T. Washington: Author, Educator, Advocate
Booker T. Washington's Own Story
of His Life and Work
(J. L. Nichols, 1915)
After the Civil
War, newly freed slaves faced the struggle of
integrating into white America. A century-long fight
for equal rights began in the postbellum decades
with black leaders such as Booker T. Washington,
who worked as an educator, speaker, and writer for
the gradual improvement of African American life.
Childhood and Education
Booker Taliaferro was born a slave in Hales
Ford, Virginia, on 5 April 1856. His father was an unknown white man, and his
mother Jane was the cook on the 207-acre tobacco farm of James Burroughs.
Booker, his mother, his brother John and his sister Amanda. During the summer of 1865, the family moved
West Virginia, to live with Jane’s new husband, a former slave named Washington Ferguson. Booker took
his step-father’s first name as his last name, officially becoming Booker T. Washington.
Up from Slavery
(J. L. Nichols and Co., 1901)
the young Washington
from attending school.
Instead, he began working
the local salt furnace
and coal mines at the
age of nine. Yet education
was important to him,
and he read all he
could in his spare
time, memorizing a
worn copy of a spelling
book. Washington soon
became the houseboy
of Viola Ruffner, wife
of mine-owner Lewis
Ruffner. Mrs. Ruffner
had dismissed her previous,
in a matter of days.
Impressed with Washington’s
diligence and attention
to detail, she kept
him on staff for several
years. She also encouraged
his education, allowing
him to attend a local
school at night.
By the age of 16,
Washington had become
frustrated with the
inferiority of the
local education and
set out on foot for
Hampton Normal and
nearly 400 miles away.
The principal of the
institute was Gen.
Samuel Armstrong, an
opponent of slavery
who had been commander
of African American
troops during the Civil
War. Armstrong believed
it was important for
freed slaves to receive
a practical education,
and he became Washington’s
had to work as a janitor
to pay his room and
board, but Armstrong
secured his tuition
from a wealthy white
graduated from Hampton
with honors in 1875.
Tuskegee and Its People: Their Ideals
(D. Appleton and Company, 1906)
The Founding of Tuskegee
After a short time teaching in Malden and a
stint as a student at Washington, D.C.’s
Seminary, Washington returned to Hampton
to teach in a program
for Native Americans. Meanwhile,
Lewis Adams, a black political leader in Tuskegee,
Alabama, helped two white politicians win a local
election in return for the building of a Negro
school in the area. Adams asked Armstrong to
recommend a white teacher to take charge of the
school, but Armstrong suggested Booker instead.
Booker was 25 when he took over the Tuskegee
Normal School for Colored Teachers, which later
became the Tuskegee
Tuskegee opened on 4 July 1881, with 30 students
in a dilapidated church building. The school
received funding of $2,000 a year, which was
only enough to pay the staff. Washington borrowed
money from Hampton Institute to purchase an abandoned
plantation on the outskirts of Tuskegee. Hampton
also provided books and supplies.
Working with the Hands: Being a
Sequel to Up from Slavery, Covering the
Author's Experiences in Industrial Training
(Doubleday, Page and Co., 1904)
Tuskegee's program provided students with both
academic and vocational training, Washington
emphasized industrial work that would help students
to become self-reliant. The students, under Washington's
direction, built their own buildings, produced
their own food, and provided for most of their
own basic necessities. They also learned trades
such as carpentry, brick making, shoemaking,
printing and cabinetmaking. Washington believed
that by providing these skills, African Americans
would play their part in society, and this would
lead to acceptance by white Americans. He believed
that African Americans eventually would gain
Rights by showing themselves to be
responsible, reliable American citizens. Many
southern whites previously opposed to the education
of African Americans supported Washington's
ideas, because they saw them as a means of encouraging
blacks to accept an inferior economic and
social status. This resulted in white businessmen
such as Andrew
Carnegie donating large sums of
money to Tuskegee.
While Washington and his students worked to
build their school, Washington also built a family.
He married Fanny N. Smith, whom he had met in
Malden, in the summer of 1882. They had a daughter,
before Fanny’s death in 1884.
A year later, Washington married Olivia
a teacher and later assistant principal at Tuskegee.
The couple had two sons, Booker
T. Washington, Jr., and Ernest Davidson Washington.
Four years after Olivia’s death in 1889,
Washington married Margaret
A New Negro for a New Century
(American Publishing House, 1900)
By the 1890s,
Washington had become the most prominent black
leader in America. He was invited
to deliver an address at
the opening of the Atlanta Cotton States and
in September of 1895, marking the first opportunity
for an African American to speak on the same
platform as white men in the South.
He stated his conviction that blacks could
best gain equality in America by improving
their economic situation through education—particularly
industrial training—rather than by demanding
their rights. He proclaimed that blacks could
not expect too much, because they only recently
had won emancipation, and that gradual change
would be the most effective route.
The Negro in Business
(Hertel, Jenkins and Co., 1907)
these views again in 1900, when he helped establish
Negro Business League, which encouraged
blacks to become business owners, promoted the
achievements of black businessmen, and protected
them against fraud. Washington ensured that the
organization concentrated on commercial issues,
not questions of African American civil rights.
Washington’s views were unpopular with
many blacks who advocated for classical education
and immediate, full civil rights, particularly
Washington’s former friend W.E.B.
Washington and DuBois eventually became involved
in a public intellectual war, with each man attacking
the others’ convictions.
Washington's conservative views made him popular
with white politicians. President William
McKinley visited the Tuskegee Institute and praised Washington's
achievements. In 1901, President Theodore
Washington to visit him in the White
House, a move seen as scandalous at the time.
Both Roosevelt and his successor, William
H. Taft, consulted Washington on African American
Booker T. Washington, the Master
Mind of a Child of Slavery
(National Publishing Company, 1915)
A Lasting Legacy
Washington spread his ideas nationwide, through
his books and speaking
tours. He was in New York for a speaking
engagement when he collapsed
on 5 November 1915. Doctors warned him
he did not have long to live. Rather than
remaining in the hospital, he returned
home to Tuskegee,
where he died on November 14. More than
8,000 people attended his funeral at the Tuskegee
Institute Chapel. He was buried on the
which by then had more than 1500 students,
almost 200 teachers, more than 100 buildings,
and thousands of loyal alumni.
Washington remained one of the most influential
and respected blacks in American history long
after his death. In 1940, he became the first
African American to be depicted on a U.S. postage
stamp. He also was the first African American
to appear on a coin: the Booker
T. Washington Memorial Half Dollar, minted
by the United States from 1946 to 1951. In
addition, numerous schools
the United States and a state
park in Tennessee are
named for him.
Booker T. Washington penned a number of books
(many of them autobiographical) that advanced
his purposes of encouraging black self-reliance
and demonstrating African Americans’ worth
in the post-Civil War social and economic world.
Following is a chronological bibliography.
Hyperlinked articles are available full-text.
Daily Resolves (1896)
Progress of a Race (1898)
Black-belt Diamonds (1898)
The Future of the American Negro (1899)
Education of the Negro (1900)
The Negro and the "Solid South" (1900)
A New Negro for a New Century (1900)
Sowing and Reaping (1900)
The Story of My Life and Work (1900)
From Slavery (1901)
Shadow and Light: An Autobiography (1902)
Character Building (1903)
and Industrial Emancipation of the Negro (1903)
The Negro Problem (contributor; 1903)
The Rights and Duties of the Negro (1903)
The Successful Training of the Negro (1903)
Working with the Hands (1904)
The Colored American, from Slavery to Honorable
Tuskegee and Its
Putting the Most into Life (1906)
The Life of Frederick Douglass (1907)
The Negro in Business (1907)
The Story of the Negro (1909)
The New South (1910)
My Larger Education (1911)
The Man Farthest
Down: A Record of Observation and Study in
The Story of Slavery (1913)
Booker T. Washington’s Own Story of His
Life and Work (1915)
the PBO database for books by and about Booker T. Washington
Denton, Virginia Lantz. Booker
T. Washington and the Adult Education Movement. Gainesville,
Fla.: University Press of Florida, 1993.
E. Booker T. Washington, the Master Mind of a Child
of Slavery: A Human Interest Story Depicting
the Life Achievements of a Great Leader of a Rising Race.
Philadelphia: National Publishing Co., 1915.
Hope, and August Meier. Black Leaders of the Twentieth
Century. Urbana: University of Illinois Press,
Gates, Jr., Henry Louis,
and Cornel West. The African-American Century: How
Black Americans Have Shaped Our Country. New York: Free Press,
Harlan, Louis R. Booker
T. Washington: The Making of a Black Leader, 1856-1901. New
York: Oxford University
T. Washington: The Wizard of Tuskegee, 1901-1915.
New York: Oxford University Press,
Hawkins, Hugh. Booker
T. Washington and His Critics: The Problem of Negro Leadership.
Boston: Heath, 1962.
Meier, August. Negro
Thought in America, 1880-1915: Racial Ideologies in the
Booker T. Washington.
University of Michigan Press, 1963.
M. Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, and the
Struggle for Racial Uplift. Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly
Spencer, Samuel R. Booker
T. Washington and the Negro's Place in American Life.
Related Online Resources
Alabama Hall of Fame: Booker
T. Washington Biography, Documenting the American South,
University of North Carolina
T. Washington Biography, Progress of a People, Library
Booker T. Washington
Era, African American Odyssey, Library of Congress
T. Washington Papers, The History Cooperative, University
Booker T. Washington
Virtual Museum and Storybook (for children)
American Writers: Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois
“Democracy and Education,” Address
Before the Institute of Arts and Sciences Brooklyn, New
September 30, 1896, on 1896: The Presidential Campaign,
Tuskegee, American Visionaries Exhibit, National Park Service
of Black America: Booker T. and W.E.B, PBS Frontline
House Dream Team: Booker T. Washington (for children)