As you journey though the USA, it is no accident you’ll see a lot of schools given the name of Booker T. Washington. That’s because this great black educator and leader set the criterion and carved out a new path in the years right after the fall of slavery to guide his people to a better way. He showed his people a way of education, accomplishment, achievement and the prosperity that by nature, come with those goals.
In 1901, the life story of Booker T. Washington was published with the fitting title Up From Slavery. Washington’s scramble to rise up from the restrictions of a slave’s life to be come one of the most illustrious black leaders in America is among the reasons he is revered in black history as one of the greats who genuinely made a difference for his people.
When Booker T. Washington’s family was liberated from slavery in Virginia, young Booker instantly began pursuing the path where he would make his mark, in education. Attaining success at Hampton University and then at Wayland Seminary, he was soon to open up new accomplishments for African Americans in higher education, being one of the first leaders of the Tuskegee University in Alabama.
But it was more than just academic success that punctuated Washington’s career. He became outstanding in many areas of leadership being a spokesperson for post slavery black America to the powerful and influential in this country. Book T. Washington lived the idea that the pen was mightier than the sword and was an early voice for moderation and learning to excel within the establishments and customs of America instead of dealing in violence.
Among Washington’s great strengths was encountering partnership and coalitions between leaders of numerous communities to enhance the opportunities for education and excellence for the African American community of the time. One of the more influential speeches of black history was given by Washington and became recognized as the Atlanta Address of 1895 in which Washington, speaking to a predominantly white audience set off a profound change in way economic opportunity and employing was done in America at its time. In that one speech he…
* Called up on the black community to become part of the economy and industry of America thus commencing the healing process that was so needed at the time.
* Stated without reservation that the south was the region of the country where there were the biggest opportunities for black employment. By drawing together the strong black labor force with an economy in the middle of recovery from the civil war, Washington may have been among the principal architects for the recovery of the south from the ravages of that war.
* Introduced to the economic institutions largely run by the white citizens of the country that it made more sense to capitalize on the huge resident black population for dependable workers than to look to immigrants. The final result was a boom in employment for the black community that was a big leap forward in the struggle to come up out of slavery.
The Atlanta Address of 1895 moved Booker T. Washington into national prominence becoming a healing voice and a herculean catalyst for change in the United States. Using his advanced network of supporters from each arena of leadership including political, academic and business leaders, Washington worked inexhaustibly to give hope and new opportunities for black families trying to make their way in America.
His work ethic was fundamental and brought forth change at a rate that was phenomenal by any measure. But it had taken a toll on Washington who died relatively young, at the age of fifty-nine from exhaustion and overwork. But this too remarks the enormous drive and devotion this significant black leader had to use all of his talents, his intellect and his network to better the lives of black people and speed up the road to acceptance and integration all over America. We all owe a Booker T. Washington much gratitude for being “the man of the hour” to lead all people forward, black and white, to look for ways to work together in partnership instead of with distrust or violence to attain a better America for everybody.