Booker T. Washington

Quick Facts

  • Born a slave in 1856 but, after emancipation, moved with his family to West Virginia.
    • Representative of the last generation of black leaders born in slavery.
  • American educator, author, orator, and political leader. He was the dominant and most influential figure in the African American community in the United States from 1890 to 1915.
  • First president and principal developer of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (now Tuskegee University)
  •  At age nine, began working—first in a salt furnace and later in a coal mine.
  •  1872: Enrolled at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia  and worked as a janitor to help pay expenses.

  • 1875: Graduated from Hampton and became a teacher.
  • 1878-9: Studied at Wayland Seminary in Washington D.C.
  • 1879: Became staff member at Hampton

    Younger Booker T. Washington

  • 1896: Honorary degree from Harvard
  • 1901: Honorary degree from Dartmouth

Beliefs/Advocacy-Industrial Education


Washington advocated that during the post-Reconstruction era, blacks should seek advancement through education in the crafts and industrial skills. He also encouraged his fellow blacks to cultivate their industrial and farming skills, in lue of fighting for civil and political rights in order to obtain economic security.

The following audio clip is an excerpt from the Nineteenth Annual Report of the Principal of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. [audio:|titles=bookert]

Washington argued that by acquiring wealth and economic independence, blacks’ would earn respect and acceptance from Whites, consequently breaking down racial divides and securing civil equality between the black and white communities.

These sentiments were called the Atlanta Compromise and were criticized by scholars such as W.E.B. DuBois, who advocated scholarly development and civil rights over vocational or industrial skills.

Being the most influential black male of his time, Washington was deemed among whites to be an unofficial arbiter, thus determining which black individuals and institutions should benefit from government patronage and white philanthropic support.