Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington was born a slave in western Virginia in 1856. As a youth he labored in the salt works and coal mines before attending Hampton Institute in Virginia in 1872. In 1881 Washington founded Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama. The Tuskegee Institute focused on developing practical occupational skills. Washington urged African-Americans to ignore the political disenfranchisement and segregation they experienced, believing blacks should concentrate on building an economic base drawing from their community strengths. Many believe that Washington's public world view is most clearly expressed in his "Atlanta Compromise" address, delivered in 1895 at the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia. Speaking to a segregated black and white audience, Washington exclaimed "Cast down your buckets where you are," meaning that blacks should not strive for equality with whites. He insisted that those who sought such equality were engaged in the "extremest folly."

He asserted that in social matters blacks and whites can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress Washington's self-help position, often referred to as "accommodationist," meaning it adapted to rather than challenged unequal circumstances between blacks and whites, gained him the support of wealthy white industrialists like Andrew Carnegie, and important political leaders like Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. In his 1884 The Educational Outlook of the South, Washington summarized his vision for race relations in the United States:

I repeat for emphasis that any work looking towards the permanent improvement of the Negro South, must have for one of its aims the fitting of him to live friendly and peaceably with his white neighbors both socially and politically. In spite of all talk of exodus, the Negro's home is permanently in the South; for coming in the bread-and-meat side of the question, the white man needs the Negro, and the Negro needs the white man. His home being permanently in the South, it is our duty to help him prepare himself to live there an independent, educated citizen.

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