Booker T. Washington saw education as the true emancipator for himself and others. He rose from slavery and a childhood of manual labor to become a leading educator of African Americans at the end of the 19th century. As the first principal of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, he built an educational program that emphasized agricultural and industrial training.
His program reflected an understanding of the racism, violence, intimidation, and lack of economic opportunities that most African Americans faced in the South during this time. He believed that when African Americans proved themselves economically, civil rights for blacks would naturally follow.
From 1895 to 1915, he was the most powerful and influential African American in the United States.