People & Events|
Booker T. Washington
Booker Taliaferro Washington was born a slave on a Virginia plantation in 1856. Following Emancipation, he labored by day as a coal miner in West Virginia while still a child. At night, he was taught by a local teacher to read and write. His intellectual gifts made themselves apparent at a young age. He was not exposed to a formal education, however, until he attended college at the Hampton, Virginia Normal and Agricultural Institute, working his way through as a janitor. Washington developed a philosophy of personal development rooted in hard work, moral righteousness, and practical knowledge. By 1900, he was among the nation's best known and most highly respected African American orators and educators. His efforts on behalf of the Tuskegee Institute, a vocational training school for African Americans, saw the school grow from a run-down shanty with next to no enrollment to one with 1,500 students and a $2 million endowment.
Washington's moderate-some would say conciliatory-stance toward race relations was predicated upon the notion that African Americans were better off working within the system presented to them. In 1895, speaking at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta, he said, "The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly." By 1900, some within the African American community, especially W.E.B. Du Bois, were expressing the opinion that Washington's former statements had given license to continued patterns of racial segregation and discrimination. Washington, himself, expressed deep disappointment around 1900 at efforts aimed at preventing African Americans from exercising their right to vote.