Booker T. Washington was the leading voice of ex-slaves and their descendants after the abolition of slavery in 1865. Where did he grow up?
Booker T. Washington was born into slavery on a plantation in Hale’s Ford, Virginia, USA. He lived on the plantation until his emancipation in 1865, when he was approximately 9 years old. His mother then moved the family to the state of West Virginia, which had been free from slavery prior to abolition.
Keep reading to learn more about the inspiring life of Booker T. Washington.
Born a Slave
Booker was born around the year 1856, although he has explained that he never knew his date of birth or even the year.
His mother was an African-American slave, and his father was a white man that supposedly lived on a neighboring plantation. The man never played any part in Booker’s life.
Booker remembered the struggles had by him and his family whilst enslaved. In his autobiography, he wrote:
“I cannot recall a single instance during my childhood or early boyhood when our entire family sat down to the table together, and God’s blessing was asked, and the family ate a meal in a civilized manner.
On the plantation in Virginia, and even later, meals were gotten to the children very much as dumb animals get theirs. It was a piece of bread here and a scrap of meat there. It was a cup of milk at one time and some potatoes at another.”
Booker was around 9 years old when the Emancipation Proclamation was enforced by US troops in the region. The slaves had news of their impending freedom and became hopeful and joyous as the date approached. He wrote:
As the great day drew nearer, there was more singing in the slave quarters than usual. It was bolder, had more ring, and lasted later into the night.
Most of the verses of the plantation songs had some reference to freedom. Some man who seemed to be a stranger (a United States officer, I presume) made a little speech and then read a rather long paper—the Emancipation Proclamation, I think.
After the reading, we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing that she would never live to see.
After being freed, Booker’s mother moved the family in order to reunite with her husband—Booker’s stepfather—in West Virginia, who had escaped slavery during the civil war.
It was here that Booker first attended school. He was asked for his surname in order to register for the school and gave the name “Washington,” the surname of his stepfather.
He later found out that his mother had in fact given him a second name at birth—“Taliaferro”—and so revised his name to be Booker Taliaferro Washington.
A Young Free Man
Booker worked in local coal mines and salt furnaces for several years. He then attended Hampton Institute, a school for freed slaves and descendants. Later he attended Wayland Seminary in Washington, D.C.
Aged 25, Booker was made the first leader of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama. The school was intended to be a training institute for black students to go on to teach others across the South.
Initially, the school used a donated room for its teachings. The following year, Booker bought a former plantation in order to build the campus. Under Booker’s direction, the students made bricks and constructed classrooms along with cropland and livestock buildings.
The school used the facilities to both educate students and give back to the local community. Over the decades, the school developed learning schemes and departments, becoming the present-day Tuskegee University.
Advising the President
In his later life, Booker provided advice to presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.
He was sometimes criticized by other early civil rights activists for his approach that some viewed as overly placid, but insisted that support from whites was necessary to defeat racism in the long run.
Booker passed away on November 14, 1915, at his home on the Tuskegee campus, which had been described as a “large comfortable home” built for him and his family.