandestine ownership and subsidy, in an attempt to maintain a united black front in his favor. Du Bois pointed up the extent of this monopolistic influence: "Things came to such a pass that when any Negro complained or advocated a course of action, he was silenced with the remark that Mr. Washington did not agree with this."

Washington's opponents generally sympathized with his goal of winning white support. But they felt that he wrongly attempted to curry favor by telling his white audiences what they wanted to hear rather than what they needed to hear. Although Washington was combating discrimination to a far greater extent than his critics realized, so he felt obliged to keep these activities secret so he could maintain an amenable public image. For many Negroes the image was that of "Uncle Tom."

The leaders of the Niagara Movement, forerunner of the NAACP, during their 1905 meeting near Niagara Falls. They oppposed Washington's conciliatory, compromising attitudes and demanded immediate political, civil, and social rights for the Negro. W. E. B. Du Bois is second from the right in the middle row. (Crown Publishers, Inc., A Pictorial History of the Negro in America , by Langston Hughes and Milton Meitzer)

With the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1910, those favoring open agitation on behalf of political and civil rights organized for action. This biracial group included such prominent persons as Oswald Garrison Villard, a white editor and philanthropist who had supported Tuskegee Ida B. Wells Barnett, an outspoken black critic of Washington and Du Bois, who became editor of The Crisis, the organization's publication. The association devoted much effort to publicity and legal action and won a variety of important court victories.

Washington approved of the NAACP's objectives and much of its work but he feared that its militant tone would alienate many whites. Its intellectual leaders, he said, did not understand the practical problems of the great majority of Southern Negroes. No doubt he also saw the NAACP as a threat to his own preeminence. But, perhaps partly as a result of the new organization's growing influence, Washington in his later years became somewhat more outspoken on behalf of Negro rights.

Washington's personal success never caused him to relax his vigorous efforts on behalf of his school and his race. Even after it was discovered that he had diabetes, he refused to slacken his pace. His last year's schedule was typical. In the spring of 1915 he initiated a major fund-raising campaign. That summer he spoke in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New York, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Ohio, and Nova Scotia. Between these engagements he attended trustee meetings in New York, returned to Tuskegee for a series of summer school lectures, and presided over the 15th anniversary meeting of the National Negro Business League, an organization he had founded to help black commercial enterprises.

Washington's daily mail amounted to between 125 and 150 lettes they were answered with judgment and tact. (Library of Congress)

Noting that Washington's health was suffering, Scott and others persuaded him to take 2 weeks off in September for a fishing trip. But the next month he was back on his schedule, speaking before a church council in New Haven, Conn. It was to be his last public appearance. He collapsed in New York and was taken to a hospital. Told he was dying, Washington insisted upon returning to Tuskegee: "I was born in the South, I have lived and labored in the South, and I expect to die and be buried in the South." His determination never failing him, he survived the journey to Tuskegee by a few hours. Death came on the morning of November 14, 1915. He was buried 3 days later on the campus of the institution he founded.

"More and more we must come to think not in terms of race or color or of language or religion or of political boundaries, but in terms of humanity."

Booker T. Washington

Even those who disagreed with Booker T. Washington could not deny the greatness of the man nor the fact that his death was a loss to his race and his country. Du Bois called him

the greatest Negro leader since Frederick Douglass and the most distinguished man, white or black, who has come out of the South since the Civil War. Of the good that he accomplished there can be no doubt he directed the attention of the Negro race in America to the pressing necessity of economic development he emphasized technical education and he did much to pave the way for an understanding between the white and darker races.

Washington founder and president of the National Negro Business League, sits with members of the executive committee during one of the League's annual meetings. (Library of Congress)

Theodore Roosevelt, one of Washington's greatest admirers, expressed the sentiment of much of the Nation:

It is not hyperbole to say that Booker T. Washington was a great American. For twenty years before his death he had been the most useful, as well as the most distinguished, member of his race in the world, and one of the most useful, as well as one of the most distinguished, of American citizens of any race.

Compare And Contrast Booker T Washington And Dubois

This is where Washington incorporated his ideas and beliefs that skilled labor would help bring African Americans out of poverty and give them equality among whites. Despite opposition of his views, Tuskegee was very popular among African Americans and whites. Though whites did not enroll, they did not object to the idea of African Americans learning skilled trades. A great example of Washington 's strategy was his famous speech in 1895, the Atlanta Compromise. Washington spoke&hellip

8 Things You Might Not Know about Booker T. Washington - HISTORY

The most influential public critique of Booker T. Washington’s policy of racial accommodation and gradualism came in 1903 when black leader and intellectual W.E.B. DuBois published an essay in his collection The Souls of Black Folk with the title “Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others.” DuBois rejected Washington’s willingness to avoid rocking the racial boat, calling instead for political power, insistence on civil rights, and the higher education of Negro youth.

Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others

From birth till death enslaved

Hereditary bondsmen! Know ye not

Who would be free themselves must strike the blow?

Easily the most striking thing in the history of the American Negro since 1876 is the ascendancy of Mr. Booker T. Washington. It began at the time when war memories and ideals were rapidly passing a day of astonishing commercial development was dawning a sense of doubt and hesitation overtook the freedmen’s sons,—then it was that his leading began. Mr. Washington came, with a single definite programme, at the psychological moment when the nation was a little ashamed of having bestowed so much sentiment on Negroes, and was concentrating its energies on Dollars. His programme of industrial education, conciliation of the South, and submission and silence as to civil and political rights, was not wholly original the Free Negroes from 1830 up to wartime had striven to build industrial schools, and the American Missionary Association had from the first taught various trades and Price and others had sought a way of honorable alliance with the best of the Southerners. But Mr. Washington first indissolubly linked these things he put enthusiasm, unlimited energy, and perfect faith into this programme, and changed it from a by-path into a veritable Way of Life. And the tale of the methods by which he did this is a fascinating study of human life.

It startled the nation to hear a Negro advocating such a programme after many decades of bitter complaint it startled and won the applause of the South, it interested and won the admiration of the North and after a confused murmur of protest, it silenced if it did not convert the Negroes themselves.

To gain the sympathy and cooperation of the various elements comprising the white South was Mr. Washington’s first task and this, at the time Tuskegee was founded, seemed, for a black man, well-nigh impossible. And yet ten years later it was done in the word spoken at Atlanta:“In all things purely social we can be as separate as the five fingers, and yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.” This“Atlanta Compromise” is by all odds the most notable thing in Mr. Washington’s career. The South interpreted it in different ways: the radicals received it as a complete surrender of the demand for civil and political equality the conservatives, as a generously conceived working basis for mutual understanding. So both approved it, and today its author is certainly the most distinguished Southerner since Jefferson Davis, and the one with the largest personal following.

Next to this achievement comes Mr. Washington’s work in gaining place and consideration in the North. Others less shrewd and tactful had formerly essayed to sit on these two stools and had fallen between them but as Mr. Washington knew the heart of the South from birth and training, so by singular insight he intuitively grasped the spirit of the age which was dominating the North. And so thoroughly did he learn the speech and thought of triumphant commercialism, and the ideals of material prosperity that the picture of a lone black boy poring over a French grammar amid the weeds and dirt of a neglected home soon seemed to him the acme of absurdities. One wonders what Socrates and St. Francis of Assisi would say to this.

And yet this very singleness of vision and thorough oneness with his age is a mark of the successful man. It is as though Nature must needs make men narrow in order to give them force. So Mr. Washington’s cult has gained unquestioning followers, his work has wonderfully prospered, his friends are legion, and his enemies are confounded. To-day he stands as the one recognized spokesman of his ten million fellows, and one of the most notable figures in a nation of seventy millions. One hesitates, therefore, to criticise a life which, beginning with so little has done so much. And yet the time is come when one may speak in all sincerity and utter courtesy of the mistakes and shortcomings of Mr. Washington’s career, as well as of his triumphs, without being thought captious or envious, and without forgetting that it is easier to do ill than well in the world.

The criticism that has hitherto met Mr. Washington has not always been of this broad character. In the South especially has he had to walk warily to avoid the harshest judgments,—and naturally so, for he is dealing with the one subject of deepest sensitiveness to that section. Twice—once when at the Chicago celebration of the Spanish-American War he alluded to the color-prejudice that is “eating away the vitals of the South,” and once when he dined with President Roosevelt—has the resulting Southern criticism been violent enough to threaten seriously his popularity. In the North the feeling has several times forced itself into words, that Mr. Washington’s counsels of submission overlooked certain elements of true manhood, and that his educational programme was unnecessarily narrow. Usually, however, such criticism has not found open expression, although, too, the spiritual sons of the Abolitionists have not been prepared to acknowledge that the schools founded before Tuskegee, by men of broad ideals and self-sacrificing spirit, were wholly failures or worthy of ridicule. While, then, criticism has not failed to follow Mr. Washington, yet the prevailing public opinion of the land has been but too willing to deliver the solution of a wearisome problem into his hands, and say, “If that is all you and your race ask, take it.”

Among his own people, however, Mr. Washington has encountered the strongest and most lasting opposition, amounting at times to bitterness, and even to-day continuing strong and insistent even though largely silenced in outward expression by the public opinion of the nation. Some of this opposition is, of course, mere envy the disappointment of displaced demagogues and the spite of narrow minds. But aside from this, there is among educated and thoughtful colored men in all parts of the land a feeling of deep regret, sorrow, and apprehension at the wide currency and ascendancy which some of Mr. Washington’s theories have gained. These same men admire his sincerity of purpose, and are willing to forgive much to honest endeavor which is doing something worth the doing. They cooperate with Mr. Washington as far as they conscientiously can and, indeed, it is no ordinary tribute to this man’s tact and power that, steering as he must between so many diverse interests and opinions, he so largely retains the respect of all.

But the hushing of the criticism of honest opponents is a dangerous thing. It leads some of the best of the critics to unfortunate silence and paralysis of effort, and others to burst into speech so passionately and intemperately as to lose listeners. Honest and earnest criticism from those whose interests are most nearly touched,—criticism of writers by readers, of government by those governed, of leaders by those led, — this is the soul of democracy and the safeguard of modern society. If the best of the American Negroes receive by outer pressure a leader whom they had not recognized before, manifestly there is here a certain palpable gain. Yet there is also irreparable loss,—a loss of that peculiarly valuable education which a group receives when by search and criticism it finds and commissions its own leaders. The way in which this is done is at once the most elementary and the nicest problem of social growth. History is but the record of such group-leadership and yet how infinitely changeful is its type and character! And of all types and kinds, what can be more instructive than the leadership of a group within a group?—that curious double movement where real progress may be negative and actual advance be relative retrogression. All this is the social student’s inspiration and despair.

Now in the past the American Negro has had instructive experience in the choosing of group leaders, founding thus a peculiar dynasty which in the light of present conditions is worth while studying. When sticks and stones and beasts form the sole environment of a people, their attitude is largely one of determined opposition to and conquest of natural forces. But when to earth and brute is added an environment of men and ideas, then the attitude of the imprisoned group may take three main forms, — a feeling of revolt and revenge an attempt to adjust all thought and action to the will of the greater group or, finally, a determined effort at self-realization and self-development despite environing opinion. The influence of all of these attitudes at various times can be traced in the history of the American Negro, and in the evolution of his successive leaders.

Before 1750, while the fire of African freedom still burned in the veins of the slaves, there was in all leadership or attempted leadership but the one motive of revolt and revenge,—typified in the terrible Maroons, the Danish blacks, and Cato of Stono, and veiling all the Americas in fear of insurrection. The liberalizing tendencies of the latter half of the eighteenth century brought, along with kindlier relations between black and white, thoughts of ultimate adjustment and assimilation. Such aspiration was especially voiced in the earnest songs of Phyllis, in the martyrdom of Attucks, the fighting of Salem and Poor, the intellectual accomplishments of Banneker and Derham, and the political demands of the Cuffes.

Stern financial and social stress after the war cooled much of the previous humanitarian ardor. The disappointment and impatience of the Negroes at the persistence of slavery and serfdom voiced itself in two movements. The slaves in the South, aroused undoubtedly by vague rumors of the Haitian revolt, made three fierce attempts at insurrection, — in 1800 under Gabriel in Virginia, in 1822 under Vesey in Carolina, and in 1831 again in Virginia under the terrible Nat Turner. In the Free States, on the other hand, a new and curious attempt at self-development was made. In Philadelphia and New York color-prescription led to a withdrawal of Negro communicants from white churches and the formation of a peculiar socio-religious institution among the Negroes known as the African Church, — an organization still living and controlling in its various branches over a million of men.

Walker’s wild appeal against the trend of the times showed how the world was changing after the coming of the cotton-gin. By 1830 slavery seemed hopelessly fastened on the South, and the slaves thoroughly cowed into submission. The free Negroes of the North, inspired by the mulatto immigrants from the West Indies, began to change the basis of their demands they recognized the slavery of slaves, but insisted that they themselves were freemen, and sought assimilation and amalgamation with the nation on the same terms with other men. Thus, Forten and Purvis of Philadelphia, Shad of Wilmington, Du Bois of New Haven, Barbadoes of Boston, and others, strove singly and together as men, they said, not as slaves as “people of color,” not as “Negroes.” The trend of the times, however, refused them recognition save in individual and exceptional cases, considered them as one with all the despised blacks, and they soon found themselves striving to keep even the rights they formerly had of voting and working and moving as freemen. Schemers of migration and colonization arose among them but these they refused to entertain, and they eventually turned to the Abolition movement as a final refuge.

Here, led by Remond, Nell, Wells-Brown, and Douglass, a new period of self-assertion and self-development dawned. To be sure, ultimate freedom and assimilation was the ideal before the leaders, but the assertion of the manhood rights of the Negro by himself was the main reliance, and John Brown’s raid was the extreme of its logic. After the war and emancipation, the great form of Frederick Douglass, the greatest of American Negro leaders, still led the host. Self-assertion, especially in political lines, was the main programme, and behind Douglass came Elliot, Bruce, and Langston, and the Reconstruction politicians, and, less conspicuous but of greater social significance Alexander Crummell and Bishop Daniel Payne.

Then came the Revolution of 1876, the suppression of the Negro votes, the changing and shifting of ideals, and the seeking of new lights in the great night. Douglass, in his old age, still bravely stood for the ideals of his early manhood,—ultimate assimilation through self-assertion, and no other terms. For a time Price arose as a new leader, destined, it seemed, not to give up, but to re-state the old ideals in a form less repugnant to the white South. But he passed away in his prime. Then came the new leader. Nearly all the former ones had become leaders by the silent suffrage of their fellows, had sought to lead their own people alone, and were usually, save Douglass, little known outside their race. But Booker T. Washington arose as essentially the leader not of one race but of two,—a compromiser between the South, the North, and the Negro. Naturally the Negroes resented, at first bitterly, signs of compromise which surrendered their civil and political rights, even though this was to be exchanged for larger chances of economic development. The rich and dominating North, however, was not only weary of the race problem, hut was investing largely in Southern enterprises, and welcomed any method of peaceful cooperation. Thus, by national opinion, the Negroes began to recognize Mr. Washington’s leadership and the voice of criticism was hushed.

Mr. Washington represents in Negro thought the old attitude of adjustment and submission but adjustment at such a peculiar time as to make his programme unique. This is an age of unusual economic development, and Mr. Washington’s programme naturally takes an economic cast, becoming a gospel of Work and Money to such an extent as apparently almost completely to overshadow the higher aims of life. Moreover, this is an age when the more advanced races are coming in closer contact with the less developed races, and the race-feeling is therefore intensified and Mr. Washington’s programme practically accepts the alleged inferiority of the Negro races. Again, in our own land, the reaction from the sentiment of war time has given impetus to race-prejudice against Negroes, and Mr. Washington withdraws many of the high demands of Negroes as men and American citizens. In other periods of intensified prejudice all the Negro’s tendency to self-assertion has been called forth at this period a policy of submission is advocated. In the history of nearly all other races and peoples the doctrine preached at such crises has been that manly self-respect is worth more than lands and houses, and that a people who voluntarily surrender such respect, or cease striving for it, are not worth civilizing.

In answer to this, it has been claimed that the Negro can survive only through submission. Mr. Washington distinctly asks that black people give up, at least for the present, three things, —

Second, insistence on civil rights,

Third, higher education of Negro youth,

— and concentrate all their energies on industrial education, the accumulation of wealth, and the conciliation of the South. This policy has been courageously and insistently advocated for over fifteen years, and has been triumphant for perhaps ten years. As a result of this tender of the palm-branch, what has been the return? In these years there have occurred:

1. The disfranchisement of the Negro.

2. The legal creation of a distinct status of civil inferiority for the Negro.

3. The steady withdrawal of aid from institutions for the higher training of the Negro.

These movements are not, to be sure, direct results of Mr. Washington’s teachings but his propaganda has, without a shadow of doubt, helped their speedier accomplishment. The question then comes: Is it possible, and probable, that nine millions of men can make effective progress in economic lines if they are deprived of political rights, made a servile caste, and allowed only the most meagre chance for developing their exceptional men? If history and reason give any distinct answer to these questions, it is an emphatic No. And Mr. Washington thus faces the triple paradox of his career:

1. He is striving nobly to make Negro artisans business men and property-owners but it is utterly impossible, under modern competitive methods, for workingmen and property-owners to defend their rights and exist without the right of suffrage .

2. He insists on thrift and self-respect, but at the same time counsels a silent submission to civic inferiority such as is bound to sap the manhood of any race in the long run.

3. He advocates common-school and industrial training, and depreciates institutions of higher learning but neither the Negro common-schools, nor Tuskegee itself, could remain open a day were it not for teachers trained in Negro colleges, or trained by their graduates.

This triple paradox in Mr. Washington’s position is the object of criticism by two classes of colored Americans. One class is spiritually descended from Toussaint the Savior, through Gabriel, Vesey, and Turner, and they represent the attitude of revolt and revenge they hate the white South blindly and distrust the white race generally, and so far as they agree on definite action, think that the Negro’s only hope lies in emigration beyond the borders of the United States. And yet, by the irony of fate, nothing has more effectually made this programme seem hopeless than the recent course of the United States toward weaker and darker peoples in the West Indies, Hawaii, and the Philippines,—for where in the world may we go and be safe from lying and brute Force?

The other class of Negroes who cannot agree with Mr. Washington has hitherto said little aloud. They deprecate the sight of scattered counsels, of internal disagreement and especially they dislike making their just criticism of a useful and earnest man an excuse for a general discharge of venom from small-minded opponents. Nevertheless, the questions involved are so fundamental and serious that it is difficult to see how men like the Grimkes, Kelly Miller, J.W.E. Bowen, and other representatives of this group, can much longer be silent. Such men feel in conscience bound to ask of this nation three things.

3 The education of youth according to ability.

They acknowledge Mr. Washington’s invaluable service in counselling patience and courtesy in such demands they do not ask that ignorant black men vote when ignorant whites are debarred, or that any reasonable restrictions in the suffrage should not be applied they know that the low social level or the mass of the race is responsible for much discrimination against it, but they also know, and the nation knows, that relentless color-prejudice is more often a cause than a result of the Negro’s degradation they seek the abatement of this relic or barbarism, and not its systematic encouragement and pampering by all agencies of social power from the Associated Press to the Church of Christ. They advocate, with Mr. Washington, a broad system of Negro common schools supplemented by thorough industrial training but they are surprised that a man of Mr. Washington’s insight cannot see that no such educational system ever has rested or can rest on any other basis than that of the well-equipped college and university, and they insist that there is a demand for a few such institutions throughout the South to train the best of the Negro youth as teachers, professional men, and leaders.

This group of men honor Mr. Washington for his attitude of conciliation toward the white South they accept the “Atlanta Compromise” in its broadest interpretation they recognize, with him, many signs of promise, many men of high purpose and fair judgment, in this section they know that no easy task has been laid upon a region already tottering under heavy burdens. But, nevertheless, they insist that the way to truth and right lies in straightforward honesty, not in indiscriminate flattery in praising those of the South who do well and criticising uncompromisingly those who do ill in taking advantage of the opportunities at hand and urging their fellows to do the same, but at the same time in remembering that only a firm adherence to their higher ideals and aspirations will ever keep those ideals within the realm of possibility. They do not expect that the free right to vote, to enjoy civic rights, and to be educated, will come in a moment they do not expect to see the bias and prejudices of years disappear at the blast of a trumpet but they are absolutely certain that the way for a people to gain their reasonable rights is not by voluntarily throwing them away and insisting that they do not want them that the way for a people to gain respect is not by continually belittling and ridiculing themselves that, on the contrary, Negroes must insist continually, in season and out of season, that voting is necessary to modern manhood, that color discrimination is barbarism, and that black boys need education as well as white boys.

In failing thus to state plainly and unequivocally the legitimate demands of their people, even at the cost of opposing an honored leader, the thinking classes of American Negroes would shirk a heavy responsibility,—a responsibility to themselves, a responsibility to the struggling masses, a responsibility to the darker races of men whose future depends so largely on this American experiment, but especially a responsibility to this nation,—this common Fatherland. It is wrong to encourage a man or a people in evil-doing it is wrong to aid and abet a national crime simply because it is unpopular not to do so. The growing spirit of kindliness and reconciliation between the North and South after the frightful difference of a generation ago ought to be a source of deep congratulation to all, and especially to those whose mistreatment caused the war but if that reconciliation is to be marked by the industrial slavery and civic death of those same black men, with permanent legislation into a position of inferiority, then those black men, if they are really men, are called upon by every consideration of patriotism and loyalty to oppose such a course by all civilized methods, even though such opposition involves disagreement with Mr. Booker T. Washington. We have no right to sit silently by while the inevitable seeds are sown for a harvest of disaster to our children, black and white.

First, it is the duty of black men to judge the South discriminatingly. The present generation of Southerners are not responsible for the past, and they should not be blindly hated or blamed for it. Furthermore, to no class is the indiscriminate endorsement of the recent course of the South toward Negroes more nauseating than to the best thought of the South. The South is not “solid” it is a land in the ferment of social change, wherein forces of all kinds are fighting for supremacy and to praise the ill the South is to-day perpetrating is just as wrong as to condemn the good. Discriminating and broad-minded criticism is what the South needs, — needs it for the sake of her own white sons and daughters, and for the insurance of robust, healthy mental and moral development.

To-day even the attitude of the Southern whites toward the blacks is not, as so many assume, in all cases the same the ignorant Southerner hates the Negro, the workingmen fear his competition, the money-makers wish to use him as a laborer, some of the educated see a menace in his upward development, while others—usually the sons of the masters—wish to help him to rise. National opinion has enabled this last class to maintain the Negro common schools, and to protect the Negro partially in property, life, and limb. Through the pressure of the money-makers, the Negro is in danger of being reduced to semi-slavery, especially in the country districts the workingmen, and those of the educated who fear the Negro, have united to disfranchise him, and some have urged his deportation while the passions of the ignorant are easily aroused to lynch and abuse any black man. To praise this intricate whirl of thought and prejudice is nonsense to inveigh indiscriminately against “the South” is unjust but to use the same breath in praising Governor Aycock, exposing Senator Morgan, arguing with Mr. Thomas Nelson Page, and denouncing Senator Ben Tillman, is not only sane, but the imperative duty of thinking black men.

It would be unjust to Mr. Washington not to acknowledge that in several instances he has opposed movements in the South which were unjust to the Negro he sent memorials to the Louisiana and Alabama constitutional conventions, he has spoken against lynching, and in other ways has openly or silently set his influence against sinister schemes and unfortunate happenings. Notwithstanding this, it is equally true to assert that on the whole the distinct impression left by Mr. Washington’s propaganda is, first, that the South is justified in its present attitude toward the Negro because of the Negro’s degradation secondly, that the prime cause of the Negro’s failure to rise more quickly is his wrong education in the past and, thirdly, that his future rise depends primarily on his own efforts. Each of these propositions is a dangerous half-truth. The supplementary truths must never be lost sight of: first, slavery and race-prejudice are potent if not sufficient causes of the Negro’s position second, industrial and common-school training were necessarily slow in planting because they had to await the black teachers trained by higher institutions,—it being extremely doubtful if any essentially different development was possible, and certainly a Tuskegee was unthinkable before 1880 and, third, while it is a great truth to say that the Negro must strive and strive mightily to help himself, it is equally true that unless his striving be not simply seconded, but rather aroused and encouraged, by the initiative of the richer and wiser environing group, he cannot hope for great success.

In his failure to realize and impress this last point, Mr. Washington is especially to be criticised. His doctrine has tended to make the whites, North and South, shift the burden of the Negro problem to the Negro’s shoulders and stand aside as critical and rather pessimistic spectators when in fact the burden belongs to the nation, and the hands of none of us are clean if we bend not our energies to righting these great wrongs.

The South ought to be led, by candid and honest criticism, to assert her better self and do her full duty to the race she has cruelly wronged and is still wronging. The North—her co-partner in guilt—cannot salve her conscience by plastering it with gold. We cannot settle this problem by diplomacy and suaveness, by “policy” alone. If worse comes to worst, can the moral fibre of this country survive the slow throttling and murder of nine millions of men?

The black men of America have a duty to perform, a duty stern and delicate,—a forward movement to oppose a part of the work of their greatest leader. So far as Mr. Washington preaches Thrift, Patience, and Industrial Training for the masses, we must hold up his hands and strive with him, rejoicing in his honors and glorying in the strength of this Joshua called of God and of man to lead the headless host. But so far as Mr. Washington apologizes for injustice, North or South, does not rightly value the privilege and duty of voting, belittles the emasculating effects of caste distinctions, and opposes the higher training and ambition of our brighter minds,—so far as he, the South, or the Nation, does this,—we must unceasingly and firmly oppose them. By every civilized and peaceful method we must strive for the rights which the world accords to men, clinging unwaveringly to those great words which the sons of the Fathers would fain forget: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal that they are endowed by their Creater with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Source: W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (Chicago, 1903).

8 Things You Might Not Know about Booker T. Washington - HISTORY

Social Studies Unit written by: Emmaly Ward

Related Topics :
Career Choice
Civil Rights

Booker T. Washington was born about five years before the Civil War
began. By the end of the 19th century, he was one of the best-known men
(black or white) in America.

Booker was born into slavery. The cabin where Booker was born, was
also the plantations kitchen. His mother was the cook. Cooking back then
was not as easy as it is now. Cooking was done on a fireplace. Booker
would gather the wood for the fire. Sometimes Booker's mother would
give her children part of a chicken that was cooked for the slave owners.
Most of the time Booker would eat a potato or a cup of milk. The living
conditions were also very different. The cabin had no glass for the
windows and there were holes in the walls. Booker and the others slept on
a dirt floor, on bundles of rags.

Booker had many different jobs to do on the plantation. He would
carry water out to the workers in the field, take corn to the mill, and
other jobs that were asked of him.

In 1865 when he was about 10 years old the slaves were freed.
Booker and his family left the plantation and headed for Virginia.
Booker's stepfather was already there and sent a wagon and some mules
so that Booker and his family could meet him in West Virginia. The trip
took weeks. The wagon was filled with a few things they had. The
children walked beside the wagon. When they reached their new home in
Virginia, it was no better than the one they had left behind. It may have
been even worse.

Booker worked with his father and brother in a salt mine. They put
salt into barrels. Booker had the desire to learn how to read. His mother
bought him some books to help him learn. Finally, Booker was able to
attend school. He had to wake up early and work 5 hours before and 2
hours after school.

At school, the teacher asked the children their names. Booker
noticed that all of the children had two names. When the teacher asked
him his name he said "Booker Washington." Later he found out that his
last name was Taliaferro. He kept that as his middle name. He was called
Booker T. Washington.

When Booker was 15 years old he worked for a lady named Mrs. Viola
Ruffin. He worked hard, cleaning for her. He worked for her because she
allowed him to learn after work.

In the fall of 1872 Booker left for Hampton Institute in eastern
Virginia. He didn't have very much money, didn't know anyone there, or
if they would accept him. He just headed east until he got to Hampton. It
was 500 miles. He arrived and got a job as a janitor to pay for his

Hampton Institute provided vocational training for blacks. That
means it taught students to be farmers, carpenters, teachers, brick
makers, or to do other useful jobs. Students learned skills and to take
pride in their work. Booker was one of the best students. When the
president of Hampton Institute was asked to recommend someone to head
a new training institute for blacks at Tuskegee, Alabama, he suggested
Booker for the job.

When Booker got there he found basically nothing. They met in an old
church, and there were no other teachers. Booker and his students went to
work. They cut down trees, cleared land, dug wells, and built buildings.
They achieved three goals at once. The school got built the students
learned important and useful trades and their labor paid for their tuition.
By 1900, Tuskegee had 40 buildings and some fine teachers. Booker T.
Washington was renowned as the voice of the black people. A newspaper
reporter described him as "a remarkable figure tall, bony, straight as a
Sioux chief, high forehead, straight nose, heavy jaws, and strong,
determined mouth, with big white teeth, piercing eyes and a commanding
manner (Hakim, pg. 176)." Arthur M. Schlesinger said, ôHe was a tall,
commanding, muscular man, with piercing black eyes that had dreams in
them. But it was when he spoke that he was most impressive. He could
have a cheering crowd on its feet in a matter of minutesö (Hakim, pg174).

Booker T. Washington believed that the way to gain equality was
through education. If the Blacks were educated, hard workers they would
reach their goals. He had seen this in his own life and believed that it was
true to all.

Gleiter, Jan and Thompson, Kathleen. (1995). Booker T. Washington Austin,
TX: Steck-Vaughn

Hakim, Joy (1994). Reconstruction and Reform. Oxford University Press.

Booker T. Washington (1965). Up from Slavery New York: Dodd, Mead &

1. Students will be able to describe the contributions made my Booker T.
Washington and the context in which they occurred.

2. Students will list problems and solutions dealing with Civil Rights.
They will also list problems and solutions that they are facing in today's world.

3. Students will identify why it is important to read and value the
opportunity to have an education.

4. Students will be able to identify the personal qualities they would like
to have.

5. Students will demonstrate a willingness to work with others to help
them become better citizens.

6. Students will recognize the need to take a stand and form opinions.

Time Allotment: Approximately 6 class periods

Resources Needed:
Autobiography Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington
Handouts from Appendix
1st or 2nd grade students
Chocolate chip cookies

1. Jigsaw. Separate Booker's life into four subjects: slavery, work,
education, and leadership. Give each student a description of one of the
subjects. Have them read how it played an important part in Booker's
life. (Descriptions can be found in Booker T. Washington's autobiography
Up From Slavery.) Have each of them prepare a 5-7 minute overview of
their topic. After they have prepared their overview have the students
with the same topic come together. Have them discuss what they are
going to present in their groups. In groups of four (one person from each
subject) take 5-7 minute turns, discussing the subjects. Meet back as a
class to take a short quiz on the group discussion.

2. Turn 2 Think . In groups of four pass out a set of question cards on
Booker T. Washington and a set of answer cards (See Appendix A). Have
students count off, one to four. Starting with person number one have
each student select a question card and read it aloud. Have all students
think of their response. Then, have the same person turn over an answer
card to see who will answer the question. Keep going until all of the
questions have been answered.

3. Interview. Booker T. Washington set goals and reached them. He
always wanted to have an education. He worked hard and was able to have
a career that he enjoyed. Have students select a profession that they
would like to have someday. The students will use the questions in
Appendix B to interview someone in that profession. They will find out
how much education they needed for the profession, how much reading,
math and other subjects they use in their work. Students will write a
summary of their interview and make a class listing of jobs and the
education needed to have the job.

4. Listing problems and solutions. Have students fold a sheet of paper in
half. On one side have them make a list of problems that the Blacks faced
in regards to Civil Rights. On the other side have the students make a list
of possible solutions for the problems. Discuss how Booker T. Washington
thought that education was the solution for equality. If the Blacks were
educated they would be equal. If they couldn't read or write, they would
never have the jobs or resources that they desired.As a class make a list of problems
that we face today. Have them thinkout possible solutions. Some examples of problems
that we face today include: pollution, disease, lack of natural resources, drugs etc.

5. Taking a Stand. Booker T. Washington was a great public speaker. Have
the students pick a controversial issue, research the topic, write a
persuasive speech and give the speech for the class.

6. Journal Entry. Have the students pick three qualities that Booker T.
Washington possessed. Have them write a journal entry, describing the
qualities in his life and how they helped him become a leader. Have the
students pick three qualities that they would like to incorporate into their
life and discuss why and how they will do it.

7. Service Project. Booker T. Washington valued the fact that he learned
how to read and write. Have the students go into a first or second grade
class and help a student read a book or write a letter.

1. After the students have finished discussing the four subject areas, the
class will take a quiz on the covered material.
2. Observations of responses to Turn-2-Think will be assessed
3. The interview question sheet will be assessed as well as the students
contribution to the class list of jobs and educational qualifications.
4. Problem/Solution papers will be assessed. Class participation will be
5. Persuasive paper will be assessed.
6. Journal entrees will be assessed.
7. Willingness to participate in the service project will be assessed
through participation and attitude.

1. How much schooling did you need for this job?

2. How much reading ( math, science, writing etc.) do you need for your

3. How would your life be different if you had not had the opportunity to
go to school?

* Have students think together as a class and formulate more questions
that they want to find out

1. What was Booker T. Washington's greatest accomplishment?

2. What was Booker T. Washington's childhood like?

3. Why did Booker T. Washington want to learn how to read?

4. Culture plays a big part in who we are. What part does the cultural
background of Booker T. Washington play in his life?

5. If Booker T. Washington had lived his life in a different country, what
may have been different?

6. What descriptive words might you use to describe the personality of
Booker T. Washington?

7. What was Booker T. Washington's greatest strength and weakness?

8. What was Booker T. Washington's greatest challenge?

9. What might be changed if Booker T. Washington did not exist?

10. How can you best portray the highlight of Booker T. Washington's

11. How was Booker T. Washington affected by slavery?

12. Why was education so important for Booker T. Washington?

13. What would have been different if Booker T. Washington never went to
school or learned how to read?

14. What would you have done differently if you had lived back in the days
of Booker T. Washington?

20- “The wisest among my race understand that agitations of social equality is the extremist folly, and that progress in the enjoyment of all privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing.”

21- “I have begun everything with the idea that I could succeed, and I never had much patience with the multitudes of people who are always ready to explain why one cannot succeed.”

22- “I never liked the atmosphere of Washington . I early saw that it was impossible to build up a race of which the leaders were spending most of their time, thought and energy in trying to get into office, or in trying to stay there after they were in.”

23- “No greater injury can be done to any youth than to let him feel that because he belongs to this or that race he will be advanced in life regardless of his own merits or efforts.”

24- “You may fill your heads with knowledge or skillfully train your hands, but unless it is based upon high, upright character, upon a true heart, it will amount to nothing. You will be no better than the most ignorant.”

Think legacy. Leave the world better than it was when you got here.

Booker T. Washington did wonderful things to promote black education and civil rights. Although he was born in slavery, he did so much to help the black community. He understood where he came from and he wanted something better not only for him but for others as well.

As you go on your single motherhood journey, know that it isn’t just about you. Think about how you live your life and the decisions you make (even how you manage your money ), because the little eyes of your children are watching everything that we do. It is essential that we live our lives with the idea of legacy in mind and how we want our children and our children’s children’s lives to be better because of the foundations that we lay.

Hebrews 11:20 (ESV) says, “By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.” What type of legacy and generational blessings do you want to leave for your children?

Born a Slave, Washington Becomes Black Elite

Booker T. Washington was born on April 5, 1856 into slavery in Virginia. After his mother, Jane (an African American woman), was emancipated, she moved the family to West Virginia. Washington’s father was white, and he never knew the identity of his father. Young Washington went on to attend Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University) and Wayland Seminary (now Virginia Union University).

In 1881, Booker T. Washington became the first leader of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, a new organization founded for the higher education of Blacks. He expanded the school by having the students work at the college constructing buildings and maintaining a large farm.

Washington became a popular figure in the Black community and with liberal Whites across the country.

Even though he was criticized for not supporting civil right causes and having a softer tone when it comes to dealing with racism, Washington secretly funded litigation for civil rights cases, challenging laws that hurt Blacks across the South.

Booker T. Washington also used his connections with rich white philanthropists to fund other schools he was developing besides Tuskegee. The likes of J.P. Morgan, Collis P. Huntington, and John D. Rockefeller contributed to Washington’s cause. He encouraged Black youths to learn skills that would make them great participants in the industrial revolution, and hence making them valuable members of society.

In 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to dine with him and his family at the White House. This was the first time a Black leader was officially invited to the white house and garnered high publicity as a social occasion.

By the time of his death in 1915, Washington had written 14 books, including his popular autobiography, Up from Slavery.

#7 His autobiography Up From Slavery was a bestseller

Booker T. Washington was a widely read writer. In the period from 1900 to 1912, he published five books: The Story of My Life and Work (1900) Up From Slavery (1901) The Story of the Negro (1909) My Larger Education (1911) and The Man Farthest Down (1912). His second autobiography Up From Slavery became a bestseller and had a major effect on the African American community. The book gives a detailed account of the problems faced by the African American community during his era and how Washington himself faced the obstacles in his life, rising from the position of a slave child to pursue his education at the New Hampton Institute. Up From Slavery was included in the Modern Library’s list of the 100 best books to read of the 20th Century.

A Birthplace That Experienced Slavery, The Civil War and Emancipation

Booker T. Washington was born in April 1856, during a time when the United States of America was trying to work towards a solution dealing with slavery. Since the beginning, the colonies and most of the territories that became the United States had developed by agrarian economics utilizing slave labor. By the early 1800's, factories had become the major economic system of the Northern States while the Southern States remained agrarian. As slavery ceased to exist in the most Northern States, abolitionists began to demonstrate and influence state governments pushing toward the emancipation and sometimes the relocation of former slaves and descendents. There are many events that helped to shape people's opinions of the institution of slavery.

Plantation where Booker T. Washington was born

Mid-19 th Century Slavery in Piedmont Virginia

James and Elizabeth Burroughs moved to Franklin County, Virginia in 1850. They brought slaves with them to work on the farm and one of those slaves was Jane. Jane gave birth to Booker in April 1856. He was one of three children that Jane had while living on the Burroughs plantation and he would later be known as Dr. Booker T. Washington. It is unknown if Jane had given birth to more children that may have been sold.

Booker T. Washington wrote in his autobiography, Up From Slavery, about his birth and nine years living as an enslaved person on the Burroughs plantation, a tobacco plantation in piedmont Virginia. "I was born in a typical log cabin, about fourteen by sixteen feet square. In this cabin I lived with my mother and a brother and sister till after the Civil War, when we were all declared free. Of my ancestry, I know almost nothing. the cabin was not only our living-place, but was used as the kitchen for the plantation. My mother was the plantation cook. The cabin was without glass windows it had only openings in the side which let in the light, and also the cold, chilly air of winter…there was no wooden floor in our cabin, the naked earth being used as a floor." He described never sleeping in a bed but just on "a bundle of rags."

Washington described the early years of his life as being "not very different from those of thousands of other slaves." He had the desire to get an education but was not allowed to go to school, although he was expected to carry the books to school for Laura Burroughs, one of the owner's daughters who was a teacher. He remembered wearing a flax shirt that was very painful to wear when it was new because it felt like "a dozen or more chestnut burrs or a hundred small pin-points coming into contact with his flesh."

Burroughs Family Involvement in The Civil War

Following the election of Abraham Lincoln in November of 1860, South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union, passing an ordinance of secession on December 20, 1860. By April 12, 1861, the Civil War began when shots were fired at Fort Sumter. During April and May, four more states seceded including Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Five of the Burroughs sons fought in the American Civil War.

Joseph Nicholas "Jess" Burroughs (1825-1899) enlisted April 24, 1861 with Company B14th Virginia Infantry, Fancy Grove, Bedford County, VA. His residence in Virginia in 1860 and 1865 was listed as Bedford County, Virginia.

James Benjamin "Ben" Burroughs (1825-1894) was listed as having occupation of a tanner. He enlisted with the Franklin Rangers on March 15, 1862 and was wounded during Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He was captured then paroled. His residence in 1860 was listed as Nicholas County, Virginia (now West Virginia). His residence in 1865 was listed as Franklin County, Virginia.

Edwin Newton "Newt" Burroughs (1844-1922) enlisted August 1, 1862 with the Franklin Rangers (Company D, 2 nd Virginia Calvary) commanded by Giles William Bruce Hale. Newt served with the Halesford slave patrol on the south side of Rocky Mount turnpike for all of 1861 and remained at home until his enlistment. Newt was wounded in the thigh at the Battle of St. Mary's Church (called Nance's Shop in the south) on June 24, 1864. The family recalled that "Uncle Newt got shot in the rump, and he was teased a lot for it. People said he must have been running away and he said 'well, if you have bullets whizzing all around you, you'd run too." At the end of the war in 1865, Newt was living at his parent's home. By 1870, Newt was working as a farm laborer in Bedford County.

Thomas Robertson Burroughs (1827-1902) enlisted March 15, 1862 in the Franklin Rangers. His residence in 1860 was listed as living in Bedford County, Virginia. His occupation was listed as a (slave) trader living in Canton, Madison County, Mississippi with his wife Julia D. Burroughs and younger brother Billy in the household of wealthy planter John Briscoe. His residence in 1865 was Bedford County, Virginia.

James William "Billy" Burroughs (1835-1863) enlisted in the Franklin Rangers on May 20, 1861. He died in the Battle of Kelly's Ford, Culpeper, Virginia on March 7, 1863. His residence in 1860 was in Canton, Madison County, Mississippi with is older brother Tom and sister-in-law Julia D. Burroughs in the household of wealthy planter John Briscoe. His occupation was (slave) agent with $4000 in his personal estate.

Christopher "C.F." Frank Burroughs (1838-1865) joined with Billy at the first muster of Franklin Rangers on May 20, 1861. After discharge in October 1861, Frank reenlisted in the Franklin Rangers. He was captured at Gettysburg and died of dysentery in captivity at Hilton Head, South Carolina on November 11, 1864.

(Five of the Burroughs sons fought in Gettysburg and Ben and Frank were wounded and captured there.)

On the home front, life was tough for all. Mrs. Burroughs found herself managing a plantation with approximately 10 slaves during the war and no husband to help manage the farm. As the war went on, blockades affected the Burroughs family from getting foods they were used to such as coffee. Booker T. Washington wrote that the Burroughs were using parched corn to make coffee out of. Washington wrote that it was easier on the slaves during the war because they weren't used to the luxury items that the owners had become accustomed to purchasing from the northern states.

Statue of Emancipation Proclamation Reading off Front Porch of Big House (statue by Lloyd Lillie)


Booker T. Washington described in Up From Slavery the moment when he and his family found out they were free at the end of the Civil War. "Finally the war closed, and the day of freedom came. It was a momentous and eventful day to all upon our plantation." Washington remembered a stranger who came to the plantation and read a speech that he said he thought was the Emancipation Proclamation. "After the reading we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks." She explained what it all meant to them. This was the "moment she had been praying for."

Washington wrote "For some minutes there was great rejoicing, and thanksgiving and wild scenes of ecstasy." This feeling lasted for only a brief period and then there was some change in feelings upon return to their cabins. "The great responsibility of being free, of having charge of themselves, of having to think and plan for themselves and their children, seemed to take possession of them…These are the questions of a home, a living the rearing of children, education, citizenship, and the establishment and support of churches."

The Civil War affected millions of people, both free and enslaved. The end of the war created an opportunity for those who had previously been in bondage to do things they had always wanted to do. For Booker T. Washington, his desire was to get an education. Dr. Booker T. Washington would have never have had the opportunity to become a noted educator, orator, author or advisor to U.S. presidents if the Civil War had not freed four million slaves. He could have still been the property of someone else and might never have been allowed to gain an education. Washington's philosophy was to provide opportunities for African Americans who had been enslaved to now gain an education. He was described as a man who "lifted the veil of ignorance" from his people by being a guiding force behind Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, today Tuskegee University, and becoming the first principal there. Approximately, 620,000 human lives came at the cost of that freedom.

Booker T. Washington National Monument is a place where people visit and come to remember and reflect on this time in American history. The park's interpretive goals are described in the Park's interpretive plans and include the following: To preserve and protect the birthsite of Booker T. Washington, its cultural landscape and viewshed To memorialize and interpret Booker T. Washington's life, historical contributions, accomplishments, and significant role in American historyTo provide a focal point for continuing discussions about the legacy of Booker T. Washington and the evolving context of race in American society and to provide a resource to educate the public on the life and achievements of Booker T. Washington.

Booker T. Washington wrote that "No race or people ever got upon its feet without severe and constant struggle, often in the face of the greatest discouragement." This national park continues to provide programs and special events that focus on Booker T. Washington's life and legacy.


Washington was held in high regard by business-oriented conservatives, both white and black. Historian Eric Foner argues that the freedom movement of the late nineteenth century changed directions so as to align with America's new economic and intellectual framework. Black leaders emphasized economic self-help and individual advancement into the middle class as a more fruitful strategy than political agitation. There was emphasis on education and literacy throughout the period after the Civil War. Washington's famous Atlanta speech of 1895 marked this transition, as it called on blacks to develop their farms, their industrial skills and their entrepreneurship as the next stage in emerging from slavery. By this time, Mississippi had passed a new constitution, and other southern states were following suit, or using electoral laws to complete disfranchisement of blacks and maintain white political supremacy. At the same time, Washington secretly arranged to fund numerous legal challenges to voting exclusions and segregation. [1]

Washington repudiated the abolitionist emphasis on unceasing agitation for full equality, advising blacks that it was counterproductive to fight segregation at this point. Foner concludes that Washington's strong support in the black community was rooted in its widespread realization that frontal assaults on white supremacy were impossible, and the best way forward was to concentrate on building up the economic and social structures inside segregated communities. [52] C. Vann Woodward concluded, "The businessman's gospel of free enterprise, competition, and laissez faire never had a more loyal exponent." [53]

Historians since the late 20th century have been divided in their characterization of Washington: some describe him as a visionary capable of "read[ing] minds with the skill of a master psychologist," who expertly played the political game in 19th century Washington by its own rules. [3] Others say he was a self-serving, crafty narcissist who threatened and punished those in the way of his personal interests, traveled with an entourage and spent much time fundraising, signing autographs, and giving flowery patriotic speeches with lots of flag waving - acts more indicative of an artful political boss than an altruistic civil rights leader. [3]

People called Washington the "Wizard of Tuskegee" because of his highly developed political skills, and his creation of a nationwide political machine based on the black middle class, white philanthropy, and Republican Party support. Opponents called this network the "Tuskegee Machine." Washington maintained control because of his ability to gain support of numerous groups, including influential whites and the black business, educational and religious communities nationwide. He advised on the use of financial donations from philanthropists, and avoided antagonizing white Southerners with his accommodation to the political realities of the age of Jim Crow segregation. [15]