Influential Educator, Booker T. Washington, Was Born
Educator and writer Booker T. Washington was born in bondage on April 5, 1856. He was enslaved in Franklin County, Virginia. Washington was a leading voice of the African American community during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
His mother was a cook for the plantation’s owner and his father was a white man who was not involved in Washington’s life. Following the Civil War, Washington, his siblings, and his mother were freed. His family relocated to West Virginia and he began working at a local salt furnace with his stepfather. It was during this time that Washington began to take an interest in education and those around him also noticed his interest. Eventually, he was allowed to attend school under limited conditions with the help of an employer.
In 1872, Washington walked 500 miles to attend Hampton Normal Agricultural Institute in Virginia. While in school, he worked odd jobs to support himself and help pay his tuition. General Samuel C. Armstrong and Washington formed a connection and offered him a scholarship to the institution. He successfully graduated from college and General Armstrong offered him a teaching position at Hampton a few years later.
The Alabama legislature approved $2,000 for the establishment of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in 1881 and General Armstrong recommended that Washington lead the school. Under his tutelage, Tuskegee became a leading academic institution. Washington was the one who brought George Washington Carver to the school to be a professor of agriculture.
Washington publicly spoke on race relations in a speech known as the “Atlanta Compromise.” During the speech, he stated that African Americans should push for economic progress, educational opportunity and justice in the courts rather than social segregation. This led to much criticism from other influential African Americans, such as W.E.B. Du Bois.
In 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt invited Washington to the White House, making him the first African American to do so. President Roosevelt and President William Taft both relied on Washington to serve as an adviser on race relations. Between his White House visit and the publication of his autobiography, Up from Slavery, he became a popular figure of the time.
Washington lost much of his influence soon after. The Woodrow Wilson Administration embraced racial integration and equality and Washington’s views on race relations became outdated. He still served as the head of Tuskegee Institute until his death on November 14, 1915, in Tuskegee, Alabama.