Booker T Washington
Booker Taliaferro Washington, the son of a slave mother and a white father, was born on April 5, 1856, in Hale’s Ford, Franklin County, Virginia. His mother moved to Malden, West Virginia soon after the Civil War, and was determined to give her son the education she herself never received. Washington works at a salt furnace during the day, and was tutored by a teacher in the local black elementary school at night. He enrolled at the Hampton Institute in Virginia, earning money for room and board by working as the school janitor. Washington also attended Wayland Seminary, a black Baptist theological seminary in Washington, D.C., for one winter (1878-79).
In 1881, Washington was appointed head of a new normal school for African-Americans at Tuskegee, Alabama. He led the school, the Tuskegee Institute, for thirty-four years, and became one of the most important spokespersons from the African-American community. Washington articulated his ideas in his address at the opening ceremonies of the Atlanta Exposition of 1895. He believed that African-Americans could best advance by focusing on economic opportunities rather than struggling to achieve political and social equality. Once the economic status of African-Americans was assured, Washington argued, full rights of citizenship would follow. While some African-American thinkers, most notably W.E.B. Du Bois, disagreed with Washington’s approach, Washington’s arguments were widely accepted in his time by northerners and southerners alike. In addition to advising Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft on issues of race; Washington was active in organizations such as the Afro-American Council, the National Negro Business League and the Committee of Twelve. He also wielded his influence to persuade philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller to donate funds to various African-American causes. Washington published his autobiography, Up From Slavery, in 1901. His other works include The Future of the American Negro (1899) and Sowing and Reaping (1900). Washington died in Tuskegee on November 14, 1915.