April 5

April 5, 1856 – Booker T. Washington
Booker T. Washington (large)

Booker T. Washington

African American leader, orator and educator, Booker T. Washington was born into slavery on April 5, 1856 in Hale’s Ford, Virginia. The man who was born a slave would become one of  America’s most recognized African American leaders by the beginning of the twentieth century. Washington worked his way through Hampton Normal Agricultural Institute in Virginia (now Hampton University).  He also studied at Wayland Seminary (now Virginia Union University).  On July 4, 1881 Booker T. Washington founded Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (now Tuskegee University) located in Tuskegee, Alabama.

History class at Tuskegee.jpg

History class, Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama. (1902)

The school was led by a young 25 year old Washington who guided the new students in building a school to provide educators for training African Americans throughout the south. He would lead Tuskegee to become one of the nation’s best schools. Only thirty years after the end of slavery,  on September 18, 1895, Washington delivered what is considered by many to be one of America’s greatest speeches.  He addressed race relations in what has become known as his “Atlanta Compromise” speech at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta.

Booker T Washington New Orleans 1915

Booker T. Washington giving a speech in New Orleans, 1915

The significance of an African American being asked to deliver a speech at a major convention in the heart of the south to a white audience was historic. Although, he called on African Americans and whites to work together to build the south,  many consider parts of Washington”s speech an appeasement to fears whites had of African Americans wanting to progress towards the upward economic and social rim of society. He received a standing ovation at the conclusion of the speech. Washington’s has often been criticized on his more conservative philosophy of handling race relations versus the more aggressive methods promoted by leaders such as W.E.B. Du Bois. But few can debate the overall contributions made by a man who was born a slave in Virginia and became a great educator an American leader. Washington died on November 14, 1915 at age 59 in Tuskegee, Alabama.

(Below) Audio Speech by Booker T. Washington to the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition in 1895 (May not be available or visible to some media players)