Most Influential Black American Leaders of All Time

Booker T. Washington

Despite being born a slave in Virginia and raised in dire poverty, Booker T. Washington, a Hampton grad, built Tuskegee into a premier African-American educational institution from 1881 to his death in 1915. A tireless advocate of education’s critical role in uplifting the race, Washington wrote his autobiography, Up from Slavery, in testament. Through what was known as the “Tuskegee Machine,” Washington, believed to be the most powerful man of his era, amazingly ruled the national black agenda from rural Alabama. His 1895 speech, known as the “Atlanta Compromise,” encouraging black Southerners to acquiesce to racial segregation and forego political activism, won him praise among white Southerners.

Du Bois’s staunch criticism of the speech almost a decade later, however, divided African-Americans into pro- and anti-Washington camps for most of the 20th century. Still, Washington, who had the ear of the President, worked silently for equality. He also inspired African-American schools all across the South.
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