Booker T. Washington has been a most controversial figure in the fight for civil
rights since his rise to fame in the late 1800's. Many who knew him believed that he was
a straightforward man, and he was admired as a genuine hero to black Americans. In his
later years he earned several nicknames, including the Sage of Tuskegee and the Wizard
of the Tuskegee Machine.
Washington was born heard rumors about his father being a white man. The
soon-to-be-famous civil rights leader grew up in a cabin with an earthen floor and a slave
in Franklin City, Virginia in 1858 or 1859. Although he has researched his history, he has
only holes in the walls for windows. He and his brother and sister slept on a pile of rags
their mother had arranged on the dirt. Booker was not allowed in school for his color, and
the closest he came at the time was walking his Masters' daughters to carry their books.
When Washington was finally allowed in an all black school, he thirsted for
knowledge. At about eighteen years old, he learned of an all black college called the
Hampton Institute, and was desperate to attend. He worked several jobs just for traveling
money, and when he arrived in Virginia, did custodial work at the school to pay for his
room and tuition. Booker graduated in June on 1875 with high honors. Upon his return to
his hometown, he was elected to teach a colored school and soon began night school and
Sunday school classes.
Around this time, the Ku Klux Klan was near the height of its activity.
Washington realized it was their mission to crush Negro aspirations of participating in
politics, though they were more cruel than most. Several churches and schools were
burned, and innocent...