Booker T. Washington

After the civil war, blacks faced a series of obstacles concerning their rights and freedoms in the south and north where racism still existed to a large extent. The restoration efforts that were put forward sought to aid in the recovery of the war-torn south and to create a balanced society where blacks could participate equally. However, some groups such as the Klu Klux Klan, which epitomized the racial tension in the south, tried to maintain a level of subordination in the blacks. Education was one of the few successes of the restoration plan and although schools remained segregated, there was a dramatic increase in the education system of the south. The Freedman's Bureau was the central funding source of the southern black schools and established schooling systems while also providing food and medicine for the newly freed blacks in the south. Schools such as the Tuskegee Institute provided blacks a small level of higher education in technical and industrial fields. One of the premier spokesman for the expansion of education was Booker T. Washington. Washington believed that the best interests of black people in the post-Reconstruction era could be realized through education in the technical and industrial fields upon which the Tuskegee Institute focused.

Booker T. Washington was born into slavery on a small, rural plantation in southwestern Virginia where he worked until the emancipation. He then moved to West Virginia at the age of nine where he immediately began working due to extreme poverty. Seeking an education, he enrolled at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute and after graduating, returned to West Virginia to help provide education for the people there. He was then selected to become president of a newly formed black college, the Tuskegee Institute, which he dramatically improved over the span of his life from just a few worn-down buildings, to over 100 maintained buildings and over 1,500 students.

Washington's stance on black goals created some controversy within the black community. He believed that blacks shouldn't be as worried about establishing full civil rights and social equality, rather that blacks should seek out an advancement in their economic and agricultural standing. He believed that if blacks adopted the habits and practices of the whites, then they would quickly gain more rights and even equality with these whites. He also proposed a plan of racial relations known as the Atlanta Compromise which proposed that blacks work more on self-improvement for self-advancement.

Booker T. Washington at the Tuskegee Institute where he was president.