Representative of the last generation of black American leaders born in slavery, he spoke on behalf of the large majority of blacks who lived in the South but had lost their ability to vote through disfranchisement by southern legislatures. Historians note that Washington, "advised, networked, cut deals, made threats, pressured, punished enemies, rewarded friends, greased palms, manipulated the media, signed autographs, read minds with the skill of a master psychologist, strategized, raised money, always knew where the camera was pointing, traveled with an entourage, waved the flag with patriotic speeches, and claimed to have no interest in partisan politics. In other words, he was an artful politician."
While his opponents called his powerful network of supporters the "Tuskegee Machine," Washington maintained control because of his ability to gain support of numerous groups including influential whites and the black business, educational and religious communities nationwide. He advised on financial donations from philanthropists, and avoided antagonizing white Southerners with his accommodation to the political realities of the age of Jim Crow segregation.
|THE BLACK SOCIAL HISTORY|
Washington attained national prominence for his Atlanta Address of 1895, which attracted the attention of politicians and the public, making him a popular spokesperson for African-American citizens. He built a nationwide network of supporters in many black communities, with black ministers, educators and businessmen composing his core supporters. Washington played a dominant role in black politics, winning wide support in the black community and among more liberal whites (especially rich Northern whites). He gained access to top national leaders in politics, philanthropy and education. Washington's efforts included cooperating with white people and enlisting the support of wealthy philanthropists, helping to raise funds to establish and operate thousands of small community schools and institutions of higher education for the betterment of blacks throughout the South. This work continued for many years after his death. Washington argued that the surest way for blacks to gain equal social rights was to demonstrate "industry, thrift, intelligence and property."
Northern critics called Washington's followers the "Tuskegee Machine". After 1909, Washington was criticized by the leaders of the new NAACP, especially W. E. B. Du Bois, who demanded a stronger tone of protest for advancement of civil rights needs. Washington replied that confrontation would lead to disaster for the outnumbered blacks, and that cooperation with supportive whites was the only way to overcome pervasive racism in the long run. At the same time, he secretly funded litigation for civil rights cases, such as challenges to southern constitutions and laws that disfranchised blacks. Washington was on close terms with national republican leaders, and often was asked for political advice by presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.
In addition to his contributions in education, Washington wrote 14 books; his autobiography, Up From Slavery, first published in 1901, is still widely read today. During a difficult period of transition, he did much to improve the working relationship between the races. His work greatly helped blacks to achieve higher education, financial power and understanding of the U.S. legal system. This contributed to blacks' attaining the skills to create and support the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, leading to the passage of important federal civil rights laws.
BLACK SOCIAL HISTORY
She and the freedman Washington Ferguson were formally married in West Virginia, and Booker took the surname Washington at school after his stepfather.As the great day drew nearer, there was more singing in the slave quarters than usual. It was bolder, had more ring, and lasted later into the night. Most of the verses of the plantation songs had some reference to freedom... Some man who seemed to be a stranger (a United States officer, I presume) made a little speech and then read a rather long paper—the Emancipation Proclamation, I think. After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing that she would never live to see.
The youth worked in salt furnaces and coal mines in West Virginia for several years, then made his way east to Hampton Institute, a school established to educate freedmen, where he worked to pay for his studies. He attended Wayland Seminary in Washington, D.C. in 1878 and left after 6 months. In 1881, the Hampton president Samuel C. Armstrong recommended Washington to become the first leader of Tuskegee Institute, the new normal school (teachers' college) in Alabama. He headed it for the rest of his life.
Washington was instrumental in having West Virginia State University, founded in 1891, located in the Kanawha Valley of West Virginia. He visited the campus often and spoke at its first commencement exercise.
Washington was a dominant figure of the African-American community from 1890 to his death in 1915, especially after his Atlanta Address of 1895. To many he was seen as a popular spokesman for African-American citizens. Representing the last generation of black leaders born into slavery, Washington was generally perceived as a supporter of education for freedmen in the post-Reconstruction, Jim Crow-era South. Throughout the final twenty years of his life, he maintained his standing through a nationwide network of supporters including black educators, ministers, editors, and businessmen, especially those who supported his views on social and educational issues for blacks. He gained access to top national leaders in politics, philanthropy and education, raised large sums, was consulted on race issues and was awarded honorary degrees from leading American universities.
Late in his career, Washington was criticized by leaders of the NAACP, a civil rights organization formed in 1909. W. E. B. Du Bois advocated activism to achieve civil rights. He labeled Washington "the Great Accommodator". Washington's response was that confrontation could lead to disaster for the outnumbered blacks. He believed that cooperation with supportive whites was the only way to overcome racism in the long run.
Washington contributed secretly and substantially to legal challenges against segregation and disfranchisement of blacks. In his public role, he believed he could achieve more by skillful accommodation to the social realities of the age of segregation.
Washington's work on education problems helped him enlist both the moral and substantial financial support of many major white philanthropists. He became friends with such self-made men as Standard Oil magnate Henry Huttleston Rogers; Sears, Roebuck and Company President Julius Rosenwald; and George Eastman, inventor and founder of Kodak. These individuals and many other wealthy men and women funded his causes, including Hampton and Tuskegee institutes.
His autobiography, Up From Slavery, first published in 1901, is still widely read today.
BLACK SOCIAL HISTORY
Washington expressed his aspirations for his race in his direction of the school. He believed that by providing needed skills to society, African Americans would play their part, leading to acceptance by white Americans. He believed that blacks would eventually gain full participation in society by acting as responsible, reliable American citizens. Shortly after the Spanish-American War, President William McKinley and most of his cabinet visited Washington. He led the school until his death in 1915. By then Tuskegee's endowment had grown to over $1.5 million, compared to its initial $2,000 annual appropriation.
BLACK SOCIAL HISTORY
Washington next wed Olivia A. Davidson in 1885. Born in Virginia, she had studied at Hampton Institute and the Massachusetts State Normal School at Framingham. She taught in Mississippi and Tennessee before going to Tuskegee to work. Washington met Davidson as a teacher at Tuskegee, where she was promoted to assistant principal there. They had two sons, Booker T. Washington Jr. and Ernest Davidson Washington, before she died in 1889.
In 1893 Washington married Margaret James Murray. She was from Mississippi and had graduated from Fisk University, a historically black college. They had no children together, but she helped rear Washington's children. Murray outlived Washington and died in 1925.
Washington advocated a "go slow" approach to avoid a harsh white backlash. The effect was that many youths in the South had to accept sacrifices of potential political power, civil rights and higher education. His belief was that African-Americans should "concentrate all their energies on industrial education, and accumulation of wealth, and the conciliation of the South." Washington valued the "industrial" education, as it provided critical skills for the jobs then available to the majority of African-Americans at the time, as most lived in the South, which was overwhelmingly rural and agricultural. He thought these skills that would lay the foundation for the creation of stability that the African-American community required in order to move forward. He believed that in the long term "blacks would eventually gain full participation in society by showing themselves to be responsible, reliable American citizens." His approach advocated for an initial step toward equal rights, rather than full equality under the law. It would be this step that would provide the economic power to back up their demands for equality in the future. This action, over time, would provide the proof to a deeply prejudiced white America that they were not in fact "'naturally' stupid and incompetent."
This stance was contrary to what well-educated blacks in the North wanted. Du Bois wanted blacks to have the same "classical" liberal arts education as upscale whites did, along with voting rights and civic equality. He believed that an elite he called the Talented Tenth would advance to lead the race to a wider variety of occupations. The source of division between Du Bois and Washington was generated by the differences in how African Americans were treated in the North versus the South. Many in the North felt that they were being 'led', and authoritatively spoken for, by a Southern accommodationist imposed on them primarily by Southern whites." Furthermore, historian Clarence E. Walker said, "Free black people were 'matter out of place'. Their emancipation was an affront to southern white freedom. Booker T. Washington did not understand that his program was perceived as subversive of a natural order in which black people were to remain forever subordinate or unfree." Both men sought to define the best means to improve the conditions of the post-Civil War African-American community through education.
Blacks were solidly Republican in this period. Southern states disfranchised most blacks and many poor whites from 1890–1908 through constitutional amendments and statutes that created barriers to voter registration, and voting such as poll taxes and literacy tests. Southern white Democrats regained power in the state legislatures of the former Confederacy and passed laws establishing racial segregation and other Jim Crow laws. More blacks continued to vote in border and Northern states.
Washington worked and socialized with many white politicians and industry leaders. Much of his expertise was his ability to persuade wealthy whites to donate money to black causes. He argued that the surest way for blacks to gain equal social rights was to demonstrate "industry, thrift, intelligence and property." This was the key to improved conditions for African Americans in the United States. Because they had only recently been emancipated, he believed they could not expect too much at once. Washington said, "I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome while trying to succeed.
Along with Du Bois, he partly organized the "Negro exhibition" at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris, where photos, taken by his friend Frances Benjamin Johnston, of Hampton Institute's black students were displayed. The exhibition expressed African Americans' positive contributions to American society.
Washington privately contributed substantial funds for legal challenges to segregation and disfranchisement, such as the case of Giles v. Harris, which went before the United States Supreme Court in 1903.
BLACK SOCIAL HISTORY
A representative case of an exceptional relationship was Washington's friendship with millionaire industrialist and financier Henry H. Rogers (1840–1909). Henry Rogers was a self-made man, who had risen from a modest working-class family to become a principal of Standard Oil, and had become one of the richest men in the United States. Around 1894 Rogers heard Washington speak at Madison Square Garden. The next day he contacted Washington and requested a meeting, during which Washington later recounted that he was told that Rogers "was surprised that no one had 'passed the hat' after the speech." The meeting began a close relationship that was to extend over a period of 15 years. Although he and the very-private Rogers openly became visible to the public as friends, and Washington was a frequent guest at Rogers' New York office, his Fairhaven, Massachusetts summer home, and aboard his steam yacht Kanawha, the true depth and scope of their relationship was not publicly revealed until after Rogers' sudden death of an stroke in May 1909.
Washington revealed that Rogers had been quietly funding operations of 65 small country schools for African Americans, and had given substantial sums of money to support Tuskegee and Hampton institutes. He also disclosed that Rogers had encouraged programs with matching funds requirements so the recipients had a stake in the outcome.
In 1907 Philadelphia Quaker Anna T. Jeanes (1822–1907) donated one million dollars to Washington for elementary schools for black children in the South. Her contributions and those of Henry Rogers and others funded schools in many poor communities.
Julius Rosenwald (1862–1932) was another self-made wealthy man with whom Washington found common ground. By 1908 Rosenwald, son of an immigrant clothier, had become part-owner and president of Sears, Roebuck and Company in Chicago. Rosenwald was a philanthropist who was deeply concerned about the poor state of African-American education, especially in the Southern states, where their schools were underfunded.
In 1912 Rosenwald was asked to serve on the Board of Directors of Tuskegee Institute, a position he held for the remainder of his life. Rosenwald endowed Tuskegee so that Washington could spend less time fundraising and more managing the school. Later in 1912 Rosenwald provided funds for a pilot program to build six new small schools in rural Alabama. They were designed, constructed and opened in 1913 and 1914 and overseen by Tuskegee; the model proved successful. Rosenwald established the Rosenwald Fund. The school building program was one of its largest programs. Using architectural model plans developed by professors at Tuskegee Institute, the Rosenwald Fund spent over $4 million to help build 4,977 schools, 217 teachers' homes, and 163 shop buildings in 883 counties in 15 states, from Maryland to Texas. The Rosenwald Fund made matching grants, requiring community support and fundraising. Black communities raised more than $4.7 million to aid the construction. These schools became informally known as Rosenwald Schools. By 1932, the facilities could accommodate one third of all African-American children in Southern U.S. schools.
BLACK SOCIAL HISTORY
- The Story of My Life and Work (1900)
- Up From Slavery (1901)
- The Story of the Negro: The Rise of the Race from Slavery (2 vol 1909)
- My Larger Education (1911)
- The Man Farthest Down (1912)
When Washington's autobiography, Up From Slavery, was published in 1901, it became a bestseller and had a major impact on the African American community, its friends and allies. One of the results was a dinner invitation to the White House in 1901 by President Theodore Roosevelt.
Eventual Governor of Mississippi James K. Vardaman and Senator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina indulged in racist personal attacks in response to the invitation. Vardaman described the White House as "so saturated with the odor of the nigger that the rats have taken refuge in the stable", and declared "I am just as much opposed to Booker T. Washington as a voter as I am to the cocoanut-headed, chocolate-colored typical little coon who blacks my shoes every morning. Neither is fit to perform the supreme function of citizenship." Tillman opined that "The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that nigger will necessitate our killing a thousand niggers in the South before they will learn their place again."
Austro-Hungarian ambassador to the United States Ladislaus Hengelmüller von Hengervár, who was visiting the White House on the same day, claimed to have found a rabbit's foot in Washington's coat pocket when he mistakenly put on the coat; The Washington Post elaborately described it as "the left hind foot of a graveyard rabbit, killed in the dark of the moon". The Detroit Journal quipped the next day, "The Austrian ambassador may have made off with Booker T. Washington's coat at the White House, but he'd have a bad time trying to fill his shoes."
His death was believed at the time to have been a result of congestive heart failure, aggravated by overwork. In March 2006, with the permission of his descendants, examination of medical records indicated that he died of hypertension, with a blood pressure more than twice normal, confirming what had long been suspected.
At his death Tuskegee's endowment exceeded $1.5 million. Washington's greatest life's work, the education of blacks in the South, was well underway and expanding.