Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington

Booker Taliaferro Washington was an American educator, orator, author and the dominant leader of the African-American community nationwide from the 1890s to his death. Born to slavery and freed by the Civil War in 1865, as a young man, became head of the new Tuskegee Institute, then a teachers' college for blacks. It became his base of operations. His "Atlanta Exposition" speech of 1895 appealed to middle class whites across the South, asking them to give blacks a chance to work and develop separately, while implicitly promising not to demand the vote. White leaders across the North, from politicians to industrialists, from philanthropists to churchmen, enthusiastically supported Washington, as did most middle class blacks. He was the organizer and central figure of a network linking like-minded black leaders throughout the nation and in effect spoke for Black America throughout his lifetime. Meanwhile a more militant northern group, led by W. E. B. Du Bois rejected Washington's self-help and demanded recourse to politics, referring to the speech dismissively as "The Atlanta Compromise". The critics were marginalized until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, at which point more radical black leaders rejected Washington's philosophy and demanded federal civil rights laws.

Books by Booker T. Washington