Booker Taliaferro Washington was born on April 5,1856 in Franklin County, Virginia. Washington gained an early appreciation for the values of family and education. Booker had been blessed with an intact family, with one exception of having a white father who never contributed to his life and whose identity Washington never acknowledged. From the lifelong inspiration of his mother, Jane, Booker learned lasting lessons of courage, perseverance, resourcefulness, and postive concepts, which influenced many of his later philossophies and attitudes about women and family.
Washington had spent nine years in slavery, with the last five years surrounded by the physical, political, economic, and moral issues of the Civil War. According to child psychologist Arnold Gesell, the nine years that Washington spent in slavery were crucial to his development and ideology. To look at Booker’s life you have to incorporate these developmental years because they greatly impact how he would pioneer educational progress for black adults. After the Emancipation, the family moved to West Virginia where it struggled to achieve a normal life.
Young Booker attended a school for the children of ex-slaves while at the same time, holding down a full time job in the mines. As a cooperative, hardworking young man he secured a job cleaning and doing other tasks around the house of one of the mine owners. This was less strenuous than working in the mines, and it left him more energy to pursue his studies. From the peculiar instituntion of slavery Washington had emerged with a strong sense of self and an unshakable identity of his race. His faith and racial pride elevated his unique leadership and gave him strong direction.
Booker T. Washington through his teachings and writings had a profound impact on the social and polotical conditions of African Americans. A strong portion of Washington’s contributions came from his straight forward philosophies such as the one indicating social change. Having a first hand struggle with freedom, social change was a ground floor philosophy to Booker. Regardless of race or color he felt that people must initiate their journeys and experiences on the ground floor. They cannot expect to enter the mainstream of society right away.
Although before they enter into society they should establish a strong hierarchy of needs. In the Washington hierarchy, education is the salvation, second only to freedom itself. He believed that survival and safety needs must be accomplished before more complex needs of belonging, esteem and self expression can be realized. Washington’s contribution’s as a teacher began in February 1879 when General Armstrong wrote Washington a letter inviting him to be the postgraduate speaker at Hampton’s May graduation exercises.
The idea was to show what clear heads and common sense colored graduates had attained during school. Washington’s speech, ” The Force that Wins,” greatly impressed the students, teachers, and reporters. So pleased with the results Armstrong agreed with Washington’s request for twenty five dollars per month for services as a teacher and an assistant in study hour. The Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute had been started after the Civil War by General Samuel Armstrong to train ex slaves to lead their people to find land and homes.
The institute stressed to teach the students manners, cleanliness, morality, and practical skills to be able to make a living in society. Then in 1881 after some time as a teacher at Hampton Institute, Washington was invited to Tuskegee, Alabama, to found a similar school like the one that General Armstrong established. However no buildings had been prepared for the proposed school, Washington opened Tuskegee Institute in a leaky old Methodist Episcopal church on July 4, 1881 with a meager 2,000 dollar annual state fund.
Later with all expenses paid by Hampton, Alabama Hall was built to establish the groundwork and much needed assistance to the Tuskegee Institute. The evolution of Tuskegee Institute’s adult education program was unique in that the Institution began as an adult education movement. With the improvement of intellectual and industrial skills, adults from the institute would become better parents, workers, citizens, and human beings in the general society. Due to Washington’s Tuskegee institute and other similar schools there were beginning to show some signs of improvement.
Steel mills were hiring blacks as engine toppers of helpers in pipe fitting, blast furnance, and blacksmith work. In 1907 blacks were used as skilled workers and supervisors. From his earlier public speaking success in West Virginia and at Hampton, Washington understood the power of the spoken word. From the “Southern Workman,” he knew how far the printed word could reach. Publications such as the Southern Letter, Tuskegee Institute Bulletin, The Negros Farmer, Tuskegee Student, and numerous reports from the principal and staff members from Tuskegee, spread information linking blacks and whites across the country.
Beginning with local and state newspapers, Washington was soon writing editorials and articles for major newspapers and magazines throughout the nation, responding to issues affecting the educational, social, economic, and political progress of his race. As whites had done for decades, Washington was the first black leader to recognize and take advantage of the power of the press. As shown in his published papers, he would utilize other writers in newspapers to be able to take a better stance on civil rights and politics.
Washington’s communication skills also included the production of important books, widley read by blacks and whites around the world. These books generally reflected themes about racial pride and mastery of obstacles to inspire his race. Some of the major books published under Washington’s name included, the future of the american negro, the story of my life and work, and up from slavery. Washington made time in his extremly busy schedule to write, not for entertainment but for information and uplift. His literature helped to build an understanding of blacks, give hope and inspiration and light the path to the future.
By far one of Booker T. Washington greatest books, UP FROM SLAVERY, was translated from English into several other major languages becoming an international classic. First written to inspire struggling blacks, the book became equally popular with whites. Its theme represeted the universal human stuggle against obstacles that life throws each day. A professor of composition at Harvard for twenty years, Barrett Wendell, wrote to Washington and said, “It is hard to remember when a book has proven so satisfactory as yours.
No style could be more simple, more unobstrusive; yet, few styles I know seem to be more laden as distinguished from overburdened with meaning. ” Refelcting the book’s national impact, William T. Harris, U. S. commissioner of education, called UP FROM SLAVERY one of the greatest books of the year and compared its influence with Harriet Beecher Stowe’s UNCLE TOM’S CABIN. Even though Washington’s work was widely renouned by millions of people a number of people had certain conflict with his approach to black equality.
One of these people was W. E. B. DuBois, who was a professor at Atlanta University. He said that Washington distincly asks that black people give up three things, political power, insistence on civil rights and higher education of Negro youth. He then asks them to concentrate their energies on industrial education. DuBois said in the past years of Washington’s controbutions there has been a serious disenfranchisment of the Negro, the legal creation of a distinct status of civil inferiority for the Negro. W. E. B.
DuBois stressed that respect should be worth more than material advancement. The effects of Booker T. Washington’s work upon society is one of great importance. Washington enabled thousands of people of colored decent to be able to obtain a higher level of education. This higher level of education and modernization would have a very valuable impact on African Americans in the long run. People today still look upon Booker T. Washington’s calm and civilized approach to racial dicrimination and his never ending struggle for social change.