'I had the feeling that to get into a schoolhouse and study would be about the same as getting into paradise.'
Booker Talifero Washington was born in 1856 on the Burroughs tobacco farm, Franklin County, Virginia.
His African mother was a cook, his father a white man from a nearby farm. Booker went to school in Franklin County - not as a student, but to carry books for one of James Burroughs's
It was illegal to educate slaves. 'I had the feeling that to get into a schoolhouse and study would
be about the same as getting into paradise,' he wrote in his autobiography Up From Slavery.
In April 1865 the Emancipation Proclamation was read to joyful slaves in front of the Burroughs home and Booker's
family soon left to join his stepfather in Malden, West Virginia. The then nine year-old boy took a job in a salt
mine that began at 4 a.m. so he could attend school later in the day. After a few years,
he was taken in as a houseboy by a wealthy towns-woman who further encouraged his longing to learn.
At age 16, he walked much of the 500 miles back to Virginia to enrol in a new school for black students. Knowing even poor students could get an education at Hampton Institute, paying their way by working. The head teacher
was suspicious of his country ways and ragged clothes and admitted him only after he had cleaned a room to her
Washington being accepted in to Hampton was to be the turning point in his life and enabled him to leave the world
of forced labour behind. On finishing his studies, he became an instructor at Hampton and at the young age of 25
founded the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, which gave him recognition as the nation's foremost black educator.
In 1901 Washington published his widely read autobiography Up From Slavery, this along with the founding of the
National Negro Business League in 1900, a celebrated dinner at the White House in 1901, and control of patronage
politics as chief black advisor to Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft had him hailed as a sage.
He had a huge white following due to his conservative policies and moderate utterances, but he faced growing black
and white liberal opposition many charged that his conservative approach undermined the quest for racial equality.
Cooperating with white people and enlisting the support of wealthy philanthropists Washington helped raise funds to
establish and operate dozens of small community schools and institutions of higher education for the betterment of
black persons throughout the American south. His speaking tours and private persuasion tried to equalize public educational
opportunities and to reduce racial violence.
He also had a major influence on southern race relations and was the dominant figure in black public affairs from
1895 until his death early in 1915.