Black History Month Profile – Up From Slavery

In 1856, Booker T. Washington was born a slave in Virginia. He was freed from slavery upon the arrival of Federal troops in his region. Throughout his life, Mr. Washington would work to build a network of African-American educators, Ministers and business people, dedicated to the cause of African-American progress and empowerment.

 Mr. Washington became nationally recognized as the face and voice of the Black race in America, and was on friendly terms with politicians, to the point of being the first Black man invited to dine with the President of the United States in the White House, an event that caused a furious reaction in some quarters.

 Mr. Washington was particularly skilled at setting up a philanthropic network to fund Black schools and increase the number of African – American educators. He was also a founder of the National Negro Business League.

 Mr. Washington was granted an honorary Master’s degree from Harvard University in 1896 and an honorary Doctorate from Dartmouth College in 1901.

 As times changed, new voices were added to the struggle for African-American equality, some of them critical of the strategy of Mr. Washington. W.E.B. DuBois was the most prominent of these, demanding a stronger tone and greater activism that would lead to increased political representation. Mr. DuBois and the newly formed NAACP criticized Mr. Washington for what they viewed as his approach to merely seeking an accommodation with the White political establishment.

Booker T. Washington died in 1915. In 1940, he became the first African American to be depicted on a United States postage stamp. His autobiography “Up from Slavery” is available to University Staff through the campus libraries.