Booker T. Washington Additional Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111203031-Washington_B.jpg Booker T. Washington Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Recognized during the early years of the twentieth century as the principal, though controversial, spokesman for African Americans, Booker Taliaferro Washington also won fame for his well-known rags to riches autobiography, Up from Slavery. He was born a slave of a white father and a black mother on a Virginia plantation, and the Civil War occurred early in his life. At age nine, moving with his mother and stepfather to West Virginia, where his stepfather went to work in the salt mines, Washington developed a hunger for education. Mrs. Lewis Ruffner, the wife of the mine’s owner, encouraged and helped him enter the Hampton Institute of Virginia, an industrial school for African Americans and American Indians.

Washington graduated from Hampton in 1875, but his early career as a teacher ended abruptly when he was appointed in 1881 to organize and head the Tuskegee Normal School and Industrial Institute in Alabama. He spent the bulk of the rest of his life building Tuskegee through his philosophy of the dignity of hard work and thrift. He envisioned that African Americans would succeed in the postwar South through practical education and economic development. A master administrator and communicator, Washington attracted financial support, and within twenty years Tuskegee could boast a faculty of 125 and a student body that numbered more than a thousand.

Washington became a famous and controversial figure in 1895, when he delivered a much-reported speech at the Atlanta Exposition, sometimes referred to as the “Atlanta compromise” address. In his speech he extolled the value of African Americans and whites working together in the common cause of economically building the South. Perhaps the most famous quotation from the speech suggests that “we can be as separate as the fingers yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.” The speech, like all his writing, is full of anecdote and employs a visionary oratorical style; it brought his audience to its feet.

While many lauded him as a black Moses, some African Americans, most notably W. E. B. Du Bois, believed that he demanded too little and...

(The entire section is 882 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Baker, Houston A. Turning South Again: Re-thinking Modernism/Re-reading Booker T. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2001. Analysis of Washington’s philosophy and writings.

Harlan, Louis R. Booker T. Washington: The Making of a Black Leader, 1856-1901. New York: Oxford University Press, 1972. The first volume of the best biography, based upon profound scholarship, this work is written in a clear style and with good judgment.

Harlan, Louis R. Booker T. Washington: The Wizard of Tuskegee, 1901-1915. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. The second and final volume of the prizewinning definitive life, this work fulfills the promise of the first volume.

Harlan, Louis R., et al., eds. The Booker T. Washington Papers. 13 vols. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1972-1984. These volumes bring together the voluminous papers of Washington, comprising his speeches, telegrams, letters, and miscellany. Edited with scholarly notes, the papers are invaluable for an understanding of the man and his activities.

McElroy, Frederick L. “Booker T. Washington as Literary Trickster.” Southern Folklore 49, no. 2 (1992). Analyzes how Washington revises Frederick Douglass’s rhetoric.

Mansfield, Stephen. Then Darkness Fled: The Liberating Wisdom of Booker T. Washington. Nashville: Cumberland House, 1999. A sympathetic analysis and biography.

Munslow, Alan. Discourse and Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992. The issues dividing W. E. B. Du Bois and Washington are clearly and evenhandedly explained.

Verney, Kevern. The Art of the Possible: Booker T. Washington and Black Leadership in the United States, 1881-1925. New York: Routledge, 2001. Presents all sides of the debate begun by W. E. B. Du Bois.

Washington, Booker T. Story of My Life & Work. Irvine, Calif.: Reprint Services Corporation, 1991.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Booker T. Washington rose to national prominence early in the twentieth century for promoting mutual interests as the foundation for better race relations. His views were rejected as limited and harmful by African American activists in the 1960’s because he concentrated on economic rather than social equality. His achievements have been given renewed consideration in light of historical perspective.

Washington was born on a Virginia plantation, the son of a white plantation owner and a slave woman. At the end of the Civil War, he moved with his mother and his stepfather to Malden, West Virginia, where he worked in the salt mines and grew up in poverty. Determined to get an education, he made a five-hundred mile...

(The entire section is 408 words.)


(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Author Profile

Booker T. Washington’s ethical position is set against the cultural, political, and societal forces of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His life corresponded with the Reconstruction years and its aftermath, when the South was adjusting to the post-Civil War trauma. The United States was emerging as a powerful industrial nation, and few restraints had been placed on economic competition. The era was dominated by industrialists who amassed great wealth through hard work and shrewd business practices. Some of the wealth, however, was diverted to select philanthropic causes.

By 1881, when Washington became principal of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, the...

(The entire section is 1207 words.)