Booker Taliaferro Washington grew up the child of a slave in the South during the Civil War. Following emancipation, he moved with his mother and stepfather to West Virginia, where he worked in salt furnaces and a coal mine but also learned to read. At age 16, he made his way to Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, where he excelled as a student and later took on an administrative role. His belief in the power of education, strong personal morals, and economic self-reliance earned him to a position of influence among both black and white Americans of the time.
He launched Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, now Tuskegee University, in a one-room shanty in 1881, serving as the schools principal until his death in 1915.
Dates: April 5, 1856 (undocumented) - November 14, 1915
Booker Taliaferro was born to Jane, a slave who cooked on a Franklin County, Virginia plantation owned by James Burroughs, and an unknown white man. The surname Washington came from his stepfather, Washington Ferguson. Following the end of the Civil War in 1865, the blended family, which included step-siblings, moved to West Virginia, where Booker worked in salt furnaces and a coal mine. He later secured a job as a houseboy for the mine owners wife, an experience he credited with his respect for cleanliness, thrift, and hard work.
His illiterate mother encouraged his interest in learning, and Washington managed to attend an elementary school for black children.
Around the age of 14, after traveling on foot 500 miles to get there, he enrolled in Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute.
Washington attended Hampton Institute from 1872 to 1875. He distinguished himself as a student, but he did not have a clear ambition upon graduation.
He taught both children and adults back in his West Virgina hometown, and he briefly attended the Wayland Seminary in Washington, D.C.
He went back to Hampton as an administrator and teacher, and while there, received the recommendation that led him to the principalship of a new Negro Normal