White House Dream Team: Booker T. Washington

Drawing of Booker T. Washington Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington was born a slave in Virginia in 1856. He was seven years old when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves. He was too poor to go to school, so he worked at a salt furnace and a coal mine to support his family, but Booker's dream was to get an education. At age 16 he traveled 500 miles, often by walking, to enroll at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia. He arrived with only 50 cents in his pocket. The institute gave him a job as a janitor to pay for school, and he later became a teacher.

When Booker was 25 years old he became the president of a new school for African American students at Tuskegee, a place with two small buildings, no equipment, and very little money. Booker spent the rest of his life improving the school. When he died, the Tuskegee Institute boasted 100 buildings, 1,500 students, a variety of programs and $2 million.

During Booker's lifetime, many African Americans were former slaves who did not have an education. Booker's goal was to provide African Americans with opportunities to learn vocational skills and obtain an education. He thought former slaves would gain acceptance through education and financial independence.

Although not everyone agreed with Booker, he became a respected leader who helped many schools and institutions gain donations and support from the government and donors.

Booker also visited President Theodore Roosevelt in the White House in 1901. After their meeting, the President invited Booker to eat dinner with him, which made Booker the first African American to dine with a President at the White House.

Booker's leadership earned him honorary degrees from Harvard University and Dartmouth College. He wrote several books, including his autobiography, Up from Slavery, which was translated into several languages.

Brain Challenge:

  1. What was Booker T. Washington's dream?
  2. Where did Booker go to school?
  3. What did Booker believe was the key to a better life for former slaves?
  4. Why was Booker's visit to the White House significant?
  5. What was the name of Booker's autobiography?
Share your answers with a parent, teacher or other adult.

Want to learn more?
Visit your school or public library to learn more about these fascinating Americans.

April 5, 1856 in Virginia

November 14, 1915 in Alabama

To get an education and to provide educational opportunities for African Americans

Hampton Institute

Educator, reformer, leader, and founder of Tuskegee Institute

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