On this day in Alabama history: Booker T. Washington was born

On this day in Alabama history: Booker T. Washington was born
Portrait of Booker T. Washington, c. 1890-1910. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

April 5, 1856

The date is somewhat in question, but some sources say that Booker T. Washington entered the world on this day, at a small tobacco farm in Franklin County, Virginia, where his mother was the plantation cook. That he was a slave is one reason the birth records are a bit sketchy. Known as “Booker T.” as a child, he chose the last name of Washington when he was 10. After the Civil War, the freed family moved to West Virginia, where he received some primary schooling. As a teenager, he worked for a wealthy family that encouraged him to pursue his education and, at age 16, he entered Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, now Hampton University. He later taught at Hampton before being recruited to Macon County, Alabama, where a group of former slaves and progressive education advocates planned to create a school for African Americans. In 1881, the group opened the Tuskegee Normal Industrial School, today’s Tuskegee University. Washington became an advocate for vocational education for blacks. He toured the country raising money for the school, becoming a national figure, although some blacks, most famously the scholar W.E.B. Dubois, criticized Washington, who they viewed as too passive amid the increasing oppression and disenfranchisement of blacks following Reconstruction. Nevertheless, Washington in his time remained one of the most prominent and powerful voices in the African American community.

Read more at Encyclopedia of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Archives and History

For more on Alabama’s Bicentennial, visit Alabama 200.

Related Stories