Booker T. Washington, the African-American educator, author and adviser to a string of presidents, was born on this day in 1856. He was born to a slave woman and a white father. Washington ultimately became part of the initial leadership of Tuskegee University (then known as Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute) and was the pre-eminent Black leader of his day, welding considerable power through a vast network of supporters. In 1901, Washington became the first African-American to attend a formal dinner at the White House, which took place during the administration of Theodore Roosevelt. He was embroiled in a highly public feud with W. E. B. DuBois, one of the founders of the NAACP, who advocated activism to achieve civil rights. Washington held the view that confrontation could lead to disaster for African-Americans, calling for cooperation with supportive whites as the way to overcome racism. However, Washington secretly contributed to groups that mounted legal challenges against segregation.
By the time Washington died in 1915,Tuskegee’s endowment exceeded $1.5 million, a staggering figure for that time.
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(Photo: Courtesy Library of Congress)
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