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.
Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) was a leading African American educator, civil rights advocate and author who founded what is now Tuskegee University. (From Encyclopedia of Alabama, courtesy of Library of Congress)
Booker T. Washington, seated on steps of porch, with wife and two sons, c. 1906. (Underwood & Underwood, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963) was a prominent U.S. civil rights leader and scholar who co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909. (From Encyclopedia of Alabama, courtesy of Library of Congress)
Educator Booker T. Washington delivers the Tuskegee Institute Silver Anniversary lecture at Carnegie Hall in New York City in 1906. Seated behind him is author and humorist Mark Twain. (From Encyclopedia of Alabama, New York TImes)
Booker T. Washington gave public speeches across the United States on civil rights and African American education at the turn of the 20th century. This photograph was taken during his “Atlanta Compromise” address in 1895. (From Encyclopedia of Alabama, courtesy of Alabama Department of Archives and History)
Statue of Booker T. Washington “Lifting the Veil of Ignorance,” by Charles Keck, located at Tuskegee University. (The George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)
For more on Alabama’s Bicentennial, visit Alabama 200.