Booker T. Washington


Booker T. Washington


Political and Educational Leader


Living is the art of loving. Loving is the art of caring. Caring is the art of sharing. Sharing is the art of living. If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.

- Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington (April 5, 1856- November 14, 1915), born Booker Taliaferro, is particularly notable for his role in founding the Tuskegee Institute of Alabama. By advocating for the education of freed African slaves in America, Washington paved the way for generations of underserved Americans. He argued that both theoretical and vocational training would help these exploited individuals to attain full freedom. The people that Washington was able to uplift through his devotion to education and teaching, remind us of the important public service role that teachers play in our communities. 

Washington was not raised with a formal or traditional educational path. Much of Washington’s early education was self-administered. Upon realizing that Washington was a keen learner, his mother bought him a book, which he used to teach himself to read and write. (Biography 2017) However, when Washington’s family moved to West Virginia following emancipation, he was given occasional lessons by the wife of his father’s employer. During his time living in Malden, he once wrote that “there was not a single member of my race who could read.” (Booker) He later walked to Virginia to attend the Hampton Institute, a school which was established to educate freed slaves. Along with traditional academic subjects, he was also trained in the industrial trades, such as carpentry and agriculture. The Hampton Institute was led by General Samuel C. Armstrong, who held the belief that training African Americans in industrial fields would enable them to gain new economic freedoms. This belief was passed down from Armstrong to Washington. (Gardner 1975)

Soon after graduating from the Hampton Institute, Washington began teaching at the school. Throughout his years there, he developed a close relationship with Armstrong, leading the latter to eventually invite Washington to help him establish a new school, the Tuskegee Institute. Washington took what he learned at the Hampton Institute with him when developing the new institute’s curriculum, intertwining academic courses with “occupational training” (Frantz 1997, 88 ). Along with this, Washington also added to the curriculum, lessons on “character building and the inculcation of middle-class values” (Gardner 1975, 505). The goal of the Tuskegee Institute was to give African American individuals the tools to support themselves successfully in the hostile environment of the Jim Crow South. 

Washington created the curriculum at Tuskegee so that it focused on three main components: academic classes, industrial shops, and theory classes which would connect with the industrial classes (Generals 2000). As the school grew, the departments they offered grew with it, and eventually Tuskegee had a Mechanical Department and an Industries for Women Department. Soon, the school was able to offer courses in agriculture, brickmaking, printing, wagon-building, and even shoe-making (Gardner 1975). Tuskegee began as a very small school located in one building, but over the course of one year, it grew into a hundred acre lot, allowing the institute to accommodate far more students. In its first few years, the institute was funded by the Hampton Institute’s treasury, and by the selling of bricks that Tuskegee students created. 

All of this work centered on Washington’s belief that, in order to fix the racial problems in the United States, the black community needed to focus on education and economic independence. While Washington strongly believed that vocational education was the best way to achieve these goals, there were many who disagreed with this pedagogical model, the most notable being W.E.B. DuBois. DuBois was another prominent black intellectual of the 20th century, who, contrary to Washington, believed that focusing on vocational education only served to lead African Americans back into a life of servitude. DuBois believed that in order for African Amerians to gain full freedom, they had to “obtain social and economic equality through the education of an elite few who could hold their own in the social and political maneuverings of the day.” (Frantz 1997, 89) Even though both men advocated for the full liberty of African descendants in America, they held very different ideas about how that liberty could be grasped. 

While the Tuskegee Institute did largely focus on vocational education and its importance, graduates of the school went on to work successfully in a multitude of fields. Twenty years after the school initially opened in 1902, graduates were found working in various fields, such as education and medicine. Many graduates went on to pursue further education via graduate school, and some even continued on to open their own schools in the south. One notable graduate of the school, Russell C. Calhoun, went on, along with his wife, to found the Robert Hungerford Industrial School. This school educated and boarded students in grades 6-12, and also offered both academic and vocational courses. 

Unfortunately, Washington did not live long enough to see the racial issues in the United States lessened. Not only did official segregation outlive him by fifty years, but even over one hundred years after his death, we continue to witness deeply rooted racial injustices in the United States. After a long life of teaching and serving his community, Booker T. Washington passed away in 1915. Washington remained principal at Tuskegee up until his death. His legacy lives on at Tuskegee, which has evolved into what is known today as Tuskegee University. Tuskegee University has continued to be one of the United States’ Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).


  1. Booker T. Washington. Black and White Print. Place: Subcollection: Archives, Repository: Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library, Archival Location: Collection #4600 Box 60.
  1. Radio program transcript (Page 3). text, image/jpeg, transcripts. Place: Bronx Community College Archives. 

“Robert Hungerford Preparatory High School,” 2018., (accessed 13 June 2021) 

Biography. “Booker T. Washington,” 2017., (accessed 11 June 2021). 

"Booker T. Washington." In Contemporary Heroes and Heroines. Vol. 2. Detroit, MI: Gale, 1992. Gale In Context: Biography (accessed June 10, 2021). f267a9.

Frantz, Nevin R. “The Contributions of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois in the Development of Vocational Education” Journal of Industrial Teacher Education 34, no. 4 (1997): 87-91 

Gardner, Booker T. “The Educational Contributions of Booker T. Washington” Journal of Negro Education 44, no. 4 (Autumn, 1975): 502-518 

Generals, Donald. “Booker T. Washington and the Progressive Education: An Experimentalist Approach to Curriculum Development and Reform” Journal of Negro Education 69, no. 3 (Summer, 2000) 215-234 

Lewis, Theodore. “Booker T. Washington’s Audacious Vocationalist Philosophy” Oxford Review of Education 40, no. 2 (2014) 189-205 

Tuskegee University. “Dr. Booker Taliaferro Washington Founder and First President of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute”., (accessed 13 June 2021). 


Further Reading:

Harlan, Louis R. “Booker T. Washington and the White Man’s Burden” The American Historical Review 71, no. 2 (January 1966) 441-467.  

Harlan, Louis R. “The Secret Life of Booker T. Washington” The Journal of Southern History 37, no. 3 (August 1971) 393-416.

Marable, W. Manning. “Booker T. Washington and African Nationalism” Phylon 35, no. 4 (1974) 398-406. 

Washington, Booker T. “The Afro-American in the South” New York Evangelist 66 no. 41 (oct. 10, 1895): 24. /


Kaitlin Whalen




William H. Johnson


William H. Johnson


First photo - Booker T. Washington.

Medium: Drawing

Second photo - Painting.

Medium: Oil on Canvas.






Booker T. Washington, Education, African-Americans, Tuskegee, Reformer, Civil Rights





Kaitlin Whalen, Booker T. Washington, William H. Johnson, 1944-1945

Cite As

Kaitlin Whalen, “Booker T. Washington,” Virtual Museum of Public Service, accessed September 30, 2023,