BLACK HISTORY: BIOGRAPHIES
Booker T. Washington
T. Washington was born a slave in Hale's Ford, Virginia, reportedly on April
5, 1856. After emancipation, his family was so poverty stricken that he
worked in salt furnaces and coal mines beginning at age nine. Always an
intelligent and curious child, he yearned for an education and was frustrated
when he could not receive good schooling locally. When he was 16 his parents
allowed him to quit work to go to school. They had no money to help him,
so he walked 200 miles to attend the Hampton Institute in Virginia and paid
his tuition and board there by working as the janitor.
Dedicating himself to the idea that education would raise his people to
equality in this country, Washington became a teacher. He first taught in
his home town, then at the Hampton Institute, and then in 1881, he founded
the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama. As head
of the Institute, he traveled the country unceasingly to raise funds from
blacks and whites both; soon he became a well-known speaker.
In 1895, Washington was asked to speak at the opening of the Cotton States
Exposition, an unprecedented honor for an African American. His Atlanta
Compromise speech explained his major thesis, that blacks could secure their
constitutional rights through their own economic and moral advancement rather
than through legal and political changes. Although his conciliatory stand
angered some blacks who feared it would encourage the foes of equal rights,
whites approved of his views. Thus his major achievement was to win over
diverse elements among southern whites, without whose support the programs
he envisioned and brought into being would have been impossible.
In addition to Tuskegee Institute, which still educates many today, Washington
instituted a variety of programs for rural extension work, and helped to
establish the National Negro Business League. Shortly after the election
of President William McKinley in 1896, a movement was set in motion that
Washington be named to a cabinet post, but he withdrew his name from consideration,
preferring to work outside the political arena. He died on November 14,
Source: The African American Almanac, 7th ed., Gale, 1997.
Reprinted by permission of The
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