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By Daniel Lewis, ProQuest Sr. Product Manager
In the history of the Black Freedom struggle since the Civil War, Booker T. Washington occupies an important place. Indeed, as the introduction to the Booker T. Washington Papers states, Washington was seen as “the outstanding American black man of his day and the supreme black example of the success hero.
Washington was born as a slave in 1856 in West Virginia. Just nine years old when slavery and the Civil War ended in 1865, Washington lived the majority of his life during what has been referred to as the “nadir” of Black life in America, the period after Reconstruction when Jim Crow separation became the law of the land throughout the South.
As a teenager in the early 1870s, Booker T. Washington traveled, primarily on foot, from his home in West Virginia, to Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University). At Hampton, Washington received the education that set the stage for a large part of his future career. Washington became a teacher at Hampton in 1879.
Just two years later in 1881, Washington left Hampton to become the principal of the new Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (now Tuskegee University). In 1881, the school operated in one building with 30 students. Over the course of the next 34 years, Washington made amazing progress in growing the school. At the time of his death in 1915, Tuskegee had “1500 students, a $2 million endowment … 100 fully-equipped buildings, and about 200 faculty” as well as a sizable campus of several thousand acres. [Source: “History of Tuskegee University” ]
During his tenure at Tuskegee, Washington was thrust into national prominence by a speech he gave at the Cotton States and International Exposition in 1895. In the speech, known as the “Atlanta Compromise,” Washington did not challenge white supremacy, “urged the black man to remain in the South, to make friends with his white neighbor, and to work at the ‘common occupations of life.’” [From Introduction to Volume 2 of the Booker T. Washington Papers Collection.]
Washington’s speech launched him into a position of national prominence. Over the next 20 years, Washington’s views on race relations where challenged by other black leaders with different perspectives, notably William Monroe Trotter, and, perhaps most famously, by W. E. B. DuBois, who was one of the founding members of the NAACP in 1909.
Learn more about The Booker T. Washington Papers Collection.
For students interested in these topics or in researching more generally the story of Black Freedom in the period after the Civil War, several other ProQuest resources might be useful in their research. For contemporary newspaper coverage of Booker T. Washington, ProQuest’s Black Historical Newspapers™ such as the Pittsburgh Courier (1911-2002), the Chicago Defender (1910-1975), and the Baltimore Afro-American (1893-1988) cover events from Washington’s day through the 20th century. History Vault includes the NAACP Papers collection, as well as collections on topics such as the Great Migration and education for Black Americans during the Jim Crow era. ProQuest’s Black Studies Center contains essays, journal articles, and dissertations on the Jim Crow era, as well images, and interviews in The HistoryMakers in which the interviewees describe growing up in the first half of the 20th century.
Learn more about these ProQuest resources.
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