Steel Center Celebrates Black History Month in February
Booker T. Washington, 1856-1915
First Black Vocational Technical School – Tuskegee Institute
Booker T. Washington was one of the most powerful African Americans at the turn of the twentieth century. Born a slave in Hale's Ford, Virginia, the son of a white man who did not acknowledge him and a slave woman named Jane (Burroughs) who later married a fellow slave, Booker T. Washington became a leader in black education, and a strong influence as a racial representative in national politics. Washington learned to read and write in the late 1860s at a primary school overseen by the Freedmen's Bureau and in 1872 became a student at the Hampton Institute in Virginia, where he excelled. He was teaching at Hampton in 1881 when he was invited to become the first principal of the newly-founded Tuskegee Institute, a school for African Americans in Tuskegee, Alabama. At Tuskegee, Washington developed a vocational curriculum that emphasized carpentry, printing, tinsmithing, and shoemaking. Girls also took classes in cooking and sewing, and boys studied farming methods. All students received instruction in manners, hygiene, and character. At the time of Washington's death, Tuskegee Institute, which had started with an appropriation of just $2000 from the Alabama state legislature, had a faculty of 200, an enrollment of 2000, and an endowment of $2 million.