Life of Booker T Washington

Table of Content

“In all things that are purely social we can be separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”- Booker T. Washington. Booker T. Washington was a civil rights activist, orator, former slave, and the head of Tuskegee University. He fought for equal rights and tried to abolish segregation. Washington went through a lot of heartaches, but he also had a lot of accomplishments. Some of his accomplishments include; establishing Tuskegee University, being the first African American to advise a U.S. President, and educating many on the imbalance of civil rights. Even after Booker T. received criticism, he held his head high and marched on with his duties. He was well-known in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Booker had to earn the respect of hundreds. When it comes to whether Booker was able to hurry society along with equal rights between blacks and whites or people of color having a vote in a political office, it is certain that he helped people recognize the issues in society.

Early Life/Family

Booker T. Washington was born on April 5th, 1856. His mother was Jane Ferguson and his father was suspected to be a white man from a neighboring plantation. He had three siblings. John, who was the eldest, Amanda, his half-sister, and James, who was adopted. His mother married Washington Ferguson after the Civil War ended ( Booker met his first wife when he was teaching at Malden, Virginia. He married Fannie Smith on August 2, 1882. A year later, she gave birth to Portia. She died on May 4, 1884, from unknown causes. He then married Olivia America Davidson on August 11, 1886. They formed a partnership to found an institute in Alabama that gave blacks a chance to learn and not be denied. She became the assistant principal of Tuskegee. Olivia became ill while visiting a school in Framingham, Massachusetts. She then returned to Hampton Institute to recover and teach Native Americans. She missed the opening of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute but when she returned, she gave all of her energy into the school’s success. Olivia fell ill again because of her exhausting schedule. She gave birth to Booker T Jr. on May 29, 1887, and Ernest Davidson Washington on February 6, 1889. Two days after Ernest’s birth, their house caught on fire and Olivia was increasing problems with her throat. Olivia then sought medical attention in Boston. She died in on May 9, 1889, from tuberculosis of the larynx. After the death of his second wife, Booker T. Washington was devastated. He then raised his three kids by himself until he met Margaret J. Murray in June of 1882. Margaret was Olivia’s younger sister, she was born in Macon, Mississippi on March 8, 1861 (Lewis, Jone September 7, 2017.) She became the lady principal of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in 1890. He married her on October 12, 1893. Margaret had a troublesome time getting along with Booker’s family. She had a particularly difficult time with Booker’s eldest child, Portia. They were bitter to each other for many years( Lewis, Jone September 7, 2017.) Margaret worked hard to accomplish simple tasks, and there was no visible conflict between her and her husband. After working as the Director of Domestic Science, serving on the executive committee, and helping build Dorothy Hall, she became Dean of Women. Margaret joined many clubs including National Federation of Afro-American Women and Colored Women’s League (which later merged into National Association of Colored Women). She continued these duties after Booker died in 1915. Margaret died on June 4, 1925, from arteriosclerosis (hardened and thickening of arteries) and exhaustion.

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Since Booker was a slave, he had a challenging time finding a school to accept him. After he was emancipated, he walked 500 miles to Hampton Normal Agricultural Institute in Virginia on 1872. Booker convinced the administrators to let him attend Hampton and he became a janitor to pay for his schooling. The founder and headmaster, General Samuel C. Armstrong, noticed how hardworking Washington was and offered him a scholarship. He graduated with high marks in 1875. Washington began teaching at Malden, Virginia shortly after. The Alabama legislature granted $2,000 for a colored school. Booker traveled countryside trying to raise money; the classes were being held in an old church. At the time of Washington’s death, Tuskegee had 100 well-equipped buildings, 1,500 students, a 200-member faculty teaching 38 trades and professions, and $2 million in funding. Booker liked integrating himself into the school’s studies. He believed if blacks obtained financial independence and cultural advancement, that they would win acceptance from whites ( Editors, April 2, 2014.)


Booker often used speeches in his teachings because he thought original thinking and textbooks were better than not having any education or working as a slave. Booker T. Washington put his outlook on race relations into a speech called the “Atlanta Compromise.” W.E.B. Du Bois was a northerner who denounced Washington’s belief that African Americans were suited to vocational training. Du Bois did not believe that Booker was demanding equal rights. Washington was a strong believer in advancing African Americans, but W.E.B. Du Bois was partially right. ( Editors April 2, 2014) Booker T. Washington forbad African Americans from voting and political participation. In 1901, Booker was invited to the white house by Theodore Roosevelt, making him the first African American held to this honor. President Roosevelt and William Taft used Booker as an adviser for racial matters. Many people saw Booker T. Washington as a hero, while others saw him as an impostor. Washington wrote five books with help from ghostwriters: The Story of My Life and Work (1900), Up from Slavery (1901), The Story of the Negro: The Rise of the Race from Slavery (1909), My Larger Education (1911), and The Man Farthest Down (1912). Even though Booker lost most of his influence in the early 1900s, he was still popular amongst scholars. Booker T. Washington died because of congestive heart failure on November 14, 1915 ( Editors April 2, 2014.)

Booker T. Washington worked for everything he had and was a major component of the civil rights movement. “No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as writing a poem.” – Booker T. Washington. There was no doubt that he was an intelligent man who understood the importance of equal rights. Booker’s skill set was a variety of many subjects that entwined themselves into his everyday life. He was one the first black rights activists to publicly speak about Jim Crow Laws. Washington was an orator, founder of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, husband, father, son, and all around a bundle of energy. Booker Taliaferro Washington was an African American who fought tooth and nail to bring other African Americans into the light and explain the inequality that was present.

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Life of Booker T Washington. (2022, Feb 14). Retrieved from

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