Portrait of Booker T. Washington by Frances Benjamin Johnston, c. 1895
Booker Taliaferro Washington (April 5, 1856 – November 14, 1915) was an American educator, author, and speaker. One of the most influential Black leaders of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Washington was also a pivotal figure at the Tuskegee Institute.
Childhood & Education
Booker was born in Virginia in 1856 to an enslaved mother and unknown white man. In 1865, after emancipation, his mother took her children to West Virginia.
In 1872, at age 16, Booker T. Washington entered the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia, graduating in 1875. He attended Wayland Seminary in Washington DC in 1878 and, in 1879, returned to the Hampton Institute as a teacher.
Washington was selected as principal of Alabama’s newly established Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (now Tuskegee University), which opened in 1881 as a training school for Black teachers.
Washington (who led the Tuskegee Institute for more than 30 years) believed that vocational training was more valuable for Black Americans than a classical education. Thus, the school primarily educated its students on teaching skilled trades, domestic skills, and farming.
As one of the most powerful figures in the Black community during his lifetime, Booker T. Washington built a network of Black and White leaders in education, religion, journalism, business, politics, and philanthropy. He also served as an advisor on racial issues to presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft.
In 1900, he helped found the National Negro Business League, and in 1901 he published his autobiography Up from Slavery, the best known of his books.
Philosophy & Criticism
Washington argued that economic independence for Black Americans should be prioritized over immediate attainment of political and civil rights. In 1895, he outlined his race relations philosophy in his Atlanta Exposition Address (termed the “Atlanta Compromise” by his critics).
As time went on, his views drew criticism from a growing number of other Black leaders and academics (notably W.E.B. Du Bois), who saw Washington as too conciliatory and accommodationist. Despite his public stances, however, Washington privately financed civil rights litigation.
Family Life & Death
In 1882, Washington married Fannie Smith, with whom he had a daughter. After Fannie’s death in 1884, he married Olivia Davidson in 1886, and the pair had two sons together. Olivia passed away in 1889, and Washington married Margaret Murray in 1893.
In November 1915, Booker T. Washington fell ill in New York. He returned to Tuskegee, passing away there on November 14, 1915, at age 59.
Learn more about Booker T. Washington through historical newspapers from our archives. Explore newspaper articles, headlines, images, and other primary sources below.
Articles and Clippings about Booker T. Washington
Booker T. Washington speaks at a 1882 meeting held on behalf of the Hampton Institute 24 Mar 1882, Fri The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) Newspapers.comNewspaper summarizes 1885 speech by Booker T. Washington about civil rights legislation 11 Feb 1885, Wed Staunton Spectator (Staunton, Virginia) Newspapers.com1886 marriage announcement for Booker T. Washington and Olivia Davidson 03 Aug 1886, Tue Boston Evening Transcript (Boston, Massachusetts) Newspapers.comNew York Times prints description of the Tuskegee Institute in 1887 05 Jun 1887, Sun The New York Times (New York, New York) Newspapers.com1894 summary of Booker T. Washington's early life, work at Tuskegee, and ideas 18 Jun 1894, Mon Buffalo Courier (Buffalo, New York) Newspapers.comNewspaper account of Booker T. Washington's 1895 Atlanta Exposition Address 19 Sep 1895, Thu The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Newspapers.comRichmond Planet editorial praising Booker T. Washington's 1895 Atlanta Exposition Address 28 Sep 1895, Sat Richmond Planet (Richmond, Virginia) Newspapers.comWashington Bee editorial critical of Booker T. Washington's 1895 Atlanta Exposition Address 26 Oct 1895, Sat The Washington Bee (Washington, District of Columbia) Newspapers.com1898 critique of Booker T. Washington's views & philosophies 08 Jan 1898, Sat The Washington Bee (Washington, District of Columbia) Newspapers.comNotice about the 1900 inaugural meeting of the National Negro Business League in Boston 23 Aug 1900, Thu The Fall River Daily Herald (Fall River, Massachusetts) Newspapers.comExcerpt from New York Times review of Booker T. Washington's 1901 autobiography "Up from Slavery" 09 Mar 1901, Sat The New York Times (New York, New York) Newspapers.comSummary of different reactions to Booker T. Washington's 1901 dinner with Pres. Theodore Roosevelt 19 Oct 1901, Sat Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) Newspapers.comEditorial addressing Booker T. Washington's 1901 White House dinner with Pres. Theodore Roosevelt 26 Oct 1901, Sat The Appeal (Saint Paul, Minnesota) Newspapers.com1903 editorial critiquing Booker T. Washington's views on social equality 27 Jun 1903, Sat The Broad Ax (Salt Lake City, Utah) Newspapers.comExcerpt from 1906 opinion comparing Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois 27 Oct 1906, Sat Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) Newspapers.comNewspaper account (with quotes) from a 1911 speech given by Booker T. Washington in Iowa 17 Mar 1911, Fri The Bystander (Des Moines, Iowa) Newspapers.comBritish newspaper prints news of 1911 assault on Booker T. Washington in New York 21 Mar 1911, Tue The Guardian (London, Greater London, England) Newspapers.comPicture of Booker T. Washington published in a newspaper in 1911 26 Aug 1911, Sat The Washington Bee (Washington, District of Columbia) Newspapers.comFamily photo of Booker T. Washington, his wife, and two sons published in a newspaper in 1915 15 Nov 1915, Mon Boston Evening Transcript (Boston, Massachusetts) Newspapers.comEditorial reflecting on the legacy of Booker T. Washington following his death in 1915 16 Nov 1915, Tue The Des Moines Register (Des Moines, Iowa) Newspapers.com1915 obituary for Booker T. Washington from Tuskegee, Alabama, newspaper 18 Nov 1915, Thu The Tuskegee News (Tuskegee, Alabama) Newspapers.comFront page with account of Booker T. Washington's last days, death & funeral, as well as tributes 20 Nov 1915, Sat The Kansas City Sun (Kansas City, Missouri) Newspapers.comExcerpt from 1922 newspaper feature on Booker T. Washington, explaining the origin of his name 06 Apr 1922, Thu The Birmingham News (Birmingham, Alabama) Newspapers.com