Continuing on with the road trip that I took from Boston to Nashville, and back, this month for a conference! Starting from the beginning…..
Heading through Virginia I decided to take a detour to visit the National D-Day Memorial, and en route to it I came across the Booker T. Washington National Monument. What the heck, I already knew I’d be in for a long day anyway due to my detour, so another hour wasn’t going to harm me!
What a beautiful place to visit and to commemorate the birthplace of this country’s most prominent African American educator. The National Park Service website sums it up nicely: “On April 5, 1856, Booker T. Washington was born a slave on the 207-arce farm of James Burroughs. After the Civil War, Washington became founder and first principal of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial School. Later as an adviser, author and orator, his past would influence his philosophies as the most influential African American of his era. Come explore his birthplace.”
He was born a slave on this small farm in the Virginia backcountry, and it’s maintained in such a way today as to demonstrate what life was like on this recreated 19th century tobacco farm.
After emancipation he was a child worker in the salt furnaces and coalmines of West Virginia. He was determined to find an education though, and traveled 200 miles, eventually arriving broke, tired, and dirty at Virginia’s Hampton Institute. He worked as a janitor there in order to pay his board and tuition, and actually became a star pupil.
He had the idea that education would raise his people to equality, so he then became a teacher. He first taught in his home town, then at the Hampton Institute. In 1881, he founded the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama. As head, he would travel the country to raise funds from blacks and whites, and eventually he became a well-known speaker. Ultimately he became the most influential black educator of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, by way of the control that he had over the flow of funds to black schools and colleges.
A fantastic “rags to riches” story about a man who clearly did wonderful things for this country. I’m so glad I came across this park. Watching the educational video in the visitor’s center left my spine tingling.