Booker T. Washington
How this educator helped African Americans improve their lives
Booker T. Washington really wanted to go to school. Born on April 5, 1856—a time when most Black children weren't educated—he wanted to go to school so badly that at 16, without money or a map, the former slave traveled 500 miles by foot and train across Virginia to enroll.
Inspired to spread knowledge to others, Washington later established and became the first principal and teacher of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Opened in 1881, the school taught academic as well as practical skills (like farming and blacksmithing) to newly freed African Americans, who would then be able to make more money as well as teach the skills to others.
In the beginning, Washington taught 30 students in a one-room shack and an empty church. But in just 15 years, thanks to his leadership and influence, the school soon grew to 800 students, 79 teachers, and 30 buildings. (One famous teacher was George Washington Carver.)
Washington continued as Tuskegee’s principal until his death on November 14, 1915, educating new generations of teachers and skilled workers. And the school continues today, called Tuskegee University.