A MAN FOR THE TIMES
The slave who would later call himself Booker Taliaferro Washington was born April 5, 1856, on a small tobacco plantation in the back country of Franklin County, Va. On the 1861 plantation inventory he was listed, along with his late owner's cattle, tools, and furniture, as "1 negro boy (Booker)," and valued at $400. ("Booker" was as much of a name as the 5-year-old slave boy had.) His mother, "1 negro woman (Jane) . . . $250.00," was the plantation cook; her childbearing years were over, and she was worth little at a time when a prime field-hand brought more than $1,000. A half-brother and half-sister were also listed, but Booker's father was not. In all probability, he was the shiftless white son of a neighboring farmer named Ferguson. His child never knew him.
The 207-acre plantation on which Booker was born and spent his childhood years consisted of a plain log house, a few head of livestock, and about 10 slaves. It was typical of the regiona stark contrast to the now - popular image of the extensive and luxurious Old South estate. The owner was James Burroughs, whose wife Elizabeth bore him 14 children. With only two of his slaves adult male fieldhands, Burroughs and his sons were no strangers to hard labor. Production of tobacco and the subsistence crops for master, slave, and livestock left little leisure for anyone.
The Burroughs family enjoyed few comforts, and for their slaves, life was a bare existence indeed. Washington vividly recalled the ramshackle cabin in which he spent 9 years in slavery:
The slave child's diet was in keeping with the quality of his living accommodations. As Washington remembered it,
"One of my earliest recollections," he wrote, "is that of my mother cooking a chicken late at night, and awakening her children for the purpose of feeding them. How or where she got it I do not know."
As might be expected, clothing worn by slaves was of the poorest sort. Adults often wore the master's cast-offs, but the children's only garments were commonly knee-length shirts woven from rough flax. Washington called wearing this shirt "the most trying ordeal that I was forced to endure as a slave boy" and compared its discomfort to "the feeling that one would experience if he had a dozen or more chestnut burrs, or a hundred small pin-points, in contact with his flesh."
Though life for the Burroughs' slaves was hard, there was not the harsh cruelty often found on the larger plantations managed by overseers. With the master and his family working alongside the slaves, there was a feeling of belongingof sharing in the family's joys and sorrows. Booker was too young for heavy work but was kept busy with such tasks as could be performed by a small boy. Among his chores were carrying water to the men in the fields, taking corn to the nearby mill for grinding, and fanning the flies from the Burroughs' dining room table.
For Booker, the worst aspect of slavery was its suppression of a child's natural desire to learn. Teaching a slave to read and write was prohibited by law in Virginia, as it was throughout most of the South. On occasion, Booker would accompany one of the Burroughs' daughters to the door of a nearby common school. "The picture of several dozen boys and girls in a schoolroom made a deep impression upon me," he later wrote, "and I had the feeling that to get into a schoolhouse and study in this way would be about the same as getting into paradise."
The Civil War years were a time of hardship for the Burroughs family. James Burroughs died in 1861. With her sons in the Confederate army, his widow found it difficult to maintain the plantation. What simple luxuries the family had normally enjoyedcoffee, tea, sugarwere no longer available in wartime. Two of the Burroughs boys lost their lives in the conflict, and two others were wounded.
But for the slaves, the war was a source of hushed excitement and expectation. Washington wrote:
Booker himself first became aware of the situation one morning before daybreak when "I was awakened by my mother kneeling over the children and fervently praying that Lincoln and his armies might be successful, and that one day she and her children might be free."
Jane's prayer was answered in April 1865 after the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee to Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, some 60 miles from the Burroughs plantation. When the slaves had gathered in front of the Burroughs house, Washington recalled, "some man who seemed to be a stranger (a United States officer, I presume) made a little speech and then read a rather long paperthe Emancipation Proclamation, I think. After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased."
Unlike most slaves, Booker and his family were fortunate in having a place to go when their freedom was proclaimed. During the war, Booker's stepfather had escaped to Malden, W.Va., where he obtained work in a salt furnace. After emancipation he sent for his family to join him there.
Despite the fact of freedom, physical conditions at Malden were even worse than on the plantation. Nine-year-old Booker was put to work in the salt furnace, often starting at 4 o'clock in the morning. A few years later, he labored as a coal miner, hating the darkness and danger of the work. Home was a crowded shack in the squalor of Malden's slums.
The trials of Booker's new life, far from discouraging him, stimulated his desire for education. His mother sympathized with his longing, and managed to get him a copy of Webster's "blue-back" spelling book.
Bitter disappointment came when a school for Negroes opened in Malden and Booker's stepfather would not let him leave work to attend. But Booker arranged with the teacher to give him lessons at night. Later he was allowed to go to school during the day "with the understanding that I was to rise early in the morning and work in the furnace till nine o'clock, and return immediately after school closed in the afternoon for at least two more hours of work." Noting that his classmates all had two names, Booker adopted the surname "Washington." He would add the "Taliaferro" later when he learned that it was part of the name given to him by his mother shortly after his birth.
The strongest influence shaping Washington's character at Malden was Viola Ruffner, Vermont-born wife of the owner of the salt furnace and coal mine. In 1871 Washington became her houseboy and was thoroughly indoctrinated in the puritan ethic of cleanliness and hard work. Thirty years later Washington stated, "the lessons that I learned in the home of Mrs. Ruffner were as valuable to me as any education I have ever gotten anywhere since."
While working in the coal mine, Washington overheard two miners talking about a large school for Negroes at Hampton, Va. With no clear idea of where it was or how he would get there, he resolved somehow to attend this school.
In the autumn of 1872, when he was 16 years old, Washington set out on the 400-mile journey to Hampton. An early experience with discrimination occurred on this triphe was refused food and lodging at a "common, unpainted house called a hotel" and spent the cold night walking about to keep warm. Begging rides and traveling much of the way on foot, Washington arrived penniless in Richmond, 80 miles short of his destination. He worked there for several days to get money so he could continue his trip. He slept under a board sidewalk.
Washington was so dirty and ragged upon reaching Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute that the head teacher was reluctant to admit him. When he persisted, she finally asked him to sweep one of the classroom floors. Recalling his training at the hands of Mrs. Ruffner, Washington cleaned the entire room thoroughly.
Washington studied at Hampton Institute for 3 years, working as a janitor to earn his board. His experience there influenced him profoundly. Hampton's emphasis on vocational training in industry, agriculture, and teaching was a revelation to him:
Of equal importance was Washington's association with the dedicated, selfless teachers of Hamptonparticularly with Gen. Samuel C. Armstrong, principal of the school. Like many of the teachers, Armstrong had gone south after the Civil War with a missionary zeal to uplift the newly freed slaves. His philosophy of practical education and his strength of character made a lasting impression on the young student. Years later, Washington called Armstrong "a great manthe noblest, rarest human being that it has ever been my privilege to meet."
After graduating with honors from Hampton in 1875, Washington returned to Malden to teach elementary school. Here an incident impressed him with the importance of using practical demonstrations in education. His pupils displayed little interest in a classroom geography lesson on islands, bays, and inlets. But during recess, while they were playing by the edge of a creek, the boy who was "most dull in the recitation" pointed out these features among the rocks and tufts of grass. The animated response of the class gave Washington a teaching lesson he never forgot.
Two years later, Washington went to the Wayland Seminary in Washington, D.C., where he studied for 8 months. There he was able to compare the value of academic education to that of vocational training:
At General Armstrong's request, Washington returned to Hampton in 1879 as an instructor and "house father" for 75 Indian youths being trained at the Institute. Armstrong was highly impressed with Washington's ability. In May 1881, the principal received a letter from a group in Tuskegee, Ala., asking him to recommend a man to start a Negro normal school there. The group appeared to expect a white man for the job. Armstrong replied that he could suggest no white man, but that a certain Negro would be well qualified. The answer came by telegram: "Booker T. Washington will suit us. Send him at once."
On July 4, 1881, at the age of 25, Washington founded Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. The obstacles facing him were formidable. While the State of Alabama had appropriated $2,000 for teachers' salaries, no provision had been made for land, buildings, or equipment. Washington reported:
Washington found, too, that his notions of practical education ran counter to those of many parents and prospective students with whom he talked. They saw education solely as "book learning" which would allow the student to escape labora view with which Washington had little sympathy. As he toured the Alabama countryside surveying the poverty and squalor prevalent among his race, he became increasingly convinced that economic advancement through vocational training was the essential first step forward for the black masses. Later Washington summarized this philosophy:
As Washington saw it, trained labor would lead to economic prosperity, and economic prosperity to full citizenship and equal participation in American life.
Tuskegee Institute opened with 30 students selected chiefly for their potential as teachers. Though the students had some prior education, they had little appreciation for the virtues of personal and household cleanliness so valued by their instructor. Washington keenly felt the need for on-campus dormitories so the students' living habits might be supervised and improved. There also was no land or facility with which to teach manual skills and furnish a means for the students to earn their expenses.
To meet these needs, the school soon acquired an abandoned farm nearby. The property had no buildings suitable for classrooms or dormitories. But through Washington's efforts, enough money was raised for construction materials, and the students erected the first brick building. After repeated failures the students built a kiln, and they learned to manufacture bricks for future buildings and public sale. The "learning by doing" approach was carried over into agricultural education on the school land, where students raised crops and livestock. In such ways as these, Tuskegee not only taught trades, crafts, and modern agricultural methods, but enabled students to earn the money for their tuition and other expenses.
As Tuskegee and its facilities grew, its courses in the building trades and engineering subjects were greatly expanded. Washington sought to give his industrial students "such a practical knowledge of some one industry, together with the spirit of industry, thrift, and economy, that they would be sure of knowing how to make a living after they had left us." At the same time, the desperate need for Negro teachers in the Southern rural districts was not forgotten. Tuskegee also offered students
Tuskegee Institute survived its early years only through the unwavering perseverance of its founder and the dedication of those men and women who became his assistants. In the school's second month Washington was joined by Olivia A. Davidson, a graduate of Hampton and the Massachusetts State Normal School. This young Ohio-born Negro woman (whom Washington would later marry) combined a selfless nature with practical experience as a teacher and nurse. Besides teaching at Tuskegee, she served as Washington's general assistant and made several fund-raising trips in the North. Washington said, "No single individual did more toward laying the foundations of the Tuskegee Institute . . . than Olivia A. Davidson."
The men responsible for the school's operation during Washington's absences were Warren Logan and John H. Washington. Logan, a Hampton graduate, went to Tuskegee as a teacher in 1883 and was soon appointed treasurer. John Washington, Booker's half-brother, joined the staff in 1895. Also trained at Hampton, he became Tuskegee's superintendent of industries and supervised much of the school's educational activity.
In its second decade, Tuskegee acquired a teacher who would become as famous as its founder. The State of Alabama provided for an agricultural experiment station at Tuskegee in 1896 to be run in connection with the school's agricultural department. Dr. George Washington Carver was called from Iowa State College to lead these operations. He spent the rest of his life at Tuskegee, where he carried out his noted work in agricultural science.
The year after Dr. Carver's arrival, Washington engaged Emmett J. Scott as his personal secretary. Scott became Washington's most trusted confidant, serving as his contact with Tuskegee during the principal's long absences from the school in later years. Washington wrote of Scott that he
Two of the three women Washington would marry were members of the Tuskegee staff. The exception was Fannie Smith, a Malden girl who became his first wife in 1882. She died 2 years later, after bearing a daughter. Washington married his assistant, Olivia Davidson, in 1885; she gave birth to two sons before her death in 1889. His third marriage was to Margaret Murray, a Fisk University graduate, in 1893. Initially a teacher, she became Tuskegee's "lady principal" and was in charge of industries for girls. Margaret Murray Washington worked energetically in community and club affairs and accompanied her husband on many of his travels in later years.
Though he had a highly capable staff, Booker T. Washington was the great guiding force at Tuskegeeso much so that the man and the school were held to be virtually synonymous. His ability and determination in the face of the greatest obstacles were an inspiration to all those associated with him. At the same time, Washington's exacting, demanding manner made him difficult to work for. He drove himself and expected his assistants to keep pace.
Despite his full schedule, he paid great attention to detail, often riding about the campus at daybreak to inspect the facilities and teachers' homes. Any evidence of carelessnesstrash lying about, a picket missing from a fencewas bound to provoke a reprimand. Everyone at Tuskegee was affected by Washington's puritannical insistence on personal cleanliness, typified by his "gospel of the toothbrush" which stipulated that no student could remain in the school unless he kept and used a toothbrush. Even in later years the principal himself often inspected the students, sending anyone with a missing button or soiled clothing to the dormitory to correct the deficiency.
Members of Washington's own family on the Tuskegee staff were shown no favoritism where official matters were concerned. The principal's memoranda to his wife Margaret were impersonally addressed to "Mrs. Washington." One such message, typical of those he sent, complained that "The yard of the Practice Cottage does not present a model appearance by any means. So far as I can see there is not a sign of a flower or anything like a flower or shrub in the yard." Perhaps it was this criticism that prompted a terse note from Margaret found in Washington's papers: "Umph! Umph!! Umph!!!"
Away from the office, Washington appears to have been an affectionate husband and father to his three children. He was often seen carrying his young sons about the campus, and his daughter was delighted to play the audience at her father's speech rehearsals. At home, too, Washington practiced his frequent preachments about the values of agriculture. He maintained his own kitchen garden, and took great interest in the progress of his pigs and other livestock.
Paralleling the story of Tuskegee's development and growth is the story of constant efforts to raise money. In the early years, the school was continually on the brink of insolvency.
Tuskegee's first income (other than the Alabama appropriation) was $250 borrowed from the treasurer of Hampton Institute for a down payment on the farm property. The loan and the balance of the $500 purchase price were paid by fund-raising concerts, suppers, and other local activities. During construction of the brick kiln, finances were so low that Washington pawned his watch for $15. In the following years, Washington traveled throughout the Nation to raise funds, making hundreds of visits and speeches to publicize the program and needs of Tuskegee Institute.
Booker T. Washington and his Tuskegee program came to have strong appeal for many white Americans sincerely concerned about the economic plight of the Negro. In an age that worshiped individual effort and self-help, this extraordinary former slave working to elevate his race from poverty was hailed by many as the answer to a great national problem. The appeal of Washington's educational philosophy and the force of his dynamic personality eventually won financial support from many of the era's foremost philanthropists. During Washington's lifetime, Tuskegee's more prominent benefactors included Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Julius Rosenwald, Collis P. Huntington, and the Phelps-Stokes family. Carnegie's gifts included a life income for Washington and his family.
For Tuskegee Institute, the result was success beyond its founder's most optimistic expectations. At Washington's death, 34 years after his establishment of the school, the property included 2,345 acres and 107 buildings which, together with equipment, were worth more than $1-1/2 million. The faculty and staff numbered nearly 200, and the student body more than 1,500. The school had an endowment of $2 million. Tuskegee Institute was the world leader in agricultural and industrial education for the Negro.
By the mid-1890's Booker T. Washington and Tuskegee Institute were well known to educators and philanthropists, but not to the general public. Then Washington was asked to speak at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta in 1895. The speech he gave (reproduced in the appendix) catapulted him into national prominence-not only as an educator, but as leader and spokesman of his race.
The Atlanta speech, delivered before a large, racially mixed audience, contained Washington's basic philosophy of race relations for that unhappy period in American Negro history. At a time when blacks had been virtually eliminated from political life, Washington spoke disparagingly of Negro political activity during Reconstruction:
He advised Southern Negroes to "cast down your bucket where you are" by cultivating friendly relations with white neighbors and concentrating on agriculture, industry, and the professions. "Our greatest danger," he said,
For the time being, at least, Washington classed social integration with the "ornamental gewgaws":
Essentially, the speech was a bid for white support of Negro economic advancement, offering in exchangeat least for the presentblack acceptance of political inactivity and social segregation. The "Atlanta compromise" is summarized in Washington's most remembered phrase: "In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress."
Response to the Atlanta speechparticularly white responsewas highly enthusiastic. As the audience cheered wildly, Georgia's ex-Governor Rufus B. Bullock rushed across the platform to grasp Washington's hand. Newspapers throughout the country printed the speech in full and praised its author editorially. The Boston Transcript commented that the speech "seems to have dwarfed all the other proceedings and the Exposition itself. The sensation that it has caused in the press has never been equalled." The Atlanta Constitution called it "the most remarkable address ever delivered by a colored man in America . . . . The speech stamps Booker T. Washington as a wise counselor and a safe leader."
After the speech, Washington became an object of nationwide attention and honor. Frederick Douglass, the great 19th-century Negro leader, had died only 7 months earlier, and Washington was widely acclaimed as his successor. Harvard awarded him an honorary M.A. degree in 1896, the first granted any Negro by that university. Dartmouth followed with an honorary doctorate. President William McKinley visited Tuskegee in 1898. A year later white friends sent Washington and his wife on a European tour, during which they had tea with Queen Victoria. Deluged with speech offers, Washingtona brilliant oratorspent an increasing portion of his time on the lecture circuit. He became friendly with the Nation's leading citizens in the business and literary worlds and was accepted in white society to a degree never before achieved by a Negro.
In response to numerous requests for his autobiography, Washington wrote Up From Slavery. Published in 1900, the book was an immediate best seller. It related the dramatic story of Washington's personal rise to prominence, and gave particular attention to his educational philosophy. Royalties and contributions from readers were a major source of income for Tuskegee. (Andrew Carnegie, its greatest single benefactor, became interested in the school only after reading Up From Slavery.) Washington also wrote or contributed to 12 other books and countless articles on the life of the Negro.
In his books, articles, and speeches, Washington continually stressed the educational and social views expounded in the Atlanta speech and Up From Slavery. His fundamental thesis was that economic progress held the key to Negro advancement in all other areas. With material betterment, the race would rise naturally, without "artificial forcing," in the political and social spheres. "The black man that has mortgages on a dozen men's houses will have no trouble in voting and having his vote counted," he declared. "No race that has anything to contribute to the markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized."
Washington was a pragmatist, not given to speaking out for lost causes. When Louisiana was preparing to disfranchise Negroes, he made a strong public appeal against such discrimination. His appeal failed, and thereafter Washington usually accommodated his pronouncements to Southern realities. He said in Up From Slavery,
He rationalized that propertied Negroes often exerted political influence in matters concerning their race even without going through "the form of casting the ballot."
Despite the deterioration of the Negro's position in American society, optimism ran through nearly all of Washington's utterances. "On the whole," he stated, "the Negro has been and is moving forward everywhere and in every direction." He played down the ill effects of discrimination, and stressed the benefits to be derived from meeting the challenges of adversity. After a second trip to Europe in 1910, he wrote The Man Farthest Down, portraying American Negroes as better off than the European peasantry. Washington's optimistic stance was intended less to reflect reality than to encourage "positive thinking":
The key ingredients in Washington's public pronouncementsmaterialism, pragmatism, optimismwere among the dominant values of the age in which he worked. His skill in applying these values to the problems of Negro education and race relations was largely responsible for his success in gaining support from the contemporary Establishment. He told white society what it wanted to hear, in terms it could understand. In return, he was hailed by that society as "reasonable," "safe," and "constructive." Booker T. Washington was thoroughly in tune with the majority sentiment of his time.
While Washington the spokesman was a figure of national prominence, Washington the politician was far less known. He never held public office and expressed aversion to political dealings. Yet during the Roosevelt and Taft administrations, he played an important role as unofficial adviser on racial matters and Negro political appointments throughout the Nation.
Theodore Roosevelt's close relationship with Washington occasioned, in the eyes of many Southern whites, a rare instance in which the Negro leader stepped "out of his place." After learning that Washington had dined at the White House with the Roosevelt family, Southern newspapers and politicians loudly berated both him and the President for ignoring the color line. "The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that nigger will necessitate our killing a thousand niggers in the South before they learn their place again," ranted Senator Ben Tillman. Less concern was expressed over the more significant fact that Washington had been conferring with the President on political matters.
Washington worked quietly for William Howard Taft's election in 1908 and continued to wield some influence during his administration. A letter from Washington to Taft defines his relationship with both Presidents:
Washington's political skills also served him in private affairs. Paralleling his role as Presidential adviser on public appointments was his role as adviser to philanthropists aiding Negro causes. As noted earlier, he was remarkably successful in securing funds for Tuskegee from the foremost industrialists and financiers of the day. At the same time, he obtained their support for other agencies working on behalf of Negro education in the South.
Washington's commanding influence in the white world concerning Negro affairs led to what W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, a black critic, called the "Tuskegee Machine":
Convinced that Negro progress necessitated the good will of the white South, Washington seldom dropped his accommodating, conciliatory tone. Publicly, he often minimized the evils of segregation and discrimination. Privately, and unknown to his critics, he was deeply involved in fighting many of the racial injustices then sweeping the South.
Washington used his personal funds and influence to combat disfranchisement in a number of States, often working through legal test cases. While publicly accepting railroad segregation, he acted behind the scenes to halt its spread. He was involved in court cases opposing Negro exclusion from juries, helping with money and personal attention until their successful conclusion in the Supreme Court. For more than 2 years he worked on a case against Negro peonage, or forced labor, obtaining the services of prominent Alabama lawyers. He fought the Republican "Lily-White" movement which repudiated that party's traditional support for the Negro. To preserve his "safe" public image, Washington often masked his role in such activities with the greatest secrecy: during the battle against disfranchisement in Louisiana, his secretary and lawyer corresponded using pseudonyms and code.
August Meier, a modern historian researching Washington's private correspondence, helped bring to light this "militant" side of Washingtona side virtually unknown to his contemporaries:
Washington concluded early that if his educational efforts were to prosper, he would need the support of three divergent groups: Northern philanthropists, Southern whites of the "best class," and Negroes. All of his public pronouncements were carefully composed for their effect on these factions. Then as now, however, it was impossible for anyone involved with race relations to please all of the people all of the time. Washington was highly popular with Northern philanthropists. He seldom lost the "best class" of Southern whitesthe aftermath of the White House dinner was a rare exception. Significantly, members of his own race were his most outspoken critics.
Negro dissent from Washington's policies dated from the Atlanta speech. As Washington observed, some blacks "seemed to feel that I had been too liberal in my remarks toward the Southern whites, and that I had not spoken out strongly enough for what they termed the 'rights' of the race." His most vocal opposition came from a small group of Negro intellectuals, who in the following years criticized both his educational and social views.
Most bitterly critical was William Monroe Trotter of the Boston Guardian. Trotter denied that Washington was a true leader of the race, claiming that he had been elevated to that position by whites alone. He regarded Washington's concentration on manual training for blacks and his accommodating approach to the loss of civil rights as traitorous and charged that he was being used by whites to "master the Colored Race."
Author Charles W. Chesnutt, in a review of Washington's book The Future of the American Negro, approved his goal of gaining white good will and, despite disagreement with his materialistic emphasis, generally supported his educational work. But Chesnutt strongly opposed Washington's apparent acceptance of inequality:
Washington's most influential critic was W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, the first Negro to receive a Ph.D. degree from Harvard. A professor at Atlanta University, Du Bois advocated higher education for a "talented tenth" of Negroes who would serve as leaders. He felt that by overemphasizing industrial training and yielding to racism, Washington was in effect accepting the myth of black inferiority. Wrote Du Bois:
Du Bois noted that Washington's ascendancy was accompanied by black disfranchisement, loss of civil rights, and withdrawal of aid from Negro institutions of higher learning. He blamed Washington's policies for encouraging these developments, and asked,
Many criticisms of Washington centered around his exercise of power. Widely acclaimed as the foremost Negro leader, he came to hold a virtual monopoly over "acceptable" racial policies and practices. The dominance of the "Tuskegee Machine" made it extremely difficult for individuals or institutions with differing ideas to prosper. Most critics did not deny the need for training of the type offered at Tuskegee, but they felt it should not rule the day at the expense of liberal education. Especially resented was Washington's widespread control of the Negro press, through clandestine ownership and subsidy, in an attempt to maintain a united black front in his favor. Du Bois pointed up the extent of this monopolistic influence: "Things came to such a pass that when any Negro complained or advocated a course of action, he was silenced with the remark that Mr. Washington did not agree with this."
Washington's opponents generally sympathized with his goal of winning white support. But they felt that he wrongly attempted to curry favor by telling his white audiences what they wanted to hear rather than what they needed to hear. Although Washington was combating discrimination to a far greater extent than his critics realized, so he felt obliged to keep these activities secret so he could maintain an amenable public image. For many Negroes the image was that of "Uncle Tom."
With the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1910, those favoring open agitation on behalf of political and civil rights organized for action. This biracial group included such prominent persons as Oswald Garrison Villard, a white editor and philanthropist who had supported Tuskegee; Ida B. Wells Barnett, an outspoken black critic of Washington; and Du Bois, who became editor of The Crisis, the organization's publication. The association devoted much effort to publicity and legal action and won a variety of important court victories.
Washington approved of the NAACP's objectives and much of its work but he feared that its militant tone would alienate many whites. Its intellectual leaders, he said, did not understand the practical problems of the great majority of Southern Negroes. No doubt he also saw the NAACP as a threat to his own preeminence. But, perhaps partly as a result of the new organization's growing influence, Washington in his later years became somewhat more outspoken on behalf of Negro rights.
Washington's personal success never caused him to relax his vigorous efforts on behalf of his school and his race. Even after it was discovered that he had diabetes, he refused to slacken his pace. His last year's schedule was typical. In the spring of 1915 he initiated a major fund-raising campaign. That summer he spoke in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New York, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Ohio, and Nova Scotia. Between these engagements he attended trustee meetings in New York, returned to Tuskegee for a series of summer school lectures, and presided over the 15th anniversary meeting of the National Negro Business League, an organization he had founded to help black commercial enterprises.
Noting that Washington's health was suffering, Scott and others persuaded him to take 2 weeks off in September for a fishing trip. But the next month he was back on his schedule, speaking before a church council in New Haven, Conn. It was to be his last public appearance. He collapsed in New York and was taken to a hospital. Told he was dying, Washington insisted upon returning to Tuskegee: "I was born in the South, I have lived and labored in the South, and I expect to die and be buried in the South." His determination never failing him, he survived the journey to Tuskegee by a few hours. Death came on the morning of November 14, 1915. He was buried 3 days later on the campus of the institution he founded.
Even those who disagreed with Booker T. Washington could not deny the greatness of the man nor the fact that his death was a loss to his race and his country. Du Bois called him
Theodore Roosevelt, one of Washington's greatest admirers, expressed the sentiment of much of the Nation:
Last Updated: 20-Feb-2009