Booker Taliaferro Washington (April 5, 1856-November 14, 1915), was an outstanding African-American educator, writer and reformer. He was born a slave on a plantation in Franklin County, Virginia, and worked in the salt and coal mines of West Virginia. His desire for learning led him to attend school at night and, at age sixteen, leave home and walk nearly 500 miles to attend Hampton Institute, which was founded by former Union General Samuel Chapman Armstrong. Working his way through school, Booker T. Washington graduated in 1875. He taught at Malden, West Virginia, and later at the Hampton Institute. In 1881, he founded Tuskegee Institute in Alabama with only 30 students, and over the next thirty-three years oversaw its growth to over 2,000. He recruited George Washington Carver as a professor, and was friends with the leading men of his day, including Andrew Carnegie, William Howard Taft, and Calvin Coolidge. He addressed audiences around the world and wrote: Up From Slavery, 1901, and The Future of the American Negro, 1899. He was the first African American to have his picture on a U.S. postage stamp, 1940, the first African American elected to the Hall of Fame, 1945, and the first Black to have his image on a U.S. coin, 1946.
In his book, Up From Slavery, Booker T. Washington wrote:
In the city of Boston I have rarely called upon an individual for funds that I have not been thanked for calling, usually before I could get an opportunity to thank the donor for the money. In that city the donors seem to feel, in a large degree, that an honour is being conferred upon them in their being permitted to give. Nowhere else have I met with, in so large a measure, this fine and Christlike spirit as in the city of Boston, although there are many notable instances of it outside that city. I repeat my belief that the world is growing in the direction of giving…. In my efforts to get money [for Tuskegee Institute] I have often been surprised at the patience and deep interest of the ministers, who are besieged on every hand and at all hours of the day for help. If no other consideration had convinced me of the value of the Christian life, the Christlike work which the Church of all denominations in America has done during the last thirty-five years for the elevation of the black man would have made me a Christian. In a large degree it has been the pennies, the nickels, and the dimes which have come from the Sunday-schools, the Christian Endeavour societies, and the missionary societies, as well as from the church proper, that have helped to elevate the Negro at so rapid a rate….
The more I come into contact with wealthy people, the more I believe that they are growing in the direction of looking upon their money simply as an instrument which God has placed in their hand for doing good with. I never go to the office of Mr. John D. Rockefeller, who more than once has been generous to Tuskegee, without being reminded of this. The close, careful, and minute investigation that he always makes in order to be sure that every dollar that he gives will do the most good-an investigation that is just as searching as if he were investing money in a business enterprise-convinces me that the growth in this direction is most encouraging….
When speaking directly in the interests of the Tuskegee Institute, I usually arrange, some time in advance, a series of meetings in important centres. This takes me before churches, Sunday-schools, Christian Endeavour Societies, and men’s and women’s clubs. When doing this I sometimes speak before as many as four organizations in a single day….
Atlanta was literally packed, at the time, with people from all parts of the country, and with representatives of foreign governments, as well as with military and civic organizations. The afternoon papers had forecasts of the next day’s proceedings in flaring headlines. All this tended to add to my burden. I did not sleep much that night. The next morning, before day, I went carefully over what I planned to say. I also kneeled down and asked God’s blessing upon my effort. Right here, perhaps, I ought to add that I make it a rule never to go before an audience, on any occasion, without asking the blessing of God upon what I want to say….
While a great deal of stress is laid upon the industrial side of the work at Tuskegee, we do not neglect or overlook in any degree the religious and spiritual side. The school is strictly undenominational, but it is thoroughly Christian, and the spiritual training of the students is not neglected. Our preaching service, prayer-meetings, Sunday-school, Christian Endeavour Society, Young Men’s Christian Association, and various missionary organizations, testify to this….
In the school we made a special effort to teach our students the meaning of Christmas, and to give them lessons in its proper observance. In this we have been successful to a degree that makes me feel safe in saying that the season now has a new meaning, not only through all that immediate region, but, in a measure, wherever our graduates have gone….
While the institution is in no sense denominational, we have a department known as the Phelps Hall Bible Training School, in which a number of students are prepared for the ministry and other forms of Christian work, especially work in the country districts. What is equally important, each one of the students works . . . each day at some industry, in order to get skill and the love of work, so that when he goes out from the institution he is prepared to set the people with whom he goes to labour a proper example in the matter of industry….
It is now long ago that I learned this lesson from General Samuel Chapman Armstrong, and resolved that I would permit no man, no matter what his colour might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him. With God’s help, I believe that I have completely rid myself of any ill feeling toward the Southern white man for any wrong that he may have inflicted upon my race. I am made to feel just as happy now when I am rendering service to Southern white men as when the service is rendered to a member of my own race. I pity from the bottom of my heart any individual who is so unfortunate as to get into the habit of holding race prejudice….54
I have spoken of my admiration for General Armstrong, and yet he was but a type of that Christlike body of men and women who went into the Negro schools at the close of the war by the hundreds to assist in lifting up my race. The history of the world fails to show a higher, purer, and more unselfish class of men and women than those who found their way into those Negro schools….
No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem. 55
Booker T. Washington stated:
I have always had the greatest respect for the work of The Salvation Army, especially because I have noted that draws no color line in religion. 56
The Hon. John D. Long, Secretary of the Navy, spoke in honor of Booker T. Washington and his work at Tuskegee:
I cannot make a speech today. My heart is too full-full of hope, admiration, and pride for my countrymen of both sections and both colours. I am filled with gratitude and admiration for your work, and from this time forward I shall have absolute confidence in your progress and in the solution of the problem in which you are engaged.
The problem, I say, has been solved. A picture has been presented to-day which should be put upon canvas with the pictures of Washington and Lincoln, and transmitted to future time and generations-a picture which the press of the country should spread broadcast over the land, a most dramatic picture, and that picture is this: The President of the United States standing on this platform; on one side the Governor of Alabama, on the other, completing the trinity, a representative of a race only a few years ago in bondage, the coloured President of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute.
God bless the President under whose majesty such a scene as that is presented to the American people. God bless the state of Alabama, which is showing that it can deal with this problem for itself. God bless the orator, philanthropist, and disciple of the Great Master-who, if he were on earth, would be doing the same work-Booker T. Washington.
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