Washington, Booker T. (1856–1915)
WASHINGTON, BOOKER T. (1856–1915)
Born a slave on a Virginia plantation five years before the Civil War began, Booker T. Washington's professional life as an educator and leader of African-American interests demonstrates how education, race, public policy, and politics intersected in the United States during the late nineteenth century. Washington's career placed him at the center of a debate among African Americans about the proper path to full citizenship and complete participation in American society economically, politically, and socially.
He was also the instrument of elite white industrialists such as George Foster Peabody, William H. Baldwin Jr., and Robert C. Ogden. They shaped the shift in black American educational focus from universal, state-supported public education with its liberal arts component to an industrial education, a move that accommodated their aims for national industrialization and southern white planters' demands for a subservient African-American working class. As a result of his collaboration, Washington became the primary exponent of white philanthropic—industrial efforts to channel African-American and working-class white education to meet the needs of industrial America. The words Industrial education and Washington became synonymous between his 1895 Atlanta Cotton Exposition Speech and death in 1915. The legacy of Washington's educational philosophy continues to be the source of an early-twenty-first-century debate among African Americans who attempt to reconcile questions of how education must lead the black working class to life as middle-class Americans. This debate also seeks to ensure that the majority of African-American working people obtain access to a better life with mass education as the primary path to modernization and the technology that transforms black political, economic, and social status in the United States.
Booker T. Washington was born to a slave mother and "unknown" father near Hales Ford, Virginia, on James Burroughs's plantation in 1856. He survived chattel slavery and the Civil War. He moved with his mother and siblings to West Virginia to join his step-father, a Union Army veteran. Living under impoverished circumstances, Washington worked in the local salt mines to assist the family. He attended night school initially and eventually obtained permission from his stepfather to go to the day school while he worked from 4 a.m. to 9 in the mines. Employed as a houseboy by General Lewis Ruffner, he furthered his early education under Mrs. Viola Knapp Ruffner, a former governess and schoolteacher.
The major transformative event, however, in Washington's personal education occurred at Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia, under the direction of former Union Army General Samuel Chapman Armstrong, the school's founder. At Hampton, Washington absorbed Armstrong's industrial education philosophy of manual labor, trade training, economic development, self-help, and normal school training. After brief sojourns in black higher education in Washington, D.C., at Howard University and exploration of the ministry, Washington returned to Hampton Institute to teach. Armstrong recommended his protégé, Washington noted, to a "group of white Alabama gentlemen" in Tuskegee, Alabama, who endeavored to open a school similar to the Hampton model (Washington 1965, p. 82). Washington accepted their invitation to lead this normal and industrial institution.
In 1881 Washington began organizing and building Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, literally from the ground up. His leadership of Tuskegee Institute from 1881 to 1915 would elevate him from obscurity to national prominence. He became not only a leader in black education, but also a patron of such industrialists and education philanthropists as Andrew Carnegie; George Foster Peabody; Charles D. McIver, president of the Southern Education Association; and Edgar Gardner Murphy, racial moderate and distinguished southern educator. Washington also advised U.S. presidents William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft. With these associates and supporters Washington amassed enough political power to become the most powerful southern politician of his era, 1895 to 1915.
The Black Commitment to Free Education
The emancipated slaves, including Washington, looked to education in 1865 to define their newly earned freedom and citizenship. According to education historian James D. Anderson, black people emerging from slavery committed themselves to universal, state-supported public education. It continued a tradition developed in slavery among African Americans that the ability to read and write were important skills within the slave community. Blacks held in high esteem fellow slaves and free blacks who had mastered literacy. Even Washington, a critic of slaves and black working-class behavior and goals, acknowledged that freedom was a "great responsibility" and that slaves realized they had "to think and plan for themselves and their children" including "the question … of a school … for colored children" (Washington 1965, pp. 27–28, 32). Education meant self-reliance, self-determination, and the right to control the institutions of education for their benefit. According to William Channing, an American Missionary Association teacher from New England, black people sought free public education that included white assistance but not white control–seemingly contradictory concepts. Black people challenged white planter repugnance against state government control of the education of all children, especially slaves. African Americans contested the rationale of a society that used the law to prohibit reading and writing. Black educator and Booker T. Washington's political rival, W. E. B. Du Bois, asserted that free public education for all citizens in the South was "a Negro idea," proposed by enslaved blacks as a condition of freedom.
Washington observed that black slaves and ex-slaves were determined to educate themselves by securing their own teachers and even paying "for school as best they could" (Washington 1965, p. 33). They made this commitment long before white and black northern American Missionary Association teachers came south during the Civil War. These efforts at self-education served as a foundation for universal schooling as slaves and ex-slaves organized and willingly taxed themselves to keep the private schools they founded on their own initiative. At the beginning of Reconstruction, the Freedmen's Bureau took control of some of these schools founded by slaves. In 1866 the Freedmen's Bureau in Louisiana failed to force blacks to retake responsibility for administering education for African Americans. Blacks in Georgia in 1865 created a free system of schools. Sabbath schools were also free and operated in black churches stressing literacy. Black student enrollment increased in Sabbath schools in the 1870s and 1880s, demonstrating the African-American commitment to free education and literacy. The ability to read and write was a key to black freedom. These skills helped African Americans secure jobs and direct their access to upward mobility. Literacy ensured that ex-slaves could defend their economic rights in written contracts as well as acquire land, the main symbol of freedom.
Black people attained universal, state-supported public education through a union of African Americans and radical members of the Republican Party. Conservative Republicans and southern Democrats opposed universal education. Black Republicans at southern constitutional conventions during Reconstruction, between 1865 and 1868, institutionalized free public education based on state-supported taxation. By 1870 the eleven states of the former Confederacy had installed constitutions that established free education as a basic citizenship right.
Emancipated blacks also viewed education as the key to political, economic, and personal independence. They pursued education to learn how to organize themselves and build institutions they controlled. To achieve this they sought training and development of their intellectual and leadership capacities. In this context, Anderson notes, "black leaders and educators adopted the New England classical liberal curriculum" (p. 28). After attaining political power in 1895, Booker T. Washington objected to classical education for the general black population on the grounds that it was "impractical"; however, working-class African Americans in Alabama and across the south insisted that blacks needed classical, common school, normal, and industrial education to ensure the advancement of the race to full citizenship in the United States.
White southern planters and merchants used their control over land, labor, housing, and wages to undermine universal, state-supported public education. This class had opposed state-supported public education for the working classes (white people who were not part of the landed elite) before the Civil War. The planters, Anderson asserts, "did not believe in giving the Negro any education" (p. 22). Any degree of education eroded the planter's ability to exploit black labor "upon which their agrarian order depended" (p. 23). Southern white leaders used labor to prevent black children from attending school after the Civil War. Between 1869 and 1877 the planters and merchants ousted African-American legislators from southern state governments. The planters and merchants, armed with political power that gave them a dominant position in state government, dismantled universal, state-supported public education utilizing state authority, economic intimidation, and violence. By legal means, white opponents of universal education lowered taxation, challenged compulsory attendance laws, and prevented the passage of new laws that could have reinforced free public education. The planters and merchants wanted to restore slavery and their domination of all societal institutions, which were undermined by the Civil War, Reconstruction, northern capital investment in the south, and the centralization of federal power.
No white group challenged white planter-merchant class antipublic education policies between 1865 and 1880. Beginning in the late 1880s, however, white Populists and Progressive-era reformers who followed the Populists questioned the planter-merchant vision of limiting white working-class education. As the nineteenth century drew to a close white people were forced by black agitation to confront their conflicting views of universal, state-supported public education.
Industrial education introduced northern educators, industrialists, philanthropists, and Booker T. Washington into the debate between African-Americans' universal, state-supported public education and the white planter-merchant class's efforts to reconstruct antebellum slavery. The partnership formed by General Samuel Chapman Armstrong and Washington at Hampton Institute in the 1870s was part of a broader northern industrial-capital campaign to undercut black adaptation of the New England classical curriculum. The Hampton Institute was not envisioned as an industrial education institution. It was a normal school dedicated to training teachers, such as Washington, who would teach black workers and prepare them for their "place" in the South after Reconstruction. The institute was additionally part of a national movement focused on technological, trade, and manual education for the general American population. Although Hampton focused on teacher training, industrial education as it was originally defined did not involve teacher preparation.
There were three primary areas of vocational training that defined industrial education in the latter part of the nineteenth century. One area was collegiate training in applied science and technology to educate engineers, architects, chemists, and other professionals to work in the newly emerging technologically based twentieth-century economy. A second area encompassed trade schools that taught labor supervision and management. The third area supplemented the academic curriculum to modify or transform the behavior of working people from sloth to "habits of industry," thrift, and morality.
General Armstrong's Hampton Institute was founded in 1868. It utilized daily manual labor as the base of its normal school training. Armstrong wrongly assumed that the newly freed black people had to be guided and controlled because they were incapable of "self-direction" due to slavery's destruction of their minds and moral compasses. He hoped Hampton Institute might train black teachers who would impart the lessons of "work habits, practical knowledge, Christian morality, and acceptance of a subservient role" (Anderson, p. 35) in the post-Reconstruction southern household. Washington completed Hampton's curriculum and became the chief disciple of the Hampton model.
The Hampton model of industrial education was intended to "de-politicize" and "defuse" black challenges to white opposition to universal education. Providing, Anderson asserted, "the equivalent … of a fair tenth grade" education, the Hampton model preached an education gospel that emphasized that black people be apolitical (p. 35). Armstrong believed that African Americans should not be "allowed to vote," serve as politicians, or participate in public policy decisions because black people were "not capable of self-government" (p. 37). Armstrong based his assertions on the supposition that black people needed "moral development" as the basis for voting intelligently. He rejected the belief embraced by black people that a "literate culture" created a morally responsible voting electorate. Finally, Armstrong believed that African Americans' real role was to serve the planters' and merchants' needs for cheap non-confrontational labor.
Armstrong created the Southern Workman, a monthly magazine founded in 1872 to create a "public forum" on black education and to more broadly disseminate his views on the "place" of black people in the New South's social, political, and economic structure. He aligned his vision of black education with the planter and merchant class and northern industrialists. Armstrong was a friend of Robert C. Ogden, who also served as a Hampton Institute trustee. He wrote Ogden that the southern workman needed to be "a power" who would influence northern philanthropists and white southern racial moderates principally opposed, Anderson contended, "to black higher education, equal job opportunities, civil equality, and equal political rights" (pp. 36–37). Together they hoped to be the critical individuals in determining the direction of black education, especially in the south.
Planter-Merchant and Northern Industrialist Agenda
In 1896, a year after Booker T. Washington's infamous "Atlanta Compromise" speech (partly crafted by industrialist William H. Baldwin Jr.) at the Atlanta Cotton States International Exposition, a conference on "the higher education of the colored people" was convened in Saratoga, New York. Du Bois biographer David Levering Lewis characterized the meeting as a "watershed conclave" where national white leaders decided to forsake and cut off their support for "black higher education" in favor of the Hampton model of industrial education. George Foster Peabody, Hampton trustee and a key distributor of funding to black education in the south, attended the meeting, and alumnus Washington spoke favoring practical education superceding liberal arts instruction. Philadelphia's Baptist leader H. L. Wayland was enthused to hear Washington's industrial education vision was being substituted for Atlanta and Fisk Universities' New England classical education for black people. Wayland also threatened to terminate funding support to these black liberal arts institutions and shift financial aid to the exponents of the Hampton model, Hampton and Tuskegee Institutes. According to David L. Lewis, William Baldwin Jr. and Robert C. Ogden were determined to let nothing impede "the regional reconciliation [of the north and south] and southern modernization that their kind of educational philosophy and capital investment was intended to foster." With Samuel Armstrong's death three years before this conclave, Washington inherited Armstrong's mantle and the people who had supported his mentor. Washington after 1895 was the instrument of the industrialists and planters to restore the Union, modernize the South, and control black mass education.
The late nineteenth century and early twentieth century was defined by a debate between former slaves establishing a vision and the utility of universal, state-supported public education for all U.S. citizens, especially in the South, and the white planters-merchants and northern industrialists coalition to create a cheap labor force. Black people hoped to utilize education as the means to acquire full citizenship and the key to political participation and economic success. The north-south white elite coalition used education to control blacks politically, economically, and socially, while reconciling the sectional divisions of the Civil War. Washington was at the center of this debate. He represented the white elite and some emerging black middle-class members' thoughts on African-American education for the masses. Political reality in the 1890s and afterward caused Washington to publicly accept white violations of the Fourteenth Amendment that included denying black people the right to vote across the south. Privately, Washington paid lawyers to challenge disfranchisement in the American court system, but even the Supreme Court of the United States endorsed preventing black voting as "an appropriate reform" to remove corruption from politics.
In the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century, the debate about Booker T. Washington's educational legacy has been transformed into a contest between "liberal" thinking African Americans and conservative black intellectuals seeking a viable route to economic success in technology-based America. Specifically, Washington has wrongly become the proponent of a classical education that opened black students' minds to a broader world culture that included the exploration of Latin and the classics. Advocates of this position assert that Washington had a plan for black education that could have ensured African American access to economic success and perhaps middle-class status.
A look back to the Booker T. Washington of the past disregards his criticism of "Latin and Greek" for the newly freed ex-slave as making "a very superior human being … something bordering almost on the super natural" (Washington 1965, p. 65). Washington suggested in Up from Slavery that "the craze for Greek and Latin learning" was wrongly tied by blacks to "a desire to hold [political] office." He did stress that black people should embrace "manual labor" first and then build to the next levels of human achievement over time. He publicly charged that black working people were not ready for all the avenues of freedom. They would have to work toward attaining these privileges over an unspecified amount of time. This was the public rationale of African Americans for forsaking the right to vote in exchange for access to economic success, which would be supervised by white northern and southern capitalists. The white elite, Washington argued publicly, would see to it that black political rights were protected when black people proved their economic importance to white leaders.
For Washington, Samuel Chapman Armstrong was "the perfect man." Washington was "convinced that there is no education which one can get from books and costly apparatus that is equal to that which can be gotten from contact with great men and women…. Instead of studying books … how I wish that our schools and colleges might learn to study men and things (1965, p. 49). Washington wanted African Americans to have access to America's material wealth. That objective is still the subject of education reform in the twenty-first century.
See also: Education Reform; DuBois, w.e.b.; Historically Black Colleges and Universities; Multicultural Education.
Anderson, James D. 1988. The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860–1935. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Harlan, Louis H. 1972. Booker T. Washington: The Making of a Black Leader, 1856–1901. New York: Oxford University Press.
Harlan, Louis H. 1983. Booker T. Washington: The Wizard of Tuskegee, 1901–1915. New York: Oxford University Press.
Lewis, David Levering. 1993. W. E. B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868–1919. New York: Holt.
Washington, Booker T. 1965. Up from Slavery. New York: Dell
Washington, Booker T. 1972–1989. Booker T. Washington Papers, Vols. 1–14, ed. Louis H. Harlan, et al. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Woodward, C. Vann. 1971. Origins of the New South, 1877–1913. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
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Washington, Booker T. 1856–1915
Booker T. Washington 1856–1915
Educator, social activist, writer
In the annals of African American history, few names are as celebrated or as controversial as that of Booker Taliaferro Washington. Washington emerged in the last decades of the nineteenth century as the most important black leader since the post-Civil War Reconstruction—a period of transition during which the Southern states, then occupied by Northern troops, were reintegrated into the Union.
Washington was an educator admired by blacks and trusted by both northern and southern whites as a thoughtful, honorable, and articulate spokesperson for African Americans. The founder and for many years the president of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, he was an untiring promoter of the virtues of economic independence, thrift, hard work, and patience on the part of black Americans facing the seemingly insurmountable difficulties of survival in a white-ruled society.
Washington’s own life was an outstanding example of his philosophy of deference and self-help. He was granted unique power by white political and economic leaders while suffering harsh condemnation during his life—and even after his death—by some blacks who perceived him as little more than a well-educated “Uncle Tom” (a negative name given to blacks who appeared overly eager to cooperate with white authority). Some critics have indicated that Washington’s philosophy of economic self-reliance was hopelessly outdated even during his own lifetime, but he was widely regarded as the best-known and most powerful black American from 1895 until his death in 1915.
Booker T. Washington was born in the spring of 1856 near Hale’s Ford, Virginia, the son of a slave named Jane who belonged to James Burroughs and served as cook for the Burroughs family and their slaves. The identity of Washington’s father is not certain, but he was most likely a white man living in the immediate area. As Washington later recounted in his famous autobiography, Up From Slavery, his first years were spent in a single-room cabin on Burroughs’s farm, where he and his siblings were put to work at an early age. Young Booker (his only name at that time) was allowed no education and did not even own a pair of shoes until the age of eight, at which time he was often employed at the Burroughses’ dining table as the operator of a contraption designed to shoo flies away from the food. There, Booker received an introduction to white society, etiquette, and more or less
Born April 5,1856, near Hale’s Ford, Franklin County, VA; died November 14,1915, in Tuskegee, AL; son of an enslaved mother and a white father; married Fannie N. Smith, 1882 (died, 1884); married Olivia A. Davidson, 1885 (died, 1889); married Margaret James Murray, 1893; children: Booker T., Jr., Ernest Davidson, Portia Marshall. Education: Received degree from Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, 1875.
Educator, social activist, and writer. Teacher in schools in Malden, WV, 1875-78, and at Hampton Institute, Hampton, VA, 1879-81; Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (now Tuskegee Institute), Tuskegee, AL, cofounder, principal, and professor, 1881-1915. Organized first annual Tuskegee Negro Conference, 1892, and National Negro Business League, 1900; representative and speaker at Cotton States and International Exposition, 1895; adviser to U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt.
Selected awards: Received honorary degrees from Harvard University, 1896, and Dartmouth College, 1901.
cultured conversation, all of which would prove of lasting importance in the course of his life.
With the defeat of the South at the close of the Civil War in 1865, Booker’s stepfather, a former slave named Washington Ferguson, traveled to the town of Malden, West Virginia, where he had found work in the salt furnaces of Kanawha Salines. Jane, who had married Ferguson while still a slave in Virginia, and the rest of the family joined him there the same year. Soon young Booker was working alongside Ferguson in the salt furnaces, and later he was forced to labor in the local coal mines; but, as Washington wrote in his autobiography, “From the time that I can remember having any thoughts about anything, I recall that I had an intense desire to learn to read.” It was in Maiden that Booker received his first classroom education, squeezing in a few hours every day or night at the local school for black children while continuing to work full time in the mines. When asked by his first teacher for his name, the ten-year-old replied, “Booker Washington,” taking as his last name the first name of his stepfather; only years later did he add the name of Taliaferro.
While at work in the coal mines, Washington one day overheard discussion of a school for blacks called Hampton Institute, and the youngster promptly determined that he would seek a formal education there. Before going to Hampton, Washington worked for a second time in the home of a white family, in this case as a houseboy for General Lewis Ruffner and his wife, Viola, owners of the local mines. With the encouragement of Mrs. Ruffner and the financial help of many local black residents, Washington was able to enroll at Hampton Institute in the fall of 1872.
Located in Hampton, Virginia, the Normal and Agricultural Institute had been founded three years before by General Samuel Chapman Armstrong, the son of white missionaries stationed in Hawaii, for the purpose of educating black schoolteachers in the habits of thrift, industry, and practical know-how. These qualities formed the core of the general’s philosophy concerning education for African Americans. Armstrong and his institute were the models upon which Booker T. Washington molded his own life and work, and there is little in the career of Washington that cannot be traced back to his experience at Hampton.
Hampton students were given a book education sufficient to allow them to teach elementary school, but the essence of Armstrong’s program was the development of a strong moral character and work ethic. All Hampton students were required to pay their tuition in the form of work, and life at the school was regulated with an almost military discipline. Armstrong believed that the newly freed black peoples would find a place in American society only when they had demonstrated flawless moral integrity and could offer a usable product or service. He viewed as secondary the issues of black civil and political rights, believing that these would inevitably follow upon the economic self-sufficiency of the race. Armstrong’s was an inherently conservative doctrine—its goal being the formation of an equal society of black farmers and artisans—and Booker Washington never deviated from its basic tenets.
Laboring as a janitor and engaging in whatever additional summer work he could find, Washington made his way through Hampton Institute in three years, from 1872 to 1875. He returned to Malden, West Virginia, for a brief term as a local teacher and was then invited back to Hampton to serve as one of General Armstrong’s instructors. When Armstrong was asked in 1881 to create a new and similar school in Tuskegee, Alabama, he recommended Washington, who was accepted by the Alabama legislature and moved to Tuskegee in June of that year.
Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute was built by Washington literally from the ground up: upon his arrival in Tuskegee, he had nothing but a $2,000 grant from the state for salaries and permission to build a training school for black teachers. After a tour of Alabama communities to gauge the region’s most immediate needs, Washington enrolled the first year’s class in a shanty loaned by a local church. He eventually borrowed enough money to purchase an old plantation and begin the daunting task of establishing school buildings on the institute’s permanent site. Until Washington’s death in 1915, Tuskegee Institute would remain the chief occupation and pride of his life, and the town of Tuskegee the unofficial capital of black America.
In every important respect Tuskegee Institute closely resembled General Armstrong’s Hampton school. Although Tuskegee trained young black men and women to be teachers, it also insisted that they participate in one of the institute’s many and ongoing industrial projects, whether it be the construction of school buildings or the fabrication of such articles as bricks and mattresses for sale to market. As a provider of what was called “industrial education,” however, Tuskegee’s emphasis was heavily directed toward agriculture and artisan skills, reflecting Washington’s belief that blacks first needed to establish their economic independence and security. Tuskegee students were exhorted to lead lives of modesty and hard work in accord with the dominant white southern culture, leaving the questions of political power and civil status to be answered by the gradual reconciliation of the races.
At a time of white southern resentment and retaliation for the more radical forms of postwar Reconstruction, Washington’s program of black self-help was applauded by both races—and most crucially by southern white leaders and northern philanthropists. The former allowed Tuskegee to grow into an institution of imposing size and power, the latter provided the funds required to do so.
With important help from General Armstrong, Washington became a well-known figure in the national debate over race and the future of black Americans. His position as black leader was solidified in the year 1895, when he was asked by the organizers of the Cotton States and International Exposition to deliver an address as a black representative to their industrial fair in Atlanta. The event was of unprecedented significance in the history of postwar southern racial politics, and Washington used the opportunity to present in especially eloquent form his philosophy of harmony through economic cooperation. His appeal was doubly appreciated at the exposition, as it promised both racial calm and much needed economic vitality in the impoverished South.
Washington was given a spectacular ovation after the speech. The event was covered by newspapers around the country, and he was rapidly honored in both business and political circles as an eminently practical African American activist and leader. Funds poured into Tuskegee, and Washington became the confidante of philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie and the adviser to President Theodore Roosevelt on questions of the South and racial relations in general.
Washington was married in 1882 to Fannie N. Smith, whom he had met and courted in Malden, West Virginia. Following her death in 1884, he wed Olivia A. Davidson, whom he credited with much of Tuskegee’s success in fund-raising. Washington’s third wife, Margaret James Murray, exercised considerable influence at Tuskegee as well, and she also helped Washington to raise his children from his first two marriages. His busy life was divided between the administration of Tuskegee, writing books and articles, and an endless round of travel and lectures. As a man of limitless energy but sharply defined goals, he became a highly influential black leader.
Washington wielded power directly by means of Tuskegee’s many graduates, his role as counselor to the federal government, and as part-owner of the New York Age, an influential black newspaper. More generally, he was the chief arbiter between the black community and the centers of national power in New York and Washington, D.C., and he was inevitably consulted by white leaders in questions of philanthropy and interracial politics. Under the Republican presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, Washington reached the pinnacle of his national power, perhaps best symbolized by an invitation to dine with the president at the White House in October of 1901.
In 1900 Washington helped organize the National Negro Business League, an effort, as its name suggests, at helping black Americans to develop their own commercial ventures. He toured the continent of Europe, received honorary degrees from Harvard and Dartmouth universities, and published several versions of his autobiography, Up From Slavery. Yet there were already signs of disillusionment among black intellectuals.
In 1902, editor William Monroe Trotter began publishing virulent attacks on Washington in his Boston Guardian. The following year black leader W. E. B. Du Bois weighed in with his justly celebrated Souls of Black Folk, in which he protested: “[In cases where] Mr. Washington apologizes for injustice North and South, does not rightly value the privilege and duty of voting, belittles the emasculating effect of caste distinctions, and opposes the higher training and ambition of our brighter minds... we must unceasingly and firmly oppose [him].” Du Bois was a passionate political activist and a leading intellectual whose temperament and opinions were at the furthest extreme from Washington’s hard-headed pragmatism. Opposing Washington’s emphasis on vocational training, Du Bois urged blacks to pursue higher education and employ political agitation in order to achieve equality.
Du Bois’s writings accurately reflected the desperate condition of black Americans at the turn of the twentieth century, when it could have been argued that blacks were indeed worse off than in the era of slavery. Nearly every state in the South had managed to prevent blacks from exercising the right to vote granted them by the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution. With the help of terrorist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, the South had restored absolute segregation between the races. Worst of all were the lynchings of blacks that occurred with appalling regularity during the years of Washington’s reign as a leader among African Americans. Whether the connection was valid or not, some black intellectuals believed Washington’s philosophy of humility and political acquiescence contributed to the generally deteriorating welfare of black Americans.
In response, Du Bois and other concerned blacks founded the Niagara Movement in 1905 as a direct challenge to Washington’s power, and five years later many of the same individuals created the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). At the same time, Washington’s national influence declined after 1908 under the administrations of U. S. presidents William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson. Despite his continued fame and prestige, he must have sensed that a new era in black American history was about to begin. As Du Bois and others pointed out, Washington’s dream of racial equality via the economic independence of blacks was impossible so long as blacks lacked the capacity to protest at the ballot box. Furthermore, the Tuskegee emphasis on small-scale farming and artisan skills was of little use at a time of exploding industrialization; jobs were now in the cities of the North, and increasing numbers of blacks abandoned their southern roots to seek their fortunes in the North.
Washington died in November of 1915 at his home in Tuskegee, one of the most honored men of his age, and one of the most complex. Historians have discovered in his voluminous private correspondence that Washington’s apparent conservatism was in part only a mask for the benefit of his white audience. Washington secretly funded numerous court challenges to segregation and disenfranchisement, and in many instances took pains to conceal acts of generosity to blacks that might have been construed by whites as too radical.
In every sense, then, Washington’s life and work—the story of his personal rise from slavery, the creation of Tuskegee, and the millions of dollars he raised for the material betterment of black Americans—were remarkable. His philosophy and policies, however, were limited by the prevailing attitudes of his day and therefore failed to anticipate the political and economic changes that would engulf his people later in the twentieth century.
Black-Belt Diamonds: Gems From the Speeches, Addresses, and Talks to the Students of Booker T. Washington, Fortune & Scott, 1898.
The Future of the American Negro, Small, Maynard, 1899.
(With Edgar Webber) The Story of My Life and Work (autobiography), J. L. Nichols, 1900.
(With Max Bennett Thrasher) Up From Slavery (autobiography), A. L. Burt, 1901.
Character Building (lectures), Doubleday, 1902.
Working With the Hands (autobiography), Doubleday, 1904.
(Editor with Emmett J. Scott) Tuskegee and Its People: Their Ideals and Achievements, Appleton, 1905.
The Negro in Business, Hertel, Jenkins, 1907.
(With S. Laing Williams) Frederick Douglass (biography), G. W. Jacobs, 1907.
(With W. E. B. Du Bois) The Negro in the South: His Economic Progress in Relation to His Moral and Religious Development (lectures), G. W. Jacobs, 1907.
The Story of the Negro: The Rise of the Race From Slavery, 2 volumes, Doubleday, 1909.
(With Robert E. Park and Emmett J. Scott) My Larger Education (autobiography), Doubleday, 1911.
Selected Speeches of Booker T. Washington, edited by E. Davidson Washington, Doubleday, 1932.
The Booker T. Washington Papers, thirteen volumes, edited by Louis R. Harlan and others, University of Illinois Press, 1972-84.
Drinker, Frederick E., Booker T. Washington: The Master Mind of a Child of Slavery, Greenwood, 1970.
Du Bois, W. E. B., The Souls of Black Folk, Library of America edition, Vintage Books, 1990.
Franklin, John Hope, and Alfred A. Moss, Jr., From Slavery to Freedom, sixth edition, Alfred A. Knopf, 1988.
Harlan, Louis R., Booker T. Washington: The Making of a Black Leader, 1856-1901, Oxford University Press, 1972.
Harlan, Louis R., Booker T. Washington: The Wizard of Tuskegee, 1901-1915, Oxford University Press, 1986.
Kaye, Tony, Booker T. Washington, Chelsea House, 1989.
Meier, August, Negro Thought in America, 1880-1915: Racial Ideologies in the Age of Booker T. Washington, University of Michigan Press, 1963.
Thornbrough, Emma Lou, editor, Booker T. Washington, Prentice-Hall, 1969.
Washington, Booker T., Up From Slavery, Penguin, 1986.
Weisberger, Bernard A., Booker T. Washington, New American Library, 1972.
American Heritage, August 1968.
Crisis, August 1978; February 1983.
Journal of Negro History, January 1953; October 1955; January 1958; April 1960; April 1968; July 1969.
New York Times Book Review, March 4, 1973; May 22, 1983.
Times Literary Supplement, April 13, 1973; November 15, 1974.
"Washington, Booker T. 1856–1915." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/washington-booker-t-1856-1915
"Washington, Booker T. 1856–1915." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved April 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/washington-booker-t-1856-1915
Washington, Booker T.
Booker T. Washington
Born: April 5, 1856
Franklin County, Virginia
Died: November 14, 1915
African American educator, author, and leader
Booker T. Washington, African American educator and leader, founded Tuskegee Institute for black students. His "Atlanta Compromise" speech made him America's major black leader for twenty years.
Born into slavery
Booker Taliaferro (the Washington was added later) was born a slave in Franklin County, Virginia, on April 5, 1856. His mother was the plantation's cook, while his father, a local white man, took no responsibility for him. From a very early age, Washington recalled an intense desire to learn to read and write.
Washington's mother married another slave, who escaped to West Virginia during the Civil War (1861–65; a war in which Northern forces fought against those of the South over, among other things, secession, or the South's desire to leave the Union). She and her three children were liberated (freed) by a Union army in 1865 and, after the war, joined her husband in West Virginia.
Desire to learn
The stepfather put the boys to work in the salt mines in Malden, West Virginia. Booker eagerly asked for education, but his stepfather gave in only when Booker agreed to work in the mines mornings and evenings to make up for earnings lost while in school. He had known only his first name, but when students responded to roll call with two names, Booker desperately added a famous name, becoming Booker Washington. Learning from his mother that he already had a last name, he became Booker T. Washington.
Overhearing talk about an African American college in Hampton, Virginia, Washington longed to attend the school. Meanwhile, as houseboy for the owner of the coal mines and saltworks, he developed sturdy work habits. In 1872 he set out for Hampton Institute. When he ran out of money, he worked at odd jobs. Sleeping under wooden sidewalks, begging rides, and walking, he traveled the remaining eighty miles and, tired and penniless, asked for admission and assistance. After Hampton officials tested him by making him clean a room, he was admitted and given work as a janitor.
Hampton Institute, founded in 1868 by a former Union general, emphasized manual training. The students learned useful trades and earned their way. Washington studied brickmasonry (laying of bricks) along with other courses. Graduating in 1876, he taught in a school for two years. Studying at Wayland Seminary in Washington, D.C., he became bored with classical education, considering his fellow students to be more interested in making an impression and living off the black masses than in serving mankind. He became convinced that practical, manual training in rural skills and crafts would save his race, not higher learning, which separated the reality of the black man's miserable existence. In 1879 he was invited to teach at Hampton Institute, particularly to supervise one hundred Native Americans admitted experimentally. He proved a great success in his two years as part of the teaching staff.
In 1881 citizens in Tuskegee, Alabama, asked Hampton's president to recommend a white man to head their new black college. He suggested Washington instead. The school had an annual legislative appropriation (government money) of two thousand dollars for salaries, but no campus, buildings, students, or staff. Washington had to recruit students and teachers and raise money for land, buildings, and equipment. Hostile rural whites who feared education would ruin black laborers accepted his demonstration that his students' practical training would help improve their usefulness. He and his students built a kiln, an oven used for making bricks, and they erected campus buildings brick by brick.
Under Washington's leadership, Tuskegee Institute became an important force in black education. Tuskegee pioneered in agricultural extension, sending out demonstration wagons that brought better methods to farmers and sharecroppers (farmers who work land owned by another and give a portion of the crop in exchange for the use of the land). Graduates founded numerous "little Tuskegees." African Americans immersed in the poverty of cotton sharecropping improved their farming techniques, income, and living conditions. Washington urged them to become capitalists (business investors), founding the National Negro Business League in 1900. Black agricultural scientist George Washington Carver (c. 1864–1943) worked at Tuskegee from 1896 to 1943, developing new products from peanuts and sweet potatoes. By 1915 Tuskegee had fifteen hundred students and a larger endowment (designated funds) than any other black institution.
In 1895 Washington gave his famous "Atlanta Compromise" speech. Although he shared the late Frederick Douglass's (1817–1895) long-range goals of equality (idea that all races are equal) and integration (bringing different races together), Washington criticized disturbing the peace and other protest strategies. He urged black people to drop demands for political and social rights, concentrating instead on improving job skills and usefulness. "The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera-house," he said. He appealed to white people to rely on loyal, proven black workers, pointing out that the South would advance to the degree that blacks were allowed to secure education and become productive.
Washington's position so pleased whites, North and South, that they made him the new black spokesman. He became powerful, having the deciding voice in federal appointments of African Americans and in philanthropic grants (charitable donations) to black institutions. Through subsidies, or secret partnerships, he controlled black newspapers, therefore silencing critics. Impressed by his power and hoping his tactics would work, many black people went along. However, increasingly during his last years, such black intellectuals as W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963), John Hope (1868–1936), and William Monroe Trotter (1872–1934) criticized his surrender of civil rights (the fight for racial equality) and his stressing of training in crafts, some irrelevant, while forgetting liberal education, which stressed social improvements for black people. Opposition centered in the Niagara Movement, founded in 1905, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which succeeded it in 1910.
Although outwardly calm and nonconfrontational, Washington secretly financed and encouraged attempts and lawsuits to block Southern moves to segregate (to separate black and white Americans) black people and stop them from gaining citizenship. He had lost two wives by death and married a third time in 1893. His death on November 14, 1915, cleared the way for black people to return to Douglass's tactics of protesting for equal political, social, and economic rights. Washington won a Harvard honorary degree in 1891. His birthplace in Franklin County, Virginia, is now a national monument.
For More Information
Harlan, Louis R. Booker T. Washington: The Making of a Black Leader, 1856–1901. New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.
Harlan, Louis R. Booker T. Washington: The Wizard of Tuskegee, 1901–1915. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.
Neyland, James. Booker T. Washington. Los Angeles: Melrose Square, 1992.
Nicholson, Lois P. Booker T. Washington. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1997.
Scott, Emmett S., and Lyman Beecher Stowe. Booker T. Washington. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1916.
Washington, Booker T. My Larger Education. Miami, FL: Mnemosyne Publishers, 1969.
Washington, Booker T. Up from Slavery. New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1901. Reprint, New York: New American Library, 2000.
"Washington, Booker T.." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/washington-booker-t
"Washington, Booker T.." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved April 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/washington-booker-t
Booker Taliaferro Washington
Booker Taliaferro Washington
Booker Taliaferro Washington (1856-1915), African American educator and racial leader, founded Tuskegee Institute for black students. His "Atlanta Compromise" speech made him America's major black leader for 20 years.
Booker Taliaferro (the Washington was added later) was born a slave in Franklin County, Va., on April 5, 1856. His mother was the plantation's cook. His father, a local white man, took no responsibility for him. His mother married another slave, who escaped to West Virginia during the Civil War. She and her three children were liberated by a Union army in 1865 and, after the war, joined her husband.
Growing Up Black
The stepfather put the boys to work in the salt mines in Malden, W.Va. Booker eagerly asked for education, but his stepfather conceded only when Booker agreed to toil in the mines mornings and evenings to make up for earnings lost while in school. He had known only his first name, but when pupils responded to roll call with two names, Booker desperately added a famous name, becoming Booker Washington. Learning from his mother that he already had a last name, he became Booker T. Washington.
Overhearing talk about a black college in Hampton, Va., Washington longed to go. Meanwhile, as houseboy for the owner of the coal mines and saltworks, he developed scrupulous work habits. In 1872 he set out for Hampton Institute. When his money gave out, he worked at odd jobs. Sleeping under wooden sidewalks, begging rides, and walking, he traveled the remaining 80 miles and, bedraggled and penniless, asked for admission and assistance. After Hampton officials tested him by having him clean a room, he was admitted and given work as a janitor.
Hampton Institute, founded in 1868 by a former Union general, emphasized manual training. The students learned useful trades and earned their way. Washington studied brickmasonry along with collegiate courses. Graduating in 1876, he taught in a rural school for two years. Studying at Wayland Seminary in Washington, D.C., he became disenchanted with classical education, considering his fellow students to be dandies more interested in making an impression and living off the black masses than in serving mankind. He became convinced that practical, manual training in rural skills and crafts would save his race, not higher learning divorced from the reality of the black man's downtrodden existence. In 1879 he was invited to teach at Hampton Institute, particularly to supervise 100 Native Americans admitted experimentally. He proved a great success in his two years on the faculty.
In 1881 citizens in Tuskegee, Ala., asked Hampton's president to recommend a white man to head their new black college; he suggested Washington instead. The school had an annual legislative appropriation of $2, 000 for salaries, but no campus, buildings, pupils, or staff. Washington had to recruit pupils and teachers and raise money for land, buildings, and equipment. Hostile rural whites who feared education would ruin black laborers accepted his demonstration that his students' practical training would help improve their usefulness. He and his students built a kiln and made the bricks with which they erected campus buildings.
Under Washington's leadership (1881-1915), Tuskegee Institute became an important force in black education. Tuskegee pioneered in agricultural extension, sending out demonstration wagons that brought better methods to farmers and sharecroppers. Graduates founded numerous "little Tuskegees." African Americans mired in the poverty and degradation of cotton sharecropping improved their farming techniques, income, and living conditions. Washington urged them to become capitalists, founding the National Negro Business League in 1900. Black agricultural scientist George Washington Carver worked at Tuskegee from 1896 to 1943, devising new products from peanuts and sweet potatoes. By 1915 Tuskegee had 1, 500 students and a larger endowment than any other black institution.
In 1895 Washington gave his famous "Atlanta Compromise" speech. Although he shared the late Frederick Douglass's long-range goals of equality and integration, Washington renounced agitation and protest tactics. He urged blacks to subordinate demands for political and social rights, concentrating instead on improving job skills and usefulness. "The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera-house, " he said. He appealed to white people to rely on loyal, proven black workers, pointing out that the South would advance to the degree that blacks were allowed to secure education and become productive.
Washington's position so pleased whites, North and South, that they made him the new black spokesman. He became powerful, having the deciding voice in Federal appointments of African Americans and in philanthropic grants to black institutions. Through subsidies or secret partnerships, he controlled black newspapers, stifling critics. Overawed by his power and hoping his tactics would work, many blacks went along. However, increasingly during his last years, such black intellectuals as W.E.B. Du Bois, John Hope, and William Monroe Trotter denounced his surrender of civil rights and his stressing of training in crafts, some obsolete, to the neglect of liberal education. Opposition centered in the Niagara Movement, founded in 1905, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which succeeded it in 1910.
Although outwardly conciliatory, Washington secretly financed and encouraged attempts and lawsuits to block southern moves to disfranchise and segregate blacks. He had lost two wives by death and married a third time in 1893. His death on Nov. 14, 1915, cleared the way for blacks to return to Douglass's tactics of agitating for equal political, social, and economic rights. Washington won a Harvard honorary degree in 1891. His birthplace is a national monument.
Washington's autobiographical works are The Story of My Life and Work (1900), Up from Slavery (1901), and My Larger Education (1911), the last two especially revealing. Collections of his writings along with contemporary opinions are Hugh Hawkins, ed., Booker T. Washington and His Critics (1962), and Emma Lou Thornbrough, ed., Booker T. Washington (1969). There are three major biographies: Emmett J. Scott and Lyman Beecher Stowe, Booker T. Washington (1916), an unscholarly glorification, is useful because Scott was Washington's assistant; Basil Mathews, Booker T. Washington: Educator and Interracial Interpreter (1948), is also highly laudatory; Samuel R. Spencer, Jr., Booker T. Washington and the Negro's Place in American Life (1955), the most balanced account is still not sufficiently critical of Washington. The best account of Washington's times is August Meier, Negro Thought in America, 1880-1915: Racial Ideologies in the Age of Booker T. Washington (1963). □
"Booker Taliaferro Washington." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/booker-taliaferro-washington
"Booker Taliaferro Washington." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved April 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/booker-taliaferro-washington
Washington, Booker Taliaferro
WASHINGTON, BOOKER TALIAFERRO
Booker Taliaferro Washington was born into slavery, but grew up to become one of the nation's most prominent leaders and educators. While various groups both supported and opposed his views, no one denied that Washington's accomplishments were notable. He remained, until his death, an influential proponent of race relations and African American self-sufficiency.
Booker Taliaferro was born on April 5, 1856, in Franklin County, Virginia. His mother was a slave; his father a white man whose identity remains unknown. When Booker was a child, his mother married a slave named Washington Ferguson. Booker took his stepfather's first name and became known as Booker T. Washington. After the u.s. civil war ended, Washington and his family moved to Malden, West Virginia. At age nine, Washington began work in the local salt mines. He then labored as a coal miner before going to work as a houseboy for the wife of Lewis Ruffner, the mine owner, while attending a poorly equipped school that could only give him the bare rudiments of an education.
"I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed."
—Booker T. Washington
Possessed of a quick and lively intelligence, Washington was fascinated by the books he saw at the Ruffners' house and, with Mrs. Ruffner's encouragement, became determined to get a higher education. When Washington was 16, he made a long trek on foot to attend the Hampton Agricultural Institute in Virginia. The institute had been founded in 1868 by Samuel Armstrong, a former Union Army general who had led African-American troops during the Civil War. Armstrong believed strongly that freed slaves must be educated but also must learn to provide for themselves by receiving training in manual skills. An ardent proponent of the virtues of good hygiene and strong morals as well as self-discipline, Armstrong became a mentor to Washington.
Washington graduated from Hampton Institute in 1875 and returned to Malden where he worked as a teacher. Washington later taught at Hampton. When a new school, the Tuskegee Negro Normal Institute, was opened in Alabama on July 4, 1881, Washington, on Armstrong's recommendation, was placed in charge of it. Following the Hampton Institute model, Tuskegee Institute had an academic regimen but placed an emphasis on learning such practical trades as farming, carpentry, brickmaking, shoemaking, and printing.
Washington traveled the country to raise funds for his school, speaking to both whites and African Americans. His speeches eventually began to earn him a national reputation. In 1895, Washington spoke at the opening of the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia. In that speech Washington emphasized the need for African Americans to become economically self-sufficient before pressing for political rights. Washington's speech, called the "Atlanta Compromise," was well-received by numerous politicians and white citizens in the South who were proponents of jim crow laws, legislation which mandated segregation and political disenfranchisement.
Washington's conservative views were denounced by W. E. B. DuBois and other African American, as well as white, leaders who felt that civil rights could not be compromised and that Washington's emphasis on a vocational education was an affront to those who wished to become professionals. Opposition to Washington's views helped to create the Niagara Movement, which was started in 1905 and served as the forerunner of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (naacp), established in 1909.
Undaunted by criticism from both liberals and conservatives, Washington continued to write, lecture, and disseminate his personal philosophy of non-agitation. In addition, his influence expanded. He served as advisor to Presidents theodore roosevelt and william howard taft, on the subject of political appointments of African Americans and issues concerning race relations. He also was instrumental in securing funds for African-American institutions from such millionaire industrial leaders as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller.
When Washington died in New York City on November 14, 1915, Tuskegee Institute had more than 1,500 students enrolled, and approximately two hundred faculty members. Its endowment was larger than that of any other African American institution. Washington was able to add a considerable amount to Tuskegee funds through the sale of his popular and groundbreaking autobiography, Up From Slavery, which was published in 1901.
Booker T. Washington was both praised and reviled for practicing the "politics of accommodation." To some he was a hero who advocated for moral development and economic self-reliance for African Americans who had to forge a life after being freed from the bonds of slavery. To others he was supportive of segregation and a compatriot of whites who attempted to suppress equal rights for African Americans. Regardless of these views, Washington was a pivotal figure in American race relations after the Civil War.
Harlan, Louis R. 1986. Booker T. Washington: The Wizard of Tuskegee, 1901–1915. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.
——. 1975. Booker T. Washington: The Making of a Black Leader, 1856–1901. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.
Washington, Booker T. 1901. Up from Slavery, an Autobiography. Reprint, New York: Gramercy Books, 1993.
"Washington, Booker Taliaferro." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/washington-booker-taliaferro
"Washington, Booker Taliaferro." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Retrieved April 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/washington-booker-taliaferro
Washington, Booker Taliaferro
Booker Taliaferro Washington, 1856–1915, American educator, b. Franklin co., Va. Washington was born into slavery; his mother was a mulatto slave on a plantation, his father a white man whom he never knew. After the Civil War, he worked in salt furnaces and coal mines in Malden, W.Va., and attended school part time, until, at 16, he was able to enter the Hampton Institute (Va.). A friend of the principal paid his tuition, and he worked as a janitor to earn his room and board. After three years (1872–75) at Hampton he taught at a school for African-American children in Malden, then studied at Wayland Seminary, Washington, D.C. Appointed (1879) an instructor at Hampton Institute (now Hampton Univ.), he was given charge of the training of 75 Native Americans, under the guidance of Gen. S. C. Armstrong. He later developed the night school.
In 1881 he was chosen to organize (and construct) an academic, agricultural, and industrial school for African Americans at Tuskegee, Ala. Under his direction, Tuskegee Institute (see Tuskegee Univ.) became one of the leading African-American educational institutions in America. Its programs emphasized industrial training as a means to attaining self-respect and economic independence for black people, and Washington continued to advocate self-help and self-sufficiency as the most effective means of improving life for African Americans.
A skilled orator, Washington gave many lectures in the interests of his work, both in the United States and in Europe, and he was counted among the ablest public speakers of his time. In 1895 at Atlanta, Ga., Washington made a highly controversial speech on the place of the African American in American life. In it he maintained that it was foolish for blacks to agitate for social equality before they had attained economic equality. His speech pleased many whites and gained financial support for his school, but his position was denounced by many African-American leaders, among them W. E. B. Du Bois.
Though many African Americans saw him as a compromiser and a reactionary, in the early years of the 20th cent. Washington was widely viewed as the main spokesman for black America. He was the organizer (1900) of the National Negro Business League, a group committed to black economic independence. He also became a trusted adviser to President Theodore Roosevelt on matters related to the African-American community, and received honorary degrees from Dartmouth and Harvard. By the time of his death, however, Washington's influence had waned considerably. Among his many published works are his autobiographies, Up From Slavery (1901, repr. 1963) and My Larger Education (1911, repr. 2008) as well as such studies as The Future of the American Negro (1899), Tuskegee and Its People (1905, repr. 1969), Life of Frederick Douglass (1907, repr. 1968), and The Story of the Negro (1909, repr. 1969).
See L. R. Harlan et al., ed. The Booker T. Washington Papers (14 vol., 1972–89); biographies by E. J. Scott and L. B. Stowe (1916, repr. 1972), B. Mathews (1948, repr. 1969), S. R. Spencer, Jr. (1955), A. Bontemps (1972), L. R. Harlan (2 vol., 1972–83), R. J. Norrell (2009), and R. W. Smock (2009); studies by H. Hawkins, ed. (1962), E. L. Thornborough, ed. (1969), L. R. Harlan (1988), and S. Mansfield (1999).
"Washington, Booker Taliaferro." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/washington-booker-taliaferro
"Washington, Booker Taliaferro." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved April 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/washington-booker-taliaferro
Washington, Booker T.
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Washington, Booker Taliaferro
WASHINGTON, BOOKER TALIAFERRO
Booker T. Washington (1856–1915) became one of the leading spokespeople for African Americans after the American Civil War (1861–1865). Washington strongly promoted the education of African Americans in practical skills and manual trades—he founded the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama to promote such goals. He became popular among white political leaders for his views on racial harmony, which emphasized economic opportunity over political protest.
Booker Taliaferro Washington was born in Franklin County, Virginia, on April 5, 1856. His mother was a slave who worked as a plantation cook. Washington's father was an unknown local white man who took no responsibility for his son. His mother later married another slave, but her husband escaped to West Virginia during the American Civil War, leaving his family behind. After the war ended in 1865, Booker's family was emancipated and the family was reunited in Malden, West Virginia. His stepfather had found a job at the salt furnaces and young Booker worked with him as a salt packer.
Booker desperately sought an education for himself, but his family needed him to work in order to support itself. His stepfather reluctantly agreed to let young Booker go to school on the condition that he continue to work in the salt mines before and after school. It was in school that Booker acquired his last name; he had only been called Booker until that time. When the pupils at school responded to roll call with two names, Booker named himself Washington. He later learned from his mother that he already had a last name, Taliaferro. So he became Booker Taliaferro Washington.
Washington continued his work at the salt furnaces, took another job at the coal mines, and still pursued his education. It was at the coal mines that Washington learned of the Hampton Institute in Virginia—this was a school dedicated solely to educating former slaves. It was suitable for Washington and his family because students could finance their education by working at the school.
Washington attended the Hampton Institute in 1872, and it proved to be a critical move for his future. It was at the institute that Washington learned of the educational philosophy that would shape his later beliefs and influence his writings. The Hampton Institute focused its program on practical skills and manual trades to improve the status of African Americans in the community. The institute emphasized industrial and agricultural education as well as teacher training.
Washington graduated with honors from the Hampton Institute in 1875 and went on to teach in rural schools in Malden. In 1878 he began his studies at the Wayland Seminary in Washington, D.C. He left the school, however, because he found the purely academic and theoretical atmosphere to be too superficial for his tastes. The world of books and ideas did not reflect the reality that most African Americans were living at that time. He appreciated the more practical approach of the Hampton Institute and returned there in 1879 as a teacher.
In 1881 the president of the Hampton Institute General Samuel Chapman Armstrong (1839–1893) recommended Washington for a new position. Washington would be the principal of a new school for African Americans to be built in Tuskegee, Alabama. The school had an annual legislative appropriation of $2000. It had no campus, buildings, pupils, or staff and Washington had to recruit pupils and teachers to the school himself. He also raised money for buildings and equipment, as the future site of the school was located on an abandoned plantation. Washington's first lessons to his students were practical ones. Students and faculty together planted crops and made the bricks for the new buildings.
At the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (later named the Tuskegee Institute, and now Tuskegee University), Washington taught the same self-help philosophy that he himself had learned at the Hampton Institute. Washington emphasized manual and industrial education, as well as practical trades such as carpentry, farming, mechanics, and teaching. He additionally emphasized discipline, cleanliness, and thrift among his students. Washington sought to impart to them a philosophy of African American self-sufficiency, and he urged his students to become capitalists. In 1900 Washington put his own teachings into practice and founded the National Negro Business League. The school, however was his real legacy, and he continued to watch his institute grow over the years. By 1888 Tuskegee Institute expanded to cover 549 acres and have over 400 enrolled students. By 1915 the school had 1500 students and a larger endowment than any other black institution.
Washington's influence and educational philosophy, however, extended outside of Tuskegee, Alabama. In 1895 he was asked to address the Cotton States and the International Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia. The event had an all-white audience of about 2000 people. Washington gave a speech at the exposition that was later dubbed the "Atlanta Compromise." The soon-to-be famous speech outlined Washington's proposal for racial harmony in the United States. He explained that self-improvement of African Americans in economic and educational matters would make them more law-abiding and less resentful toward white Americans. This would eventually, he asserted, promote racial harmony. Washington spoke out against the public protests occurring at that time and saw economic advancement as a more effective solution than political demonstrations to racial discord. Ultimately, he accepted racial segregation in exchange for economic opportunities. As he said in the speech: "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's speech was very popular among white Americans, and he soon became a spokesperson for his people. He developed strong ties with northern philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919), George Eastman (1854–1932), Henry H. Rogers (1840–1909), and Julius Rosenwald (1862–1932). They appreciated Washington's entrepreneurial approach to race issues. Washington also became an advisor on racial matters to Presidents Theodore Roosevelt (1901–1909) and William H. Taft (1909–1913). His advice was sought as well by various governors and members of Congress.
The late 1800s were a difficult time for African Americans despite Washington's calls for racial harmony. Lynchings increased, Jim Crow laws enforcing racial segregation in public were passed, and there were threats of disfranchisement for African Americans in the South. These were clear signs that African Americans needed more than economic advancement to improve their social position in the United States. Other black intellectuals such as W.E.B. Du Bois (1868–1963) and William Monroe Trotter (1872–1934) began to speak out against the "accommodationism" that Washington supported. Du Bois in particular was critical of Washington's educational philosophy. He felt that it discouraged African Americans from striving for a higher education, instead Du Bois supported the opportunity for talented African Americans to attain a college education and serve as leaders of the black community. This opposition to Washington formed the Niagara Movement in 1905. It provided an alternative view to Washington's position of compromise and humility. In 1910 the same group founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Washington himself realized that economic opportunity alone was not enough to improve the conditions of African Americans. His public position never wavered, but Washington privately supported campaigns against injustice. He anonymously financed lawsuits against disfranchisement and segregation and secretly influenced other legal actions. Washington maintained a demanding public life until he became ill during a lecture series and died on November 14, 1915.
See also: Civil Rights Movement, Jim Crow Laws
Denton, Virginia Lantz. Booker T. Washington and the Adult Education Movement. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1993.
Harlan, Louis R. Booker T. Washington: The Wizard of Tuskegee, 1901–1915. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.
Miller, Jan. "Annotated Bibliography of the Washington-Du Bois Controversy." Journal of Black Studies, December 1994.
Riley, Jason L., "Return to Self-Reliance," Wall Street Journal, August 13, 1997.
Root, Nina J. "Portraits of Tuskegee." Natural History, February 1997.
"Washington, Booker Taliaferro." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/washington-booker-taliaferro
"Washington, Booker Taliaferro." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Retrieved April 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/washington-booker-taliaferro