April 5, 1856: Educator Booker T. Washington Born in Franklin County, VA

Booker T. Washington

Educator Booker T. Washington was born a slave in Franklin County, Virginia, on April 5, 1856. After the Civil War, he relocated to Malden, a few miles east of Charleston, where he attended a one-room school for blacks.

He also was tutored by Viola Ruffner, whom he later credited for instilling in him the qualities of cleanliness and hard work.

After graduating from Hampton Institute in Virginia, Washington returned to West Virginia as a teacher. In 1879, he went back to Hampton as a professor. But when school was out, he’d come home to work in West Virginia’s coal mines.

In 1881, he opened a college for African-American teachers in Tuskegee, Alabama. Tuskegee Institute would become one of the country’s finest schools for blacks. And Washington would become the nation’s unofficial spokesman for African-Americans. He was controversial, though, in some circles for urging cooperation among whites and blacks.

Booker T. Washington returned regularly to West Virginia to visit family members and make speeches. He died in Tuskegee in 1915 at age 59. A monument of Washington is located on the state capitol grounds in Charleston.