Booker T. Washington : biography
Booker Taliaferro Washington (April 5, 1856 – November 14, 1915) was an African-American educator, author, orator, and advisor to presidents of the United States. Between 1890 and 1915, Washington was the dominant leader in the US African-American community.
Washington was of the last generation of black American leaders born into slavery, who became the leading voice of the disfranchised former slaves newly oppressed by the discriminatory laws enacted in the post reconstruction Southern states in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1895 his Atlanta compromise called for avoiding confrontation over segregation and instead putting more reliance on long-term educational and economic advancement in the black community.
His base was the Tuskegee Institute, a state college for blacks in Alabama. As the threat of lynching reached a peak in 1895, Washington gave a speech in Atlanta that made him nationally famous. The speech called for black progress through education and entrepreneurship. His message was that now was not the time to challenge Jim Crow segregation and the disfranchisement of blacks voters in the South. Washington mobilized a nationwide coalition of middle class blacks, church leaders, and white philanthropists and politicians, with a long-term goal of building the community’s economic strength and pride by a focus on self-help and schooling. Secretly, he supported court challenges to segregation. Black militants in the North, led by W.E.B. DuBois, at first supported the Atlanta Compromise but after 1909 set up the NAACP and tried to challenge Washington’s political machine for leadership in the black community. Decades after Washington’s death in 1915, the Civil Rights movement generally moved away from his policies to take the more militant NAACP approach.
Booker T. Washington mastered the nuances of the political arena in the late 19th century which enabled him to manipulate the media, raise money, strategize, network, pressure, reward friends and distribute funds while punishing those who stood in his plans for uplifting blacks and eventually ending the disfranchisement of the majority of African Americans living in southern states.
Honors and memorials
For his contributions to American society, Washington was granted an honorary master’s degree from Harvard University in 1896 and an honorary doctorate from Dartmouth College in 1901.
Washington, as the guest of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1901, was the first African American ever invited to the White House. The visit was recalled in the 1927 song by Banjo Blues Musician Gus Cannon, titled "Can You Blame The Coloured Man".. At the end of the 2008 presidential election, the defeated Republican candidate, Senator John McCain, referred to Washington’s visit a century before as the seed that blossomed into Barack Obama as the first African American to be elected President of the United States.
In 1934 Robert Russa Moton, Washington’s successor as president of Tuskegee University, arranged an air tour for two African-American aviators. Afterward he had the plane named the Booker T. Washington.
‘Famous Americans Series’ Commemorative U.S. Postage stamp, issue of 1940.]] On April 7, 1940, Washington became the first African American to be depicted on a United States postage stamp. Several years later, he was honored on the first coin to feature an African American, the Booker T. Washington Memorial Half Dollar, which was minted by the United States from 1946 to 1951. He was also depicted on a U.S. Half Dollar from 1951–1954..
In 1942, the Liberty Ship Booker T. Washington was named in his honor, the first major oceangoing vessel to be named after an African American. The ship was christened by Marian Anderson..
On April 5, 1956, the hundredth anniversary of Washington’s birth, the house where he was born in Franklin County, Virginia, was designated as the Booker T. Washington National Monument. A state park in Chattanooga, Tennessee was named in his honor, as was a bridge spanning the Hampton River adjacent to his alma mater, Hampton University.