BOOKER T by H9ogoZc



        Booker Taliaferro Washington was born a slave on a plantation in Franklin
County, Virginia on April 5, 1856, where his mother worked as a cook. Washington's
father, who he knew little of, was suspected to be a white man who worked on a near-by
plantation. Growing up on the slave plantation, Washington lived in the most destitute
surroundings. His "home" was a fourteen by sixteen square foot log cabin that he shared
with his mother, brother, and sister. He spent most of his time on the plantation doing odd
work, such as cleaning and working at the mill, since he was too small to do much more.
Later, his mother married a black man named Washington Ferguson. When young
Booker entered school he took the name of his stepfather and became known as Booker
T. Washington.

         After the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, Washington and his family
moved to West Virginia, where they lived in even more horrific conditions. Washington
states in Up From Slavery "...there were no sanitary regulations, the filth about the cabins
was often intolerable.” When he was 9, Booker T. Washington worked in the salt mines
and later secured a position working in a coal mine.

       It was while working in the coal mines that Washington first heard of the
Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia (Hampton Institute.) The
principal of the institute was Samuel Armstrong, an opponent of slavery who had been
commander of African American troops during the Civil War. Armstrong believed that it
was important that the freed slaves received a practical education. Armstrong became
Washington's mentor. Washington described Armstrong in his autobiography as "a great
man - the noblest rarest human being it has ever been my privilege to meet". Washington
attended the Hampton Institute from 1872 to 1875 and Armstrong's views of the
development of character and morality and the importance of providing African
Americans with a practical education had a lasting impact on Washington's own
        After his stay at the Hampton Institute, he found the skills that he was taught there
were extremely instrumental and so he worked to open his own Normal and Agricultural
Institute. On July 4, 1881, the Tuskegee Normal and Agricultural Institute (Tuskegee
Institute) was opened in Alabama. The students built the early buildings of this institute
themselves. The students of the Tuskegee Institute were taught to develop internally.
They were taught how to take care of their money and health and how to conduct
themselves in public. It is thought that this in one of Washington's greatest

        In 1895, Booker T. Washington agreed to be superintendent of Christiansburg
Industrial Institute, in Montgomery County, Virginia (near modern Christiansburg High
School.) A former plantation house served as the classroom building, while the male
boarding students slept in renovated slave cabins. Vocational courses were geared
towards gender expectations, with cooking and sewing for the girls and carpentry and
animal husbandry for the boys.

                                              “Mansion House,” Academic Building at
Christiansburg Institute

                                             Female students at Christiansburg Institute
taught sewing
                                            Male students at Christiansburg Institute
taught carpentry

        Washington believed that African-Americans should best gain equality to whites
through establishing a solid labor force. Fighting for specific rights like voting was not
part of his immediate agenda. He believed that the best interests of African-Americans
could be achieved "through education in the crafts and industrial skills and the cultivation
of the virtues of patience, enterprise, and thrift." For Washington, a slow acquisition of
wealth and culture was the best way to gain equality.

        Booker T. Washington’s rise to national prominence came in 1895 with a brief
speech which outlined his social philosophy and racial strategy. Washington was invited
to speak before an integrated audience at the opening of the Cotton States and
International Exposition held in Atlanta in September, 1895. He was the first African
American ever to address such a large group of southern whites.

         Washington is remembered chiefly for this “Atlanta Compromise” address. In this
speech, he called on white America to provide jobs and industrial-agricultural education
for Negroes. In exchange, blacks would give up demands for social equality and civil
rights. His message to the Negro was that political and social equality were less important
as immediate goals than economic respectability and independence. Washington believed
that if blacks gained an economic foothold, and proved themselves useful to whites, then
civil rights and social equality would eventually be given to them. Blacks were urged to
work as farmers, skilled artisans, domestic servants, and manual laborers to prove to
whites that all blacks were not “liars and chicken thieves.”

       The philosophy of Washington was one of accommodation to white oppression.
He advised blacks to trust the paternalism of the southern whites and accept the fact of
white supremacy. He stressed the mutual interdependence of blacks and whites in the
South, but said they were to remain socially separate: “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.” Washington counseled blacks to remain in the South, obtain a useful
education, save their money, work hard, and purchase property. By doing such things,
Washington believed, the Negro could ultimately “earn” full citizenship rights.

        Because Washington’s program conciliated whites, substantial contributions from
white philanthropists were given to Tuskegee and other institutions that adopted the
Washington philosophy. Washington’s prestige grew to the point where he was regarded
as the spokesman for the entire Negro community. With strong white support,
Washington became the outstanding black leader not only in the fields of education and
philanthropy, but in business and labor relations, politics and all public affairs.

       In 1901, Washington published his carefully executed and immensely popular
autobiography, Up From Slavery. It is a classic “Horatio Alger” success story containing
Washington’s program of accommodation and self-help. Up From Slavery gave an overly
optimistic view of black life and race relations in America. It gave another boost to
Washington’s career because it said what whites wanted to hear.

        African Americans who listened to the “Atlanta Compromise” Speech and read
Washington’s autobiography thought that Washington should have been more militant.
They could not topple Washington from power, but one of them did win recognition as a
leader of the opposition—W. E. B. DuBois.

In Tuskegee, Alabama on November 14, 1915, Booker T. Washington died.

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