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Booker T. Washington (Booker Taliaferro Washington) Biography

(1856–1915), (Booker Taliaferro Washington), Up from Slavery, Outlook, Frederick Douglass, The Story of the Negro

African-American leader and writer, born in Hale's Ford, Franklin County, Virginia, educated at Hampton Institute, Virginia, and Wayland Seminary, Washington, DC. Washington was born on a Virginia plantation, the son of a slave woman and an unidentified white slave-owner; in his autobiography, Up from Slavery (1901), he recalls in the first chapter the years of his childhood and, in particular, the occasion in 1965 when, at the end of the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation was read to the assembled family of slaves and slave-owners. At the end of the Civil War he moved with his mother and stepfather to Malden, West Virginia, where he attended elementary school and was employed as a domestic servant. It was with his 500-mile journey to Hampton Institute in Virginia, a school expressly established for the education of Southern black children, that Washington began his remarkable rise to prominence in American political life. In 1881 he moved to Tuskegee Normal School in Alabama and by 1893 had become principal of the school, now renamed as the Tuskegee Institute. In 1895 he came to national attention when he addressed the Atlanta Exposition; his speech, which later became known as ‘The Atlanta Compromise’, spoke a nineteenth-century gospel of thrift, industry, and self-help, but it is the conciliatory approach to black–white relations with its implicit acceptance of the doctrine of segregation and the social inferiority of the black American that attracted much attention, and later black leaders and intellectuals were openly critical of Washington's position. However, the position advocated had just the effect on the white audience that he had intended. He was later a guest at a dinner given by President Theodore Roosevelt, received honorary degrees from Dartmouth College and Harvard University for his services to black America, and by the time of his death was known as the ‘Moses of his race’. In 1900 Washington recounted his life story for Outlook magazine, and the serialization became the basis for his most famous work, Up from Slavery. In addition he wrote a biography of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass (1907), The Story of the Negro (1909), and many other works. The definitive biography is that of Louis R. Harlan in two volumes, Booker T. Washington: The Making of a Black Leader, 1856–1901 (1972) and Booker T. Washington: The Wizard of Tuskegee, 1901–1915 (1983).

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Robert Penn Warren Biography to Kenneth White Biography