With the end of the American Civil War in April 1865, four million former slaves took their first breath of freedom. African Americans criss-crossed the South searching for relatives separated by slavery and war. They looked not only for their families, but for the freedom they never had.
During the years following the Civil War, the federal Government tried to rebuild the South. This period, 1863-1877, was known as Reconstruction. During this time, Booker and his family tried to improve their lives.
Booker heard about Hampton Institute over 500 miles away in eastern Virginia. He wanted to attend. In 1872, at the age of 16, with only the money he had earned doing extra domestic work, Booker started for Hampton Institute. After his train tickets ran out, he walked the remaining miles.