Booker Taliaferro Washington (April 5, 1856 - November 14, 1915) was an American educator, author, orator and political leader. He was the dominant figure in the African American community in the United States from 1890 to 1915. He was representative of the last generation of black leaders born in slavery and spoke on behalf of blacks living in the South. Washington was born into slavery to a white father and a slave mother in a rural area in southwestern Virginia. After emancipation, he worked in West Virginia in a variety of manual labor jobs before making his way to Hampton Roads seeking an education. Washington received national prominence for his Atlanta Address of 1895, attracting the attention of politicians and the public as a popular spokesperson for African American citizens. Washington built a nationwide network of supporters in many black communities, with black ministers, educators and businessmen composing his core supporters. Washington played a dominant role in black politics, winning wide support in the black community and among more liberal whites (especially rich Northern whites). He gained access to top national leaders in politics, philanthropy and education. Washington's efforts included cooperating with white people and enlisting the support of wealthy philanthropists, which helped raise funds to establish and operate thousands of small community schools and institutions of higher education for the betterment of blacks throughout the South, work which continued for many years after his death.
Nineteenth-century African American businessman, activist, and educator Booker Taliaferro Washington's Up from Slavery is one of the greatest American autobiographies ever written. Its mantras of black economic empowerment, land ownership, and self-help inspired generations of black leaders, including Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and Louis Farrakhan. In rags-to-riches fashion, Washington recounts his ascendance from early life as a mulatto slave in Virginia to a 34-year term as president of the influential, agriculturally based Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. From that position, Washington reigned as the most important leader of his people, with slogans like "cast down your buckets," which emphasized vocational merit rather than the academic and political excellence championed by his contemporary rival W.E.B. Du Bois. Though many considered him too accommodating to segregationists, Washington, as he said in his historic "Atlanta Compromise" speech of 1895, believed that "political agitation alone would not save [the Negro]," and that "property, industry, skill, intelligence, and character" would prove necessary to black Americans' success. The potency of his philosophies are alive today in the nationalist and conservative camps that compose the complex quilt of black American society.