Booker T. Washington Memorial, West Virginia State Capitol
Dedicated in 1985, this monument honors West Virginia educator Booker Taliaferro Washington. Born into slavery prior to the end of the Civil War, Washington established Tuskegee University and worked to establish private funding for hundreds of schools for African American children across the South at the turn-of-the-century. After the Civil War, Washington's moved to West Virginia with his mother and stepfather. As a young boy, Washington worked with his stepfather in the salt mines of Malden, a small town near the city of Charleston. At this time, the boy learned of a schoolhouse that was near their home and convinced his stepfather to allow him to attend that school by working morning and nights in the mines while reserving the daytime hours for school. This ambition for knowledge would be the signature of Washington's life. Washington returned to West Virginia throughout his life and often spoke at West Virginia Colored Institute, a historically black college that is now West Virginia State University.
Backstory and Context
Booker T. Washington was born into slavery on April 5, 1856 in Franklin County, Virginia. Once the Civil War ended, Washington and his mother joined their previously escaped stepfather in Malden, West Virginia. Young Booker worked with his stepfather in the early morning and late evenings in the Malden salt mines, but during the day he would attend the Tinkerville school. The school was held inside the house of Booker’s pastor, Reverend Lewis Rice, and classes were taught by Ohio teacher, William Davis. Booker would later find himself in the service of the Ruffner family, a renowned and wealthy family in Malden, where he would work as a houseboy, with the Ruffner Salt Works, and be assistant to Mrs. Viola Ruffner herself.
Booker’s thirst for knowledge would follow him throughout his life. In 1875, Booker would graduate from Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia. He would first find himself as a teacher and coal miner in West Virginia, and later back to the Hampton Institute to continue his career as an educator. In 1881, Booker would open his own school in Tuskegee, Alabama for black students. It started as a simple single room school, but he had ambitions to make it into a creditable university. In order for his project to take root, he would have to gain the support of the white political and social leaders to help fund his goal to prepare African Americans for life long careers, rather than finite jobs; and in the age of Jim Crow Laws, this was easier said than done.
Booker would see a lot of compromise that was needed to fulfill his promise to himself and to African Americans in the South. He had to temporarily accept the segregation practices of the South and their assumptions that his schools would prepare blacks for simple jobs rather than focus on the liberal arts to gain proper funding. This angered many black leaders in the North, like W.E.B. DuBois and William Monroe Trotter, for they wanted a more direct approach to ending segregation. But Booker knew his tactics would the appropriate approach to procure the funding needed to build hundreds of black schools in the later years.
Booker’s plan would later prove fruitful, and by 1895 he was the most renowned African American educators in the country. His message of hard work, ambition patience and enterprise gave him the support of the African American communities, and his work done to prepare African Americans for factory jobs and as farmers won over the southern white communities. The previously critical black leaders would then see that the approaches made by Booker T. Washington would prove to be the right path of civil rights and full integration into American society.
In the early 20th century, Booker would gain financial backing from the Rockefeller, Carnegie families, generous donations from the African American communities, and even the backing of the vice president of Sears. This would help to improve and create one-third of all the schools in the South. Booker was even able to dine and consult with the President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, and later became the first African American to be printed on U.S. currency and postage stamps.
Washington died on November 14, 1915, at the Tuskegee Institute campus. He nurtured his West Virginia ties throughout his life by occasionally returning to speak at the West Virginia Colored Institute, which is now West Virginia State University. He memorialized by the Booker T. Washington State Park in Institute, West Virginia. Booker was raised in present-day West Virginia and a replica of his boyhood cabin may be seen at Malden, a few miles east of Charleston.
The bust displayed in the Booker T. Washington Memorial at the West Virginia State Capitol was sculpted by William D. Hopen. The bust is a replacement for the original bust that was moved to the capitol from Malden. The Booker T. Washington Memorial was re-dedicated in 1985.
Harlan, Louis R.. Booker T. Washington Volume 2: The Wizard Of Tuskegee, 1901-1915. New York. Oxford University Press, 1986.
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