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Booker T Washington
Booker T. Washington: Fighter for the Black Man
Booker T. Washington was a man beyond words. His perseverance and will to work were well known throughout the United States. He rose from slavery, delivering speech after speech expressing his views on how to uplift America's view of the Negro. He felt that knowledge was power, not just knowledge of "books", but knowledge of agricultural and industrial trades. He felt that the Negro would rise to be an equal in American society through hard work. Washington founded a school on these principles, and it became the world's leader in agricultural and industrial education for the Negro. As the world watched him put his heart and soul into his school, Tuskegee Institute, he gained great respect from both the white and black communities. Many of the country's white leaders agreed with his principals, and so he had a great deal of support. Booker T. Washington was a great man. He put his own needs aside in order to build the reputation of an entire race. He didn't do it by accusing and putting blame on others, but instead through hard work. Booker T. Washington cleared the way for the black community to fully enter the American society.
Washington was born into slavery on April 5, 1856, in Franklin County, Virginia, on a small tobacco plantation. His only true relative was his mother, Jane, who was the plantation's cook. His father was probably the white son of one of the neighbors, though it is not known for sure. Washington spent his childhood years on the plantation, but since he was so young he never had to do the heavy work. He did the small jobs, such as carrying water to the field hands and taking corn to the local mill for grinding. This hard work at an early age instilled in him the values he would teach for the rest of his life.
When the Civil War ended in April of 1863, Washington and his mom were set free. Unlike most of the other slaves, Washington had somewhere to go. His step-father had escaped earlier, and had gotten a job in Malden, West Virginia, at a salt furnace. When the war ended, he sent for Washington and his mom. Life was tough in Malden. "Drinking, gambling, quarrels, fights, and shockingly immoral practices were frequent." Washington himself got a job in the salt furnace and often had to go to work at four in the morning.
Washington longed for an education. A school for Negro's opened in Malden, but his step-father would not let him leave work to attend. Washington was so determined to get an education that he arranged with the teachers to give him classes at night. He was later allowed to attend in the morning, but would then work all afternoon and into the evening. Booker did not have a last name until he went to school. "When he realized that all of the other children at the school had a 'second' name, and the teacher asked him his, he invented the name Washington."
A great influence on Washington was Viola Ruffner, the wife of the owner of the salt furnace. Washington became her house boy, where he learned the importance of cleanness and hard work, and pride in a job well done. He would use these principles for the rest of his life. "The lessons I learned in the home of Mrs. Ruffner were as valuable to me as any education I have ever gotten anywhere since," he later commented.
Booker heard of a big school for Negro's in Hampton, Virginia, and he decided to go there. In 1872, at the age of sixteen, he set out on the 400 mile journey to Hampton, traveling most of the way by foot. When he finally arrived, he was so ragged and dirty that he almost wasn't admitted, but he was so persistent that they finally caved
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