BOOKER TALIAFERRO WASHINGTON                          

APRIL 5, 1856 – NOVEMBER 14, 1915

He was an African-American educator, author, orator, and advisor to presidents of the United States. Between 1890 and 1915, Washington was the dominant leader in the African-American community. Booker T. Washington was the most famous influential African-American in history. He was known as a leader who pushed for the education.


The last generation of black American leaders would be led by Booker T. Washington a resilient, pioneering and visionary African American his was born April 5, 1865 into slavery in Virginia to Jane Fergurson, an enslaved African-American woman on the Burroughs Plantation in southwest Virginia. His father was white a slave owner. She finally married to a man of the surname Washington who escaped to West Virginia, which became a state in the Union during the war. His family gained freedom in early 1865 under the Emancipation Proclamation. After the Emancipation Act, which stated that everyone deserves to be paid for their labor his family resettled in West Virginia. He worked his way in mines to make enough tuition money to enter Hampton Institute. After the institute he attended Wayland Seminary College. In 1881, the Hampton Institute president Samuel C. Armstrong recommended Booker T. Washington to become the first leader of Tuskegee Institute, The organizers of the new all-black state school called Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama found the energetic leader Booker T. Washington. Booker T. Washington believed that with self-help, people could go from poverty to success. The new school opened on July 4, 1881, initially using space in a local church. Booker T. Washington purchased a former plantation, which became the permanent site of the campus the following year of his leadership. As the head of the school his students literally built their own school: making bricks, constructing classrooms, barns and outbuildings; and growing their own crops and raising livestock; both for learning and to provide for most of the basic necessities. Both men and women had to learn trades as well as academics. Washington helped raise funds to establish and operate hundreds of small community schools and institutions of higher education’s for blacks the new normal school in Alabama.

He contributed secretly and substantially to legal challenges against segregation and disfranchisement of blacks.In his public role, he believed he could achieve more by skillful accommodation to the social realities of the age of racist segregation throughout the South.

Booker T. Washington’s work on education problems helped him enlist both the moral and substantial financial support of many major Philanthropist who believed in his cause who were white which were Henry huttleston Rogers, Julius Rosenwald and George Eastman and many other self made individuals.

Booker T. Washington schools the Hampton and Tuskegee was primarily to produce teachers. The teachers after graduating would go back and teach in the area where education was lacked. Booker T Washington and the teachers strongly supported literacy and education as the keys to the future generations. Because there was not enough African-American schools available and as the white-dominated state legislatures consistently underfunded black schools in their segregated system. Booker T. Washington enlisted his philanthropic network to create matching funds programs to begin numerous rural public schools for African-American children in the South and Chicago. With the Rosenwald Fund Booker T. Washington had the Tuskegee architects develop 5,000 model school designs and they were constructed throughout the South in the 19th century. The local schools were priceless to African-American families when poverty and segregation limited the life education chances. The Rosenwald Fund continues to match other projects. A major part of Washington’s legacy, the model rural schools continued to be constructed into the 1930s. He also helped with the by forming the National Negro Business League





In the late 1800’s and 19th century Booker T. Washington became the leading voice of the oppressed from the Jim Crow discriminatory laws enacted in the post-Reconstruction Southern states in the late 19th century. In 1895 his Atlanta compromise called for avoiding confrontation over segregation and to focus on a driven plan on long-term educational and economic advancement in the African-American communities.

Washington’s 1895 Atlanta Exposition address was viewed as a “revolutionary moment” by both African Americans and whites across the country. At the time W. E. B. Du Bois supported him, but they grew apart as Du Bois sought more action to remedy disfranchisement and improve educational opportunities for blacks. After their falling out, Du Bois and his supporters referred to Washington’s speech as the “Atlanta Compromise” to express their criticism that Washington was too accommodating to white interests.


As the horrible hate lynchings in the South reached a peak in 1895, he gave an impeccable speech in Atlanta that hit every angle regarding the oppression which made him a national figure in the media and with the government official. This attention and fame enabled Booker T. Washington to speak more openly and be heard throughout the country concerning the issues faced African-American with the media, raise money, strategize, network and built alliances for his cause for industrial education, and accumulation of wealth, and the conciliation of the South. Booker T. Washington valued the “industrial” education, as it provided critical skills for the jobs then available to the majority of African Americans at the time, as most lived in the South, which was overwhelmingly rural and agricultural.

The speech he gave was for BLACK PROGRESS THROUGH EDUCATION AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP. He advocated a “go slow” approach to avoid a harsh white backlash. The effect was that many youths in the South had to accept sacrifices of potential political power, civil rights and higher education. His belief was that African Americans should “concentrate all their energies on industrial education, and accumulation of wealth, and the conciliation of the South.” Washington valued the “industrial” education, as it provided critical skills for the jobs then available to the majority of African Americans at the time, as most lived in the South, which was overwhelmingly rural and agricultural. He thought these skills would lay the foundation for the creation of stability that the African-American community required in order to move forward. He believed that in the long term, “blacks would eventually gain full participation in society by showing themselves to be responsible, reliable American citizens.” His approach advocated for an initial step toward equal rights, rather than full equality under the law, gaining economic power to back up black demands for political equality in the future. He believed that such achievements would prove to the deeply prejudiced white America that African Americans were not “‘naturally’ stupid and incompetent. He made it a strong point that it was not for us at the time to challenge Jim Crow segregation and the disfranchisement of black voters in the South. He mobilized a nationwide coalition of middle-class blacks, church leaders, and white philanthropists and politicians, with a long-term goal of building the South community’s economic strength and pride by a focus on self-help and schooling. For his contributions to American society, Booker T. Washington was granted an honorary master’s degree from Harvard University in 1896 and an honorary doctorate from Dartmouth College.1901.

Booker T. Washington’s second autobiography, Up from Slavery, was published in 1901, it became a bestseller and had a major effect on the African-American community.


Booker T. Washington remained as principal of Tuskegee up until his death in 1915 from congestive heart failure due to hypertension. It is said that he collapsed in New York City and was brought home to Tuskegee, where he died on November 14, 1915, at the age of 59. He was buried on the campus of Tuskegee University near the University Chapel.


Booker T. Washington with his third wife Margaret and two sons.
Booker T. Washington was married three times. In his autobiography Up From Slavery, he gave all three of his wives credit for their contributions at Tuskegee.

His first wife Fannie N. Smith was from Malden, West Virginia,


He married Fannie Smith in the summer of 1882. They had one child, Portia M. Washington. Fannie died in May 1884.
He married Olivia A. Davidson in 1885. Born in Virginia, she had studied at Hampton Institute and the Massachusetts State Normal School at Framingham. They had two sons, Booker T. Washington Jr. and Ernest Davidson Washington, before she died in 1889.
In 1893 Washington married his third and final wife Margaret James Murray. She was from Mississippi and had graduated from Fisk University, a historically black college. They had no children together, but she helped rear Washington’s children. Margaret outlived her husband. She passed away in 1925.


LITERATURE: Timothy Thomas Fortune was an orator, civil rights leader, journalist, writer, editor and publisher. He was the highly influential editor of the nation’s leading black newspaper The New York Age, and was the leading economist in the black community. He was a long-time adviser to Booker T. Washington and the ghost writer


The Story of My Life and Work (1900)

Up From Slavery (1901)

The Story of the Negro: The Rise of the Race from Slavery (2 vol 1909)

My Larger Education (1911)

The Man Farthest Down (1912)



On April 7, 1940, Washington became the first African American to be depicted on a United States postage stamp. Several years later, he was honored on the first coin to feature an African American, the Booker T. Washington Memorial Half Dollar, which was minted by the United States from 1946 to 1951. He was also depicted on a U.S. Half Dollar from 1951–1954

In 1942, the Liberty Ship Booker T. Washington was named in his honor, the first major oceangoing vessel to be named after an African American. The ship was christened by Marian Anderson.

On April 5, 1956, the hundredth anniversary of Washington’s birth, the house where he was born in Franklin County, Virginia, was designated as the Booker T. Washington National Monument. A state park in Chattanooga, Tennessee was named in his honor, as was a bridge spanning the Hampton River adjacent to his alma mater, Hampton University.

In 1984 Hampton University dedicated a Booker T. Washington Memorial on campus near the historic Emancipation Oak, establishing, in the words of the University, “a relationship between one of America’s great educators and social activists, and the symbol of Black achievement in education.”

Numerous high schools, middle schools and elementary schools across the United States have been named after Booker T. Washington.

At the center of the campus at Tuskegee University, the Booker T. Washington Monument, called “Lifting the Veil,” was dedicated in 1922. The inscription at its base reads:

He lifted the veil of ignorance from his people and pointed the way to progress through education and industry.

On October 19, 2009, West Virginia State University dedicated a monument to the memory of noted African American educator and statesman Booker T. Washington. The event took place at West Virginia State University’s Booker T. Washington Park in Malden, West Virginia. The monument also honors the families of African ancestry who lived in Old Malden in the early 20th Century and who knew and encouraged Booker T. Washington. Special guest speakers at the event included West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin III, Malden attorney Larry L. Rowe, and the president of WVSU. Musical selections were provided by the WVSU “Marching Swarm”


Today, at least forty five U. S. elementary, middle, and high or charter schools (and an academy in Liberia!) proudly bear the name, Booker T. Washington.
Prior to the mid-1950’s, several – maybe dozens more – were also named for Booker T., but they were either closed or merged with other schools.
Also, one public charter school in Washington, D.C. is named in honor of Booker T.’s spouse, Margaret M. Washington




Between 1946 and 1951, eighteen different coins were made featuring Booker T. Washington. From 1951 to 1954, a dozen coins were struck to honor George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington together.

Copyright 2014 NS


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