When I was doing research for my post on George Washington Carver, I kept coming across the names Booker T. Washington and Tuskegee Institute, neither of which were unfamiliar to me. What I hadn't realized, however, was how intertwined their lives were from 1896 on.
There are many similarities as well as significant differences between the two men. They were both born into slavery. Dr. Carver was orphaned as an infant and adopted as his surname that of the owners of the plantation where he grew up, where he did light household chores and helped with the gardening. Very little is known about Booker T.'s white father, but he remembered distinctly how - at the age of 9 - tears were streaming down his mother's cheeks as she held her three children close and listened as the Emancipation Proclamation of 1865 was being read. Dr. Carver was born in Missouri in either 1864 or 1865, depending on which account you read -- Booker T. in Virginia. Dr. Carver never married. Booker T. was married three times. His first two wives both died less than five years after entering into their marriages. His third wife helped raise his young children and outlived him by twenty years.
Dr. Carver worked hard to earn enough money to go to college, and did not enroll in one until he was 26 years old. Booker T. began his studies (at the age of 16) at the Hampton Institute, which had been founded in 1868 by then 29-year old Brevet Brigadier General Samuel Chapman Armstrong who had been in command of colored troops in the Union Army during the Civil War.
General Armstrong's story is interesting, as well, and as you might imagine I found myself getting sidetracked again and again yesterday while delving deeper into what lay behind the timeline of Booker T.'s life.
As he would later write in his autobiography, Up From Slavery, Booker T. recalled that he was admitted to Hampton in spite of his ragged appearance because of the ability he demonstrated while sweeping and dusting a room. (General Armstrong took great stock in the 'moral value of manual labor'.)
How did Booker T. get to Hampton? That's a good question, isn't it? It's a distance of at least 250 miles, I would say. What do you think? How did he do it? Did he walk? Did he work along the way to pay for food or did he swipe it? Where did he sleep? Here's a map of the route it's surmised that he must have taken.
I was going to say make sure you click on the map to enlarge it, but it won't enlarge, so let me quickly try and give you a good link to the exact page where I found it. Go here. That will get you to the main page of the Booker T. Washington Papers as made available by the University of Illinois Press. Click on images. Scroll briefly down to Volume 2: 1860-89. Click again on that. That's the volume you want if you want to see this map in greater detail. Keep clicking "Next" until you get to the sixth page. If you then click on the map it will enlarge and you can get a much better idea of what I'm talking about.
Btw, there's a photo a little further down in this post that you'd probably like to enlarge, as well - that of Tuskegee's campus as it appeared in 1881. You'll find it on the fourth page of Volume 2. I really apologize for making you go the long way around here. I've tried to link each page directly with no success whatever. Even tried typing in a couple of the world's longest and most convoluted URL's, and that procedure didn't work either.
However, as long as you've taken the time to get there, you might as well take advantage of the opportunity to go back in history over 100 years. Fair warning, tho. You could easily find yourself getting almost as sidetracked as I did! Fascinating, isn't it? There's page after page after page of photographs from that period in American history, all of which can be enlarged. And, after you enlarge them, there'll be brief descriptions underneath (not visible unless enlarged).
The story of blacks in America is gut-wrenching, as perhaps it is in many parts of the world, but I can only speak for this country -- how I feel.
After the Civil War, the South was impoverished. Blacks and whites alike. Even worse, except for isolated instances, blacks had for many years been forbidden to learn how to read, educate or try to improve themselves and their condition.
The Hampton Institute had been founded initially, with the aid of the American Missionary Association, to prepare promising young African-American men and women to lead and teach their newly-freed people. In 1881, General Hampton recommended to the founders of a new normal* school that Booker T. be named its head. Thus, at the ripe old age of 25, he became the first president of Tuskegee Institute.
Here's what Tuskegee's "campus" looked like in 1881 ...
Again, it can't be enlarged from here. You'll have to go back to the procedures I outlined under the Virginia map above.
*Normal school = a school for the training of teachers. The college I first attended, Northern Michigan University, was founded as a 'normal' school.
A serious complication developed. There were many students being graduated from Tuskegee who were now trained and qualified to teach, but there were no schools that were admitting colored students or hiring colored teachers. Booker T. worked tirelessly throughout the rest of his life recruiting benefactors and, with their monetary contributions and the help of local negro volunteers, was directly responsible for the construction of close to 5,000 schools in the South whose doors were open to people of color.
Any words I can possibly think of to write about this man and what he did in his relatively short lifetime (he died at the age of 59) to further the circumstances of 'his people' would be woefully inadequate. It was only after receiving approval from his descendants a few years ago to extensively study his medical records that it was learned his blood pressure was twice that of normal! He died at his beloved Tuskegee on November 14, 1915.
How did he and George Washington Carver connect? In 1896, GWC accepted an invitation from Booker T. to be the head of Tuskegee's new Department of Agriculture. He accepted and - 47 years later, died there. Both of them are buried on the grounds.
A "PS" to myself. I need to get to the library and check out Up From Slavery. I'm pretty sure I read it many years ago, but I'd like to read it again.
Just a side note here. You will discover, if you do much research at all on either of these two men - or even General Armstrong, for that matter! - many divergences from what you might always have considered the truth. I have written about this before. Accept what you choose to accept. Believe what you choose to believe. However, there is no question whatsoever in my mind that these men - together as well as independently - made a significant contribution to and helped shape modern day America.