BOOKER T. WASHINGTON
“I resolved that I would permit no man, no matter what his colour might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him. With God's help, I believe that I have completely rid myself of any ill feeling toward the Southern white man for any wrong that he may have inflicted upon my race."
BOOKER T. WASHINGTON
Originally born a slave in Virginia, Booker T. Washington was one of the greatest African American leaders who fought for freedom and justice for former slaves. National leaders like President Theodore Roosevelt confided in Washington for advice on racial issues.
Washington was a key proponent of African American businesses. In his nationally-famous “Atlanta Compromise” speech, he advocated economic and educational opportunities for African Americans. He also financially supported legal challenges to voting restrictions and segregation in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Washington attended college at Hampton Normal Agricultural Institute in Virginia (now Hampton University) and then continued his education at Wayland Seminary. In 1880, the Alabama State Legislature passed a bill to fund a college for African Americans. At age 25, Washington became the first leader of this school, which is now known as Tuskegee University. Washington built Tuskegee from the ground up into a leading school in America. Classes began in a church while Washington sought funding for the college, which officially opened in 1881. Washington enlisted students to construct some of the buildings on campus. The students even developed a working farm to provide food for the campus and financially sustain the college.
In the fight for civil rights, Washington was a distinctive voice for aspiring African American entrepreneurs, promoting hard work for middle-class advancement and economic self-help over strictly political means to fight disparities.
CENTERED ON CHRIST
Washington was a faithful Christian and sincere supporter of the church. He once said, “If no other consideration had convinced me of the value of the Christian life, the Christ like work which the Church of all denominations in America has done during the last 35 years for the elevation of the black man would have made me a Christian.”
In “Up From Slavery: An Autobiography,” Washington talked about loving and forgiving others, a central teaching of Jesus. Washington wrote, “[I] resolved that I would permit no man, no matter what his colour might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him. With God's help, I believe that I have completely rid myself of any ill feeling toward the Southern white man for any wrong that he may have inflicted upon my race. I am made to feel just as happy now when I am rendering service to Southern white men as when the service is rendered to a member of my own race. I pity from the bottom of my heart any individual who is so unfortunate as to get into the habit of holding race prejudice.”
In addition to loving and forgiving others, Washington displayed other fruits of living a Christian life from the Bible, stating, “Those who have accomplished the greatest results are those who never grow excited or lose self-control, but are always calm, self-possessed, patient and polite.”
Washington with family
Booker T. Washington with his third wife Margaret (his first two wives died) and two sons, Ernest, left and Booker T., Jr., right
Washington at Carnegie Hall
Washington giving a speech at Carnegie Hall in New York City, 1909
Washington and Roosevelt
Booker Washington and Theodore Roosevelt at Tuskegee Institute, 1905
Booker T. Washington
Booker T. Washington, 1905
Handbill for Washington tour
Handbill from 1909 tour of southern Virginia and West Virginia.