Booker Taliaferro Washington (April 5, 1856 – November 14, 1915) 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 theAfrican-American community.
Washington was of the last generation of black American leaders born into slavery, who became the leading voice of the disfranchised former slaves newly oppressed by the discriminatory laws enacted in the post reconstruction Southern states in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1895 his Atlanta compromise called for avoiding confrontation over segregation and instead putting more reliance on long-term educational and economic advancement in the black community.
His base was the Tuskegee Institute, a state college for blacks in Alabama. As the threat of lynching reached a peak in 1895, Washington gave a speech in Atlanta that made him nationally famous. The speech called for black progress through education and entrepreneurship. His message was that now was not the time to challenge Jim Crow segregation and the disfranchisement of blacks voters in the South. Washington mobilized a nationwide coalition of middle class blacks, church leaders, and white philanthropists and politicians, with a long-term goal of building the community's economic strength and pride by a focus on self-help and schooling. Secretly, he supported court challenges to segregation. Black militants in the North, led by W.E.B. DuBois, at first supported the Atlanta Compromise but after 1909 set up the NAACP and tried to challenge Washington's political machine for leadership in the black community. Decades after Washington's death in 1915, the Civil Rights movement generally moved away from his policies to take the more militant NAACP approach.
Booker T. Washington mastered the nuances of the political arena in the late 19th century which enabled him to manipulate the media, raise money, strategize, network, pressure, reward friends and distribute funds while punishing those who opposed his plans for uplifting blacks. His eventual aim was to end the disenfranchisement of the majority of African Americans living in southern states.
Washington was born a slave in Virginia. After emancipation, his family resettled inWest Virginia. He worked his way through Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University) and attended college at Wayland Seminary (now Virginia Union University). In 1881 he was named as the first leader of the new Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
Washington attained national prominence for his Atlanta Address of 1895, which attracted the attention of politicians and the public, making him a popular spokesperson for African-American citizens. He built a nationwide network of supporters in many black communities, with black ministers, educators and businessmen composing his core supporters. Washington played a dominant role in black politics, winning wide support in the black community and among more liberal whites (especially rich Northern whites). He gained access to top national leaders in politics, philanthropy and education. Washington's efforts included cooperating with white people and enlisting the support of wealthy philanthropists, helping to raise funds to establish and operate thousands of small community schools and institutions of higher education for the betterment of blacks throughout the South. This work continued for many years after his death. Washington argued that the surest way for blacks to gain equal social rights was to demonstrate "industry, thrift, intelligence and property."
Northern critics called Washington's followers the "Tuskegee Machine". After 1909, Washington was criticized by the leaders of the new NAACP, especially W. E. B. Du Bois, who demanded a stronger tone of protest for advancement of civil rights needs. Washington replied that confrontation would lead to disaster for the outnumbered blacks, and that cooperation with supportive whites was the only way to overcome pervasive racism in the long run. At the same time, he secretly funded litigation for civil rights cases, such as challenges to southern constitutions and laws that disfranchised blacks.[page needed] Washington was on close terms with national republican leaders, and often was asked for political advice by presidents Theodore Roosevelt andWilliam Howard Taft.
In addition to his contributions in education, Washington wrote 14 books; his autobiography, Up From Slavery, first published in 1901, is still widely read today. During a difficult period of transition, he did much to improve the working relationship between the races. His work greatly helped blacks to achieve higher education, financial power and understanding of the U.S. legal system. This contributed to blacks' attaining the skills to create and support the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, leading to the passage of important federal civil rights laws.
Career overviewWashington early in his career.
Washington was born into slavery to Jane, an enslaved African-American woman on the Burroughs Plantation in southwest Virginia. She never identified his white father, said to be a nearby planter; he played no significant role in Washington's life. His family gained freedom in 1865 as the Civil War ended, and his mother took them to West Virginia to join her husband. As a boy of 9 in Virginia, he remembered the day in early 1865:
As the great day drew nearer, there was more singing in the slave quarters than usual. It was bolder, had more ring, and lasted later into the night. Most of the verses of the plantation songs had some reference to freedom... Some man who seemed to be a stranger (a United States officer, I presume) made a little speech and then read a rather long paper—the Emancipation Proclamation, I think. After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing that she would never live to see.
The youth worked in salt furnaces and coal mines in West Virginia for several years, then made his way east to Hampton Institute, a school established to educate freedmen, where he worked to pay for his studies. He attended Wayland Seminary in Washington, D.C. in 1878 and left after 6 months. In 1881, the Hampton president Samuel C. Armstrong recommended Washington to become the first leader of Tuskegee Institute, the new normal school (teachers' college) in Alabama. He headed it for the rest of his life.
Washington was instrumental in having West Virginia State University, founded in 1891, located in the Kanawha Valley of West Virginia. He visited the campus often and spoke at its first commencement exercise.
Washington was a dominant figure of the African-American community from 1890 to his death in 1915, especially after his Atlanta Address of 1895. To many he was seen as a popular spokesman for African-American citizens. Representing the last generation of black leaders born into slavery, Washington was generally perceived as a supporter of education for freedmen in the post-Reconstruction, Jim Crow-era South. Throughout the final twenty years of his life, he maintained his standing through a nationwide network of supporters including black educators, ministers, editors, and businessmen, especially those who supported his views on social and educational issues for blacks. He gained access to top national leaders in politics, philanthropy and education, raised large sums, was consulted on race issues and was awarded honorary degrees from leading American universities.
Late in his career, Washington was criticized by leaders of the NAACP, a civil rights organization formed in 1909. W. E. B. Du Bois advocated activism to achieve civil rights. He labeled Washington "the Great Accommodator". Washington's response was that confrontation could lead to disaster for the outnumbered blacks. He believed that cooperation with supportive whites was the only way to overcome racism in the long run.
Washington contributed secretly and substantially to legal challenges against segregation and disfranchisement of blacks.[page needed] In his public role, he believed he could achieve more by skillful accommodation to the social realities of the age of segregation.
Washington's work on education problems helped him enlist both the moral and substantial financial support of many major whitephilanthropists. He became friends with such self-made men as Standard Oil magnate Henry Huttleston Rogers; Sears, Roebuck and Company President Julius Rosenwald; and George Eastman, inventor and founder of Kodak. These individuals and many other wealthy men and women funded his causes, including Hampton and Tuskegee institutes.
Sculpture of Booker T. Washington at the National Portrait Gallery inWashington, D.C.
The schools Washington supported were founded primarily to produce teachers. However, graduates had often returned to their largely impoverished rural southern communities to find few schools and educational resources, as the state legislatures consistently underfunded black schools in their segregated system. To address those needs, Washington enlisted his philanthropic network to create matching funds programs to stimulate construction of numerous rural public schools for black children in the South. Working especially with Julius Rosenwald from Chicago, Washington had Tuskegee architects develop model school designs. The Rosenwald Fund helped support the construction and operation of more than 5,000 schools and supporting resources for the betterment of blacks throughout the South in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The local schools were a source of communal pride and were priceless to African-American families when poverty and segregation limited severely the life chances of the pupils. A major part of Washington's legacy, the model rural schools continued to be constructed, with matching funds from the Rosenwald Fund, into the 1930s. Washington also helped with the Progressive Era by forming the National Negro Business League.[page needed]
Tuskegee Normal and Industrial InstituteBooker T. Washington's house atTuskegee University
The organizers of the new all-black state school called Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama found the energetic leader they sought in 25-year-old Washington. He 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. The next year, Washington purchased a former plantation, which became the permanent site of the campus. Under his direction, 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 educations for blacks.[page needed] The Tuskegee faculty used all the activities to teach the students basic skills to take back to their mostly rural black communities throughout the South. The main goal was not to produce farmers and tradesmen, but teachers of farming and trades who taught in the new schools and colleges for blacks across the South. The school expanded over the decades, adding programs and departments, to become the present-day Tuskegee University.[page needed]
Washington expressed his aspirations for his race in his direction of the school. He believed that by providing needed skills to society, African Americans would play their part, leading to acceptance by white Americans. He believed that blacks would eventually gain full participation in society by acting as responsible, reliable American citizens. Shortly after the Spanish-American War, President William McKinley and most of his cabinet visited Washington. He led the school until his death in 1915. By then Tuskegee's endowment had grown to over $1.5 million, compared to its initial $2,000 annual appropriation.[page needed][page needed]
Marriages and childrenBooker T. Washington with his third wife Margaret and two sons.
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, the same Kanawha River Valley town where Washington had lived from age nine to sixteen. He maintained ties there all his life. Washington and Smith were married in the summer of 1882. They had one child, Portia M. Washington. Fannie died in May 1884.[page needed]
Washington next wed Olivia A. Davidson in 1885. Born in Virginia, she had studied at Hampton Institute and the Massachusetts State Normal School at Framingham. She taught in Mississippi and Tennessee before going to Tuskegee to work. Washington met Davidson as a teacher at Tuskegee, where she was promoted to assistant principal there. They had two sons, Booker T. Washington Jr. and Ernest Davidson Washington, before she died in 1889.
In 1893 Washington married 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. Murray outlived Washington and died in 1925.
Politics and the Atlanta Compromise
|"The Atlanta Compromise"|
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Washington's 1895 Atlanta Exposition address was viewed as a "revolutionary moment" by both African-Americans and whites across the country. Then W. E. B. Du Bois supported him, but they grew apart as Du Bois sought more action to remedy disenfranchisement and lower education. 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.
Washington 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 that 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. It would be this step that would provide the economic power to back up their demands for equality in the future. This action, over time, would provide the proof to a deeply prejudiced white America that they were not in fact "'naturally' stupid and incompetent."
This stance was contrary to what well-educated blacks in the North wanted. Du Bois wanted blacks to have the same "classical"liberal arts education as upscale whites did, along with voting rights and civic equality. He believed that an elite he called theTalented Tenth would advance to lead the race to a wider variety of occupations. The source of division between Du Bois and Washington was generated by the differences in how African Americans were treated in the North versus the South. Many in the North felt that they were being 'led', and authoritatively spoken for, by a Southern accommodationist imposed on them primarily by Southern whites." Furthermore, historian Clarence E. Walker said, "Free black people were 'matter out of place'. Their emancipation was an affront to southern white freedom. Booker T. Washington did not understand that his program was perceived as subversive of a natural order in which black people were to remain forever subordinate or unfree." Both men sought to define the best means to improve the conditions of the post-Civil War African-American community through education.
Blacks were solidly Republican in this period. Southern states disfranchised most blacks and many poor whites from 1890–1908 through constitutional amendments and statutes that created barriers to voter registration, and voting such as poll taxes and literacy tests. Southern white Democrats regained power in the state legislatures of the former Confederacy and passed laws establishing racial segregation and other Jim Crow laws. More blacks continued to vote in border and Northern states.
Washington worked and socialized with many white politicians and industry leaders. Much of his expertise was his ability to persuade wealthy whites to donate money to black causes. He argued that the surest way for blacks to gain equal social rights was to demonstrate "industry, thrift, intelligence and property." This was the key to improved conditions for African Americans in the United States. Because they had only recently been emancipated, he believed they could not expect too much at once. Washington said, "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 had to overcome while trying to succeed.[page needed]
Along with Du Bois, he partly organized the "Negro exhibition" at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris, where photos, taken by his friend Frances Benjamin Johnston, of Hampton Institute's black students were displayed. The exhibition expressed African Americans' positive contributions to American society.
Washington privately contributed substantial funds for legal challenges to segregation and disfranchisement, such as the case ofGiles v. Harris, which went before the United States Supreme Court in 1903.[page needed]
Wealthy friends and benefactorsWashington's wealthy friends includedAndrew Carnegie and Robert C. Ogden, seen here in 1906 while visiting Tuskegee Institute.
State and local governments gave little money to black schools, but white philanthropists proved willing to invest heavily. Washington encouraged them and directed millions of their money to projects all across the South that Washington thought best reflected his self0help philosophy. Washington associated with the richest and most powerful businessmen and politicians of the era. He was seen as a spokesperson for African Americans and became a conduit for funding educational programs. His contacts included such diverse and well-known personages asAndrew Carnegie, William Howard Taft, John D. Rockefeller, Henry Huttleston Rogers, George Eastman, Julius Rosenwald, Robert Ogden, Collis Potter Huntington and William Henry Baldwin Jr., who donated large sums of money to agencies such as the Jeanes and Slater Funds. As a result, countless small schools were established through his efforts, in programs that continued many years after his death. Along with rich white men, the black communities were enabled to help their communities by donating time, money and labor to schools in a sort of matching fund.
A representative case of an exceptional relationship was Washington's friendship with millionaire industrialist and financier Henry H. Rogers (1840–1909). Henry Rogers was a self-made man, who had risen from a modest working-class family to become a principal of Standard Oil, and had become one of the richest men in the United States. Around 1894 Rogers heard Washington speak at Madison Square Garden. The next day he contacted Washington and requested a meeting, during which Washington later recounted that he was told that Rogers "was surprised that no one had 'passed the hat' after the speech." The meeting began a close relationship that was to extend over a period of 15 years. Although he and the very-private Rogers openly became visible to the public as friends, and Washington was a frequent guest at Rogers' New York office, his Fairhaven, Massachusetts summer home, and aboard his steam yacht Kanawha, the true depth and scope of their relationship was not publicly revealed until after Rogers' sudden death of an stroke in May 1909.
Handbill from 1909 tour of southern Virginia andWest Virginia.
A few weeks later Washington went on a previously planned speaking tour along the newly completed Virginian Railway, a $40-million enterprise which had been built almost entirely from Rogers' personal fortune. As Washington rode in the late financier's private railroad car, "Dixie", he stopped and made speeches at many locations, where his companions later recounted that he had been warmly welcomed by both black and white citizens at each stop.
Washington revealed that Rogers had been quietly funding operations of 65 small country schools for African Americans, and had given substantial sums of money to support Tuskegee and Hampton institutes. He also disclosed that Rogers had encouraged programs with matching fundsrequirements so the recipients had a stake in the outcome.
Anna T. Jeanes
In 1907 Philadelphia Quaker Anna T. Jeanes (1822–1907) donated one million dollars to Washington for elementary schools for black children in the South. Her contributions and those of Henry Rogers and others funded schools in many poor communities.
Julius Rosenwald (1862–1932) was another self-made wealthy man with whom Washington found common ground. By 1908 Rosenwald, son of an immigrant clothier, had become part-owner and president of Sears, Roebuck and Company in Chicago. Rosenwald was a philanthropist who was deeply concerned about the poor state of African-American education, especially in the Southern states, where their schools were underfunded.
In 1912 Rosenwald was asked to serve on the Board of Directors of Tuskegee Institute, a position he held for the remainder of his life. Rosenwald endowed Tuskegee so that Washington could spend less time fundraising and more managing the school. Later in 1912 Rosenwald provided funds for a pilot program to build six new small schools in rural Alabama. They were designed, constructed and opened in 1913 and 1914 and overseen by Tuskegee; the model proved successful. Rosenwald established the Rosenwald Fund. The school building program was one of its largest programs. Using architectural model plans developed by professors at Tuskegee Institute, the Rosenwald Fund spent over $4 million to help build 4,977 schools, 217 teachers' homes, and 163 shop buildings in 883 counties in 15 states, from Maryland to Texas. The Rosenwald Fund made matching grants, requiring community support and fundraising. Black communities raised more than $4.7 million to aid the construction. These schools became informally known as Rosenwald Schools. By 1932, the facilities could accommodate one third of all African-American children in Southern U.S. schools.
Up from Slavery to the White HouseBooker Washington and Theodore Roosevelt atTuskegee Institute, 1905
Washington's long-term advisor, Timothy Thomas Fortune (1856–1928), a respected African American economist and editor of the most widely read newspaper in the black community within the United States - The New York Age, was the ghost writer and editor of Washington's first autobiography, The Story of My Life and Work.
- 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)
When Washington's second autobiography, Up From Slavery, was published in 1901, it became a bestseller and had a major impact on the African American community, its friends and allies. In October 1901 President Theodore Roosevelt invited Washington to dine with him and his family at the White House. Eventual Governor of Mississippi James K. Vardaman andSenator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina indulged in racist personal attacks in response to the invitation. Vardaman described the White House as "so saturated with the odor of the nigger that the rats have taken refuge in the stable", and declared "I am just as much opposed to Booker T. Washington as a voter as I am to the cocoanut-headed, chocolate-colored typical little coon who blacks my shoes every morning. Neither is fit to perform the supreme function of citizenship." Tillman opined that "The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that nigger will necessitate our killing a thousand niggers in the South before they will learn their place again."
Austro-Hungarian ambassador to the United States Ladislaus Hengelmüller von Hengervár, who was visiting the White House on the same day, claimed to have found a rabbit's foot in Washington's coat pocket when he mistakenly put on the coat; The Washington Post elaborately described it as "the left hind foot of a graveyard rabbit, killed in the dark of the moon". The Detroit Journal quipped the next day, "The Austrian ambassador may have made off with Booker T. Washington's coat at the White House, but he'd have a bad time trying to fill his shoes."
DeathBooker T. Washington's coffin being carried to grave site.
Despite his travels and widespread work, Washington remained as principal of Tuskegee. Washington's health was deteriorating rapidly; 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.
His death was believed at the time to have been a result of congestive heart failure, aggravated by overwork. In March 2006, with the permission of his descendants, examination of medical records indicated that he died ofhypertension, with a blood pressure more than twice normal, confirming what had long been suspected.
At his death Tuskegee's endowment exceeded $1.5 million. Washington's greatest life's work, the education of blacks in the South, was well underway and expanding.
Honors and memorials
Washington, as the guest of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1901, was the first African American ever invited to the White House. The visit was the subject of an opera by Scott Joplin, A Guest of Honor. It was also recalled in the 1927 song by Banjo Blues Musician Gus Cannon, titled "Can You Blame The Colored Man". At the end of the 2008 presidential election, the defeated Republican candidate, Senator John McCain, referred to Washington's visit a century before as the seed that blossomed into Barack Obama as the first African American to be elected President of the United States.
In 1934 Robert Russa Moton, Washington's successor as president of Tuskegee University, arranged an air tour for two African-American aviators. Afterward he had the plane named the Booker T. Washington.
Booker T. Washington was honored on a 'Famous Americans Series'Commemorative U.S. Postage stamp, issue of 1940.
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.
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."
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 inMalden, 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 VirginiaGovernor Joe Manchin III, Malden attorney Larry L. Rowe, and the president of WVSU. Musical selections were provided by the WVSU "Marching Swarm".
Washington was held in high regard by business-oriented conservatives, both white and black. Eric Foner argues that the freedom movement of the late nineteenth century changed directions so as to align itself with the new with America's new economic and intellectual framework. Black leaders emphasized economic self-help and individual advancement into the middle class, as a more fruitful strategy than political agitation. Washington's famous Atlanta speech of 1895 marked this transition, as it called on blacks to develop their farms, their industrial skills and their entrepreneurship as the next stage in emerging from slavery. He repudiated the abolitionist emphasis on unceasing agitation for full equality, advising blacks that it was counterproductive to fight segregation at this point. Foner concludes that Washington's support in the black community was strongly rooted in its widespread realization that frontal assaults on white supremacy were impossible, and the best way forward was to concentrate on building up the economic and social structures inside segregated communities.  C. Vann Woodward concluded, "The businessman's gospel of free enterprise, competition, and laissez faire never had a more loyal exponent."
People called Washington the "Wizard of Tuskegee" because of his highly developed political skills, and his creation of a nationwide machine based on the black middle class, white philanthropy, and Republican Party support.
Historians today often describe Washington as either a visionary capable of "read[ing] minds with the skill of a master psychologist" who expertly played the political game in 19th century Washington by its own rules; or as a typical self-serving, crafty narcissist who threatened and punishing those in the way of his personal interests, traveled with an entourage and spend much time fundraising, signing autographs and giving flowery patriotic speeches with lots of flag waving - acts more indicative of an artful political boss than an altruistic civil rights leader.
While his opponents called his powerful network of supporters the "Tuskegee Machine," Washington maintained control because of his ability to gain support of numerous groups including influential whites and the black business, educational and religious communities nationwide. He advised on financial donations from philanthropists, and avoided antagonizing white Southerners with his accommodation to the political realities of the age of Jim Crow segregation.