Booker T. Washington
Portrait of Booker T. Washington by Frances Benjamin Johnston (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

African-American leader Booker T. Washington (April 5, 1856, Franklin County, Virginia), the son of an unknown white man and the last generation of black leaders born into slavery, founded Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1881 as a means of training blacks in agriculture and industry and to promote the economic progress of his race.

Before his death (Nov. 14, 1915) he would establish himself as an educator, author, orator and adviser to presidents of the U.S.

Washington, then 16, entered Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University) and attended college at Wayland Seminary (now Virginia Union University). He attained national prominence for his Atlanta Address of 1895, subsequently building a nationwide network of supporters in many black communities with African-American ministers, educators and businessmen composing his core supporters.

He called for black progress through education and entrepreneurship, rather than trying to directly challenge Jim Crow segregation and the disenfranchisement of black voters in the South. Secretly, however, he supported court challenges to segregation and restrictions on voter registration, passing on funds to the NAACP for this purpose.

In addition to his contributions in education, Washington wrote 14 books including his autobiography, “Up from Slavery,” published in 1901, which continues to attract a wide readership.

During a difficult period of transition for blacks in America, he significantly contributed to improving the tenuous relationship between the races while assisting the next generation of blacks to develop skills that would be used to create and support the modern-day civil rights movement.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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