BlackFacts Details

A Biography of Booker T. Washington

Booker Taliaferro Washington was born into slavery yet rose to become the preeminent spokesperson for African-Americans in the post-Reconstruction era.

From 1895  until his death in 1915, Washington was respected by working class African-Americans because of his promotion of vocational and industrial trades.

White Americans supported Washington because of his belief that African-Americans should not fight for civil rights until they could prove their economic worth in society.

Born into slavery but emancipated through the 13th Amendment in 1865, Washington worked in salt furnaces and coal mines throughout his childhood. From 1872 to 1875, he attended Hampton Institute.

In 1881, Washington founded Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute.

The school began as one building, but Washington used his ability to build relationships with white benefactors—from the South and North—to expand the school.

Advocating for the industrial education of African-Americans, Washington assured his patrons that the philosophy of the school would not be to challenge disenfranchisement, Jim Crow laws or lynchings.

Instead, Washington argued that African-Americans could find upliftment through an industrial education. Within a few years of opening, Tuskegee Institute became the greatest institution of higher learning for African-Americans and Washington became a prominent African-American leader. 

In September of 1895, Washington was invited to speak at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta.

In his speech, known as the Atlanta Compromise, Washington argued that African-Americans should accept disenfranchisement, segregation and other forms of racism as long as whites allowed them the opportunity to have economic success, educational opportunities and in the criminal justice system. Arguing that African-Americans should “cast down your buckets where you are,” and that “Our greatest danger is that in the great leap from slavery to freedom we may overlook the fact that the masses of us are to live by the productions

National Trust for Historic Preservation