Since it’s Black History Month, and since we are educators, we thought we’d highlight one particular African American hero who made a positive impact on education. This particular individual is Booker T. Washington.
In Washington’s famous 1901 autobiography, Up From Slavery, he described how he felt when he first heard about the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia:
…it seemed to me that it must be the greatest place on earth, and not even Heaven presented more attractions for me at that time than did the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia, about which these men were talking. I resolved at once to go to that school, although I had no idea where it was, or how many miles away, or how I was going to reach it; I remembered only that I was on fire constantly with one ambition, and that was to go to Hampton. This thought was with me day and night (Washington, Up From Slavery, 72).
Washington not only managed to become enrolled at Hampton by walking “about five hundred miles” to get to the school, he also graduated and eventually taught there (Washington 1901, Ch. 3). In 1881, Washington was selected to head a new normal school for African Americans at Tuskegee called the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, wherein he solidified his place as a genuine proponent of learning as a means for success. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica Online, over the next 34 years Washington had established “more than 100 well-equipped buildings, some 1,500 students, a faculty of nearly 200 teaching 38 trades and professions, and an endowment of approximately $2 million.”
He believed so strongly in education that he urged his fellow African Americans to temporarily put aside their civil rights efforts to gain the industrial skills that would afford them economic security and eventual respect among the white community. He spoke about this in his autobiography:
Many white people who had had no contact with the school, and perhaps no sympathy with it, came to us to buy bricks because they found out that ours were good bricks. They discovered that we were supplying a real want in the community. The making of these bricks caused many of the white residents of the neighbourhood (sic) to begin to feel that the education of the Negro was not making him worthless, but that in educating our students we were adding something to the wealth and comfort of the community (Washington, Up From Slavery, 97).
That is so wonderfully stated. Washington had a very clear understanding of the importance, as well as the practical consequences, of education. Through education, they were able to acquire the skills they needed to attain the jobs and build the careers that were in demand at the time. They were able to create wealth, garner respect and exist as the important, contributing individuals they most assuredly were. For this we thank Mr. Booker T. Washington.
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- Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery: An Autobiography (New York: A.L. Burt, 1901).
- Encyclopedia Britannica Online, s. v. “Booker T. Washington”, accessed February 18, 2013, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/636363/Booker-T-Washington.
- Encyclopedia Britannica Online, s.v. “Tuskegee University”, accessed February 19, 2013, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/610608/Tuskegee-University
Labels: African American education, Black History Month, Booker T. Washington, career training, career training programs, Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, vocational training