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Booker T. Washington
Booker T. Washington

Booker Talifero (T.) Washington (April 5, 1856 - November 15, 1915) was an African-American educator born into slavery at the community of Hale's Ford in Franklin County, Virginia.

He became a leading educator and in later years, was a prominent spokesperson for African-American citizens of the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century


Booker T. Washington was born in the Piedmont region of southern Virginia in the tiny community of Hale's Ford in Franklin County, about 35 miles southeast of Roanoke, Virginia.

After the American Civil War, when the Emancipation Proclamation was enforced, he worked with his mother Jane as a salt-packer in a West Virginia facility, and, when he could, attended school.

At 16, he entered the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, now Hampton University, in Virginia, a school intended to train black teachers.

Tuskegee, George Washington Carver

Booker T. Washington later founded and served as president of what is now Tuskegee University, an academic and vocational school for blacks during Reconstruction. He was to become one of America's foremost educators of his time. He also recruited George Washington Carver to teach and conduct research at Tuskegee.


Active in politics, he was routinely consulted by Congressmen and Presidents about the appointment of blacks to political positions. He worked and socialized with many white politicians and notables. He argued that self-reliance was the key to improved conditions for blacks in the U.S. However, for his advice to blacks to "compromise" and accept segregation, other black activists of the time, such as W. E. B. DuBois, labeled him an "accomodator". It should be allowed, however, that despite not condemning Jim Crow publicly, Washington privately contributed funds for legal challenges against segregation.

Henry H. Rogers: friend and benefactor
Henry Huttleston Rogers 1840-1909

Around 1894, Dr. Washington developed a friendship with millionaire industrialist and philanthropist Henry Huttleston Rogers. The latter had attended one of his speeches in New York City, and had been surprised that no one had "passed the hat" afterwords. Rogers had risen from a working-class family in a small town to become a partner of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Trust. He was one of the wealthiest men in the world.

Despite his great wealth, and reputation for tough business dealings, Rogers was apparently both a modest and generous man. Dr. Washington became a frequent visitor to Rogers' office, to Rogers' 85-room mansion in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, and was an honored guest aboard Rogers' yacht Kanawha. Their friendship extended over a period of 15 years.
Handbill from 1909 Tour of southern Virginia and West Virginia

Among many other enterprises, Rogers was the builder of the Virginian Railway, completed in 1909. Although Rogers had died suddenly a few weeks earlier, in June 1909, Dr. Washington went on a previously arranged speaking tour along the newly completed Virginian Railway. He rode in Rogers' personal rail car, "Dixie", making speeches at many locations over a 7-day period.

Dr. Washington told his audiences that his recently departed friend had urged him to make the trip and see what could be done to improve relations between the races and economic conditions for African-Americans along the route of the new railway, which touched many previously isolated communities in the southern portions of Virginia and West Virginia. Some of the places where Dr. Washington spoke on the tour were (in order of the tour stops), Newport News, Norfolk, Suffolk, Lawrenceville, Kenbridge, Victoria, Charlotte Courthouse, Roanoke, Salem, and Christiansburg in Virginia, and Princeton, Mullens, Page, and Deepwater in West Virginia. One of his trip companions reported that they had received a strong and favorable welcome from both white and African-American citizens all along the tour route.

It was only after his death that Dr. Washington said he felt compelled to revealing publicly some of the extent of Rogers' contributions. These, he said, were at that very time, funding the operation of at least 65 small country schools for the education and betterment of African-Americans in Virginia and other portions of the South, all unknown to the recipients. Known only to a few trustees, Rogers had also generously provided support to institutions of higher education.

Dr. Washington later wrote that Rogers had encouraged projects with at least partial matching funds, as that way, the gifts would help fund even greater work and the recipients would have a stake in knowing that they were helping themselves through their own hard work and sacrifice.

"Up from Slavery", invitation to the White House

His autobiography, Up from Slavery, published in 1901, was a bestseller. He was also the first African-American ever invited to the White House as the guest of a President – which led to a scandal for the inviting President, Theodore Roosevelt.

"Think about it: We went into slavery pagans; we came out Christians. We went into slavery pieces of property; we came out American citizens. We went into slavery with chains clanking about our wrists; we came out with the American ballot in our hands... Notwithstanding the cruelty and moral wrong of slavery, we are in a stronger and more hopeful condition, materially, intellectually, morally, and religiously, than is true of an equal number of black people in any other portion of the globe." – from Up From Slavery

Honors and memorials

For his contributions to American society, Booker T. Washington was granted honorary degrees from Harvard University and Dartmouth College and on April 5, 1956, the house where he was born in Hardy, Virginia was designated a United States National Monument. Additionally, the first coin to feature an African-American was the Booker T. Washington Memorial Half Dollar that was minted by the U.S. Mint from 1946 to 1951. On April 7, 1940, Booker T. Washington became the first African American to be depicted on a United States postage stamp.


  • "The Awakening of the Negro," The Atlantic Monthly, 78 (September, 1896).
  • "The Case of the Negro," The Atlantic Monthly, 84 (November, 1899).
  • Up from Slavery: An Autobiography (1901) - ISBN 0451527542

See also: Slave narrative

External links

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