Booker T. Washington

Washington, Booker Taliaferro

Booker Taliaferro Washington, 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.), he was given charge of the training of 75 Native Americans, under the guidance of Gen. S. C. Armstrong. 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.) 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 Bois.

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).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Booker T. Washington: Selected full-text books and articles

Booker T. Washington in Perspective: Essays of Louis R. Harlan By Louis R. Harlan; Raymond W. Smock University Press of Mississippi, 1988
Booker T. Washington: The Wizard of Tuskegee 1901-1915 By Louis R. Harlan Oxford University Press, 1983
FREE! Up from Slavery: An Autobiography By Booker T. Washington A.L. Burt, 1901
A primary source is a work that is being studied, or that provides first-hand or direct evidence on a topic. Common types of primary sources include works of literature, historical documents, original philosophical writings, and religious texts.
FREE! Working with the Hands: Being a Sequel to "Up from Slavery", Covering the Author's Experiences in Industrial Training at Tuskegee By Booker T. Washington; Frances Benjamin Johnston Doubleday Page, 1904
A primary source is a work that is being studied, or that provides first-hand or direct evidence on a topic. Common types of primary sources include works of literature, historical documents, original philosophical writings, and religious texts.
A History of African-American Leadership By Bruce J. Dierenfield; John White Routledge, 2014 (3rd edition)
Booker T. Washington and the Adult Education Movement By Virginia Lantz Denton University Press of Florida, 1993
FREE! The Man Farthest Down: A Record of Observation and Study in Europe By Robert E. Park; Booker T. Washington Doubleday Page, 1913
FREE! The Story of the Negro: The Rise of the Race from Slavery By Booker T. Washington T. Fisher Unwin, vol.1, 1909
The Resurgence of Race: Black Social Theory from Reconstruction to the Pan-African Conferences By William Toll Temple University Press, 1979
Librarian's tip: Chap. 2 "Booker T. Washington and a Pedagogy for the Oppressed" and Chap. 3 "Non-partisanship, Ethnicity, and Opposition to Booker T. Washington"
Men, Women, and Issues in American History By Howard H. Quint; Milton Cantor Dorsey Press, vol.2, 1975
Librarian's tip: Chap. 6 "Alternative Roads for the Black Man: Booker T. Washington, William E.B. DuBois, and Marcus Garvey"
W. E. B. Du Bois: A Study in Minority Group Leadership By Elliott M. Rudwick University of Pennsylvania Press, 1960
Librarian's tip: Chap. 3 "The Overture to Protest: Beginnings of the Du Bois-Washington Controversy"
Black Leadership By Manning Marable Columbia University Press, 1998
Librarian's tip: Chap. 3 "Booker T. Washington and the Political Economy of Black Accommodation"
Critical Reflections on Black History By W. D. Wright Praeger, 2002
Librarian's tip: Chap. 3 "Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others"
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