Booker Taliaferro Washington

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Washington, Booker Taliaferro,

1856–1915, American educator, b. Franklin co., Va. Washington was born into slavery; his mother was a mulatto slave on a plantation, his father a white man whom he never knew. After the Civil War, he worked in salt furnaces and coal mines in Malden, W.Va., and attended school part time, until, at 16, he was able to enter the Hampton Institute (Va.). A friend of the principal paid his tuition, and he worked as a janitor to earn his room and board. After three years (1872–75) at Hampton he taught at a school for African-American children in Malden, then studied at Wayland Seminary, Washington, D.C. Appointed (1879) an instructor at Hampton Institute (now Hampton Univ.Hampton University,
at Hampton, Va.; coeducational; founded 1868, chartered 1870 as a normal and agricultural school; known as Hampton Institute 1930–84. Founded by Samuel Chapman Armstrong, it was among the first black colleges and also pioneered in Native American
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), he was given charge of the training of 75 Native Americans, under the guidance of Gen. S. C. ArmstrongArmstrong, Samuel Chapman,
1839–93, American educator, philanthropist, and soldier, b. Hawaiian Islands, of missionary parents, grad. Williams, 1862. He served in the Union army in the Civil War, rising to the rank of major general.
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. He later developed the night school.

In 1881 he was chosen to organize (and construct) an academic, agricultural, and industrial school for African Americans at Tuskegee, Ala. Under his direction, Tuskegee Institute (see Tuskegee Univ.Tuskegee University,
at Tuskegee, Ala.; coeducational; chartered and opened 1881 by Booker T. Washington as Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. It became Tuskegee Institute in 1937 and adopted its present name in 1985.
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) became one of the leading African-American educational institutions in America. Its programs emphasized industrial training as a means to attaining self-respect and economic independence for black people, and Washington continued to advocate self-help and self-sufficiency as the most effective means of improving life for African Americans.

A skilled orator, Washington gave many lectures in the interests of his work, both in the United States and in Europe, and he was counted among the ablest public speakers of his time. In 1895 at Atlanta, Ga., Washington made a highly controversial speech on the place of the African American in American life. In it he maintained that it was foolish for blacks to agitate for social equality before they had attained economic equality. His speech pleased many whites and gained financial support for his school, but his position was denounced by many African-American leaders, among them W. E. B. Du BoisDu Bois, W. E. B.
(William Edward Burghardt Du Bois) , 1868–1963, American civil-rights leader and author, b. Great Barrington, Mass., grad. Harvard (B.A., 1890; M.A., 1891; Ph.D., 1895).
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Though many African Americans saw him as a compromiser and a reactionary, in the early years of the 20th cent. Washington was widely viewed as the main spokesman for black America. He was the organizer (1900) of the National Negro Business League, a group committed to black economic independence. He also became a trusted adviser to President Theodore Roosevelt on matters related to the African-American community, and received honorary degrees from Dartmouth and Harvard. By the time of his death, however, Washington's influence had waned considerably. Among his many published works are his autobiographies, Up From Slavery (1901, repr. 1963) and My Larger Education (1911, repr. 2008) as well as such studies as The Future of the American Negro (1899), Tuskegee and Its People (1905, repr. 1969), Life of Frederick Douglass (1907, repr. 1968), and The Story of the Negro (1909, repr. 1969).


See L. R. Harlan et al., ed. The Booker T. Washington Papers (14 vol., 1972–89); biographies by E. J. Scott and L. B. Stowe (1916, repr. 1972), B. Mathews (1948, repr. 1969), S. R. Spencer, Jr. (1955), A. Bontemps (1972), L. R. Harlan (2 vol., 1972–83), R. J. Norrell (2009), and R. W. Smock (2009); studies by H. Hawkins, ed. (1962), E. L. Thornborough, ed. (1969), L. R. Harlan (1988), and S. Mansfield (1999).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Washington, Booker Taliaferro


Born Apr. 5, 1856; died Nov. 14, 1915, in Tuskegee. American political figure; ideologist for the emerging Negro bourgeoisie.

In 1881, Washington became the director of the Industrial Institute for Negroes in Tuskegee (in the state of Alabama). In the 1890’s he put forward a program for training Negroes in agricultural sciences and trades. At the same time, he called upon Negroes to renounce the struggle for political and social rights and to voluntarily submit to the “superiority of the whites.” The reactionary character of Washington’s propaganda, which ideologically disarmed Negroes, became especially apparent with the beginning of the age of imperialism.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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