Washington was born to an enslaved woman in 1856 in Hale’s Ford, near Roanoke, and was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. He and his mother moved to West Virginia to live with his stepfather. There, he taught himself to read and write, worked in the mines and saved enough money to go school at Hampton Institute, now known as Hampton University.
At the age of 25, he was appointed head of what would become the Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, in Alabama. Under Washington’s lead, the school grew into a major educational center for African Americans.
As the school rose, so did Washington, becoming a player in American politics both in the Black community and white community for his belief in building Black economic, business and self-reliance in the face of increasing social and political sanctions in the post-Civil War South.
The papers include complete correspondence and several published books, as well as documentary material from his time at Hampton Institute and Tuskegee, said David Sewell, manager of digital initiatives for the Rotunda imprint.
The papers also feature correspondence with other Black scholars and leaders of his time, including civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois, who co-founded the NAACP.
Washington’s 1895 Atlanta Exposition speech called for African American investment in industrial education and accumulating wealth as the way to integrate society at large. His position eschewed direct confrontation with whites, even as white-led legislatures passed discriminatory voting and segregation laws.
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