Booker Taliaferro Washington (1856-1915) was born into slavery. After the Civil War he obtained a basic education while working as a coal miner and other jobs. After many difficulties, he studied at Hampton Institute in Virginia (1872-1875).
He became an instructor at Hampton and in 1881 was asked to start a Negro normal school at Tuskegee, Alabama. He started Tuskegee Institute with one instructor, himself, and 30 students in borrowed quarters. Later, the school was moved just outside the town to an old plantation were it remains to this day.
Many of the early buildings at Tuskegee were built by the students. Not only did this preserve limited funds but it also helped the students to learn a trade.
This is part of American History, that all students should know.
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.