Booker T. Washington - African American Trailblazers

Uploaded by LibraryofVa on 10.03.2009


How do we
obtain power?
Is it a good side of beef and taking an axe to a cord of wood?
Does power
come from pushing people around?
Does it come from the gun,
the whip, the fist?
I'll tell you where I get my power.
I get it from knowledge.
The more I know,
the more people notice me.
The more I know,
the more people value me.
So I drink in knowledge.
I know history.
I know how to keep the books of a business.
I know how to read legal documents and formulas of science.
I know what it feels like to be enveloped in a book that takes me hundreds of
miles and decades away.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the African-American had little
access to this power.
Until Booker T. Washington demanded it for himself,
for all American people of color,
and people surely did notice.
October 16, 1901:
the President of the United States entertains a guest for lunch.
Theodore Roosevelt's guest is a man of African descent.
To many Americans this revelation is shocking.
It shouldn't have been,
for this president and the man who served before him,
saw Booker T. Washington as a charismatic leader,
an exceptional public speaker, and a powerful advocate for education.
There may be no adequate words for the success achieved by Booker T. Washington.
Before he founded the prestigious Tuskegee Institute--
now in its third century of educating the young men and women--
Booker Talafera Washington was among the last generation of Americans slaves.
He grew up in the harshest of conditions,
but even as a child of slavery with no education,
the young Booker saw and heard a vision that struck his soul.
Carrying his mistress' books to the schoolhouse,
this young man heard a teacher giving lessons.
He saw students absorbing something to which he had no access--
He wanted it.
He wanted it worse than clothing,
worse than a good meal.
To Booker T. Washington,
school was the equivalent of paradise.
The desire to find that paradise informed his every action from that
point forward.
Then came the Civil War,
and emancipation for millions of African-Americans.
Booker was only nine when he and his family were freed, but he knew then what
he wanted with his newfound freedom.
By train,
stagecoach, and foot Booker T. Washington made his way to Hampton Institute, where
he worked as a janitor to pay tuition.
His education, however, was not the end of the journey.
On July 4, 1881 with only two thousand dollars for salaries,
no land, and no buildings, Booker T. Washington opened the Tuskegee Institute
in Macon County, Alabama--the heart of the deep South.
By 1950, Tuskegee had two hundred faculty members and two thousand
This success with Tuskegee gave Booker T. Washington tremendous influence
throughout the country.
He was able to raise money, much of it from wealthy white businessman,
to fund sixty-five small black schools throughout the South.
In 1898,
President William McKinley visited Tuskegee and praised Washington's work.
Theodore Roosevelt, president from 1901 to 1909,
regularly sought Washington's opinion on racial matters and consulted him for
recommendations before appointing African-Americans to federal positions.
Yet, not all African Americans like Booker's methods.
He believed the path to freedom was a useful education,
not necessarily a demand for equal rights.
Even though you have the race factor,
America is a capitalistic society,
and green [money] will get you much further than anything else might possibly be able to do.
Booker T. Washington understood that,
and I think when you look at what we're facing today in some of our communities,
he might actually be laughing at the path that we took, because
ultimately proving his ideas--his ideas about the importance of wealth,
of business ownership--that proved to be correct.
Booker T. Washington was ridiculed by many Civil Rights leaders of his time
for this position.
Yet his legacy in the form of Tuskegee Institute is still helping young
African-Americans develop their independence by developing Booker's
version of paradise--