Booker T. Washington

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Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington was the most influential black leader and educator of his time. He became well-known largely because of his role as founder and head of Tuskegee Institute, a school for blacks in Tuskegee, Alabama. He influenced the meeting of several blacks to federal office. Washington described his rise from slavery to national fame as an educator in his autobiography, Up from Slavery in 1901.

Booker Taliaferro Washington was born a slave in Hales Ford, Virginia, on April 5, 1856. After the U.S. government freed all slaves in 1865, his family moved to Malden, West Virginia. There, Washington worked in coal mines and salt furnaces. From 1872 to 1875, he attended the Hampton Institute, an industrial school for blacks in Hampton, Virginia. He became a teacher at the institute in 1879.

In 1881, Washington founded and became principal of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. The school taught carpentry, farming, and mechanics, and trained teachers.

As it expanded, Washington spent much of his time raising funds. Most blacks lived in the South, and Washington felt they should learn skills, work hard, and acquire property. He believed that the development of work skills would lead to economic wealth. Washington predicted that blacks would be granted civil and political rights after gaining a strong economic foundation.

To reduce racial conflicts, Washington advised blacks to stop demanding equal rights and to simply get along with whites. He urged whites to give blacks better jobs. He gave a speech in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1895. This speech was often called the Atlanta Compromise because Washington accepted inequality and segregation for blacks in exchange for economic advancement. The speech was widely quoted in newspapers and helped make him a well-known national figure and black spokesman. In 1900, Washington founded the National Negro...