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Booker T. Washington

On the 5th of April 1856, in Franklin Country, Booker Taliaferro was born at the farm of James Burroughs, a farmer in Virginia. His mother later got married to a fellow striver, Washington Ferguson. When Booker enrolled in school, he came to be referred to as Booker T. Washington. It was much later after the civil war that the family relocated to Malden, West Virginia. At the age of nine, Booker secured service as a packer of salt where his stepfather Washington worked at that time at a mine. A year later, Booker became a coal miner where he provided his services for two years until he became a houseboy in the house of Lewis Ruffner, who was the proprietor of the mines. It was the wife of Lewis that encouraged Booker to continue with his education after which he joined the Agricultural Institute of Hampton.

The chief of Hampton Agricultural institute was Samuel Armstrong, who had previously served as the commander of the African American horde during the civil unrest. Armstrong was a strong opponent of the idea of slavery. He actually believed that it was paramount that all the freed slaves received some form of practical education. It was in this wake that Armstrong liked the motivation that Washington had within him and went ahead and made arrangements for his tuition bill to be footed by a white man who was so wealthy. It happened that Armstrong developed into Washington’s counselor. After Washington graduated from the Agricultural institute in 1875, he made a comeback to Malden where he found an employment spot in a local school. In 1878, he engaged in working services by Samuel Armstrong, where he taught Native Americans. In 1880, Adams Lewis, a black political principal, concurred to helping two white candidates, Arthur Brooks and William Foster, emerge victors in a local election in exchange for the construction of a school in the area that the Negros could attend.

It happened that both men won the seats they were contesting for and their political influence saw the construction of Tuskegee Institute. It was commissioned on the 4th of July, 1888. It was established in a building that was previously the local house of worship. The school was being given an initial funding of 2000 dollars per annum, but this was only sufficient to foot the salary bills of the teachers. Ultimately, Washington had to borrow funds from Hampton Agricultural Institute and purchased a dilapidated piece of land where he built his own establishment. The school tutored academic subjects but lay particular emphasis on practical education, which included carpentry, shoemaking, farming and brick making. These students took part in the building of the new school.

Booker T. Washington became known in the midst of the worsening political, social and economic conditions for black Americans. In the decade, 1895-1915, Washington’s programs lay the grounds for the huge debate on the programs that were meant for the Negros. In substitute, the blacks or better still Negros, would give up their demands for civil rights and social equality. Washington actually believed that if the Negros gained an economic foothold and substantiated themselves as useful to the whites, then social equality and civil rights would ultimately be awarded to them. All the Negros were urged to work as skilled artisans, farmers and manual workers to prove to the whites that all the blacks were not thieves as assumed.

The philosophy that Washington had was that one of having room for white oppression. It was his advice to his fellow black men to trust the paternalism of the whites and concur to the fact of white supremacy. He laid particular emphasis on the fact of mutual interdependence of the whites and blacks, but held firm his opinion that they were to stay socially separate. Washington actually told his fellow black men to hold grounds in the South, get some useful education, work hard, save their money and purchase their own property. By so doing, Washington believed that the Negro community would eventually earn full citizenship. Americans responded with great gusto and went ahead to make him the leader of the Negro movement. Because of his programs, which were well received by the whites, contributions started trickling in for the Tuskegee Institute as well as other institutions that held the notions that were being advocated for by Washington. His legacy grew to the point that he was regarded as the spokesman for the whole Negro community.

With very strong white support, Washington went on and became an outstanding leader of the Negros, not only in the field of education, but in business and all the public affairs in general. In 1901, Washington published his carefully crafted and very well-liked autobiography Up from Slavery. It is a classic book that contains his program and vision for the black community in the United States of America. It gave an optimistic view of the life that the blacks had and also touched on the relation of the races in America. This further propelled Washington because all his principles reflected what the whites wanted.

In 1900, Washington helped in the establishment of the National Negro Business League. It was instituted to cater to the commercial issues that touched on the lives of the Negros and did not pay attention, particularly, to the African American civil rights. Booker Taliaferro Washington fell ill and was taken to St. Luke’s Hospital for medical attention, on the 5th of November 1915. He had conditions with his vascular circulation of blood, due to acute arteriosclerosis. He was cautioned that he had a short time to live, so he travelled to Tuskegee where he bid the world goodbye on the 14thof November, 1915. More than eight thousand people attended his burial in the Tuskegee Institute Chapel.

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