Booker Taliaferro Washington was born in the time era when slavery was still legal and when born on a plantation, he was born into slavery. He worked as a child laborer on the plantation in harsh conditions. Once the Civil war was over, Washington was a freeman. However he continued to do manual labor while working in a coal mine. While listening in on a couple of fellow workers’ conversation about a college for blacks, he became so intrigued from the way the men were describing the school. The dream of attending a more prestigious school than the small community school nearby became a reality.
Although, Washington had to work very hard to earn the money he needed to even travel to the college, he learned valuable lessons that he saw to be equal or greater than what he would learn in school (“Up From Slavery”). These lessons included the importance of efficiency and precision. He learned this from a woman he served when he began his journey, Mrs. Ruffner (“Up From Slavery”). When he left his job serving, he made his way towards Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, although he was unaware that the school was five hundred miles away. By the time he made it to the campus he had run out of money.
Fortunately, Booker met the head teacher upon walking into the school and she offered him a job as a janitor (“Up From Slavery”). With this job, he was able to cover part of fees for boarding, but the work was hard and his days were long between school and work. When Washington did not have enough money to pay the remaining boarding fee, he applied the lessons he learned from his time with Mrs. Ruffner and began to do his duties so well that the school agreed to pay his entire boarding fee in return for his valuable work as a janitor (“Up From Slavery”).
Without the stress of money, Washington was able to obtain a higher education than he imagined possible. At this school Booker was able to meet people he had admired and cherished the opportunity to know them personally. One these men was General Armstrong, the headmaster and founder of Hampton Institute (Biography. com). Washington was very fond of Armstrong, “I shall always remember the first time I went into his presence he made the impression on me of being the perfect man: I was made to feel there as something superhuman about him” (“Up From Slavery”).
Armstrong found Washington a scholarship, sponsored by a white man, to pay for his time at Hampton. He stayed in touch with General Armstrong until his passing and never thought of him any lower than his original praise of the man. Two years after beginning his journey into furthering his education Washington graduated from Hampton with good marks and then went to Wayland Seminary in 1878 as well as taught at his old grade school (Encyclopedia of Southern Culture).
Six months later, he left Wayland and in 1881 Washington was asked to be the be the first leader of a new school for blacks called Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (Biography. com). Washington had worked his way to the top, but he did not know that he would later affect the country and the future. Washington’s goal for Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute was to “produce teachers of farming and trades who taught in new black schools across the South” (“Up From Slavery”). Even this goes back to the lessons from Mrs.
Duffner, the efficiency of teaching those skills that will be helpful and beneficial to the students, families and country. With Jim-Crow laws in place, Blacks could not get the jobs that society believed white folk deserved. By teaching Tuskegee students the skills they need to do well in the jobs they can obtain and maybe even have more skill than the white man at certain jobs, Washington was aiding the push for equal rights in the South. Booker T. Washington climbed the political ladder quickly and many respected his ideas and actions.
There were various groups and people that did not agree with the way he went about fighting for equal rights. Washington believed the “surest way for blacks to gain equal social rights is to demonstrate industry, thrift, intelligence and property” (Encyclopedia of Southern Culture). His way of reaching equal rights was through the higher education of blacks in the south. Washington raised a lot of money by gaining the support of businessmen and white philanthropists. With these funds many schools were built in the south to give blacks the opportunity for more education (Biography.
com). Booker T. Washington was seen as the leading man for the black community in the south. His most famous speech is the Atlanta Compromise Address. In the speech he spoke of the need for education and entrepreneurship in the black community in order to grasp a hold on black progress and move towards equal rights (Encyclopedia of Southern Culture). He became a celebrity in the movement. President Roosevelt and President Taft had asked Washington’s advice on multiple occasions (Biography. com). Booker T. Washington worked his way from nothing, all the way to the top.
I believe he is a valuable character in history with his lessons and determination. Washington took lessons from people more so than the books he studied. His ideas of teaching new teachers to educate the community in areas that will truly benefit them was a new way of thinking in that time. Now we have technical colleges, but in Washington’s life Tuskegee was a sort of technical college and helped the people and community greatly. Even though the NAACP did not believe his ways were aggressive enough, Washington stuck by his beliefs.
Yet, he did support some NAACP actions and other more aggressive pushes for equal rights. Washington’s morals, life lessons and story should be shared not only for the sake of history but also as a lesson that anything is possible if you put the work into getting to the goal. His movements and education aided the people in which the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s finally came about. Washington’s style of education and abundance of educational opportunities changed the way the black community lived.