On this day in 1945, educator Booker T. Washington was inducted into the Hall of Fame for Great Americans.
Born into slavery on April 5, 1856, Booker Taliaferro Washington grew up in Franklin County, Virginia. At a very young age, he began working for the plantation’s mill, carrying 100 pound sacks of grain. Washington commented frequently when he was young that he would like to sit at desks and read like the white children.
After the Civil War ended, when Washington was 9, he and his mother moved to Malden, West Virginia. It was during this time that Washington’s mother began to expose him to language and reading. Washington woke up nearly every morning at 4 a.m. in order to practice his reading and writing before going to work.
In 1866, Booker T. Washington got a job as a houseboy for Viola Ruffner, the wife of coal mine owner Lewis Ruffner. Mrs. Ruffner was known for being very strict with her servants, especially boys. But she saw something in Booker—his maturity, intelligence and integrity—and soon warmed up to him. Over the two years he worked for her, she understood his desire for an education and allowed him to go to school for an hour a day during the winter months.
In 1872, Washington walked 500 miles in order to enroll in Hampton Normal Agricultural Institute in Virginia. Impressed with his intelligence, he was offered a scholarship.
After graduating in 1875, he was chosen to speak at Hampton’s graduation ceremonies and was offered a job teaching at the school. Six years later, Alabama legislature granted $2,000 for the creation of a “colored” school, leading to the formation of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, now known as Tuskegee University. Washington traveled across the country to fundraise and promote the school.
Tuskegee University was extremely successful, with over 100 buildings, 1,500 students, and a $2 million endowment by the time of Washington’s death. Booker T. Washington died at the age of 59 of congestive heart failure on November 14, 1915.