BOOKER TALIAFERRO WASHINGTON
June 24, 1896:
Booker T. Washington, president of Tuskegee Institute, ,becomes the first African American to be awarded an honorary degree by Harvard University. Tuskegee Institute is located in Tuskegee Alabama.
Born into slavery in Virginia, Washington moved to Alabama in 1881 to open Tuskegee Normal School. He soon gained fame as an educational leader among black Americans, a fact which Harvard recognized with a Master of Arts degree.
Born to a slave on April 5, 1856, Booker Taliaferro (later Booker T. Washington) had little promise for his life. In Franklin County, Virginia, as in most states prior to the Civil War, the child of a slave became a slave. Booker’s mother, Jane, worked as a cook for plantation owner James Burroughs. His father was an unknown white man, most likely from a nearby plantation. Booker and his mother lived in a one-room log cabin with a large fireplace, which also served as the plantation’s kitchen.
After the Civil War, Booker and his mother moved to Malden, West Virginia, where she married freedman Washington Ferguson. The family was very poor, and 9-year-old Booker went to work in a salt mine with his stepfather instead of going to school.
Booker saw what it was like by watching the children of local schools, and wanted to be inside with them learning. He was not allowed, because, teaching slaves to read and write was against the law.
Booker’s mother noticed his interest in learning and got him a book from which he learned the alphabet and how to read and write basic words. In 1866, Booker got a job as a houseboy, and the woman for which he worked, took notice of his intelligence, and allowed him to go to school. Later, he found a way to go to school at Hampton Normal Agricultural Institute, and worked as a janitor to help get through school. He graduated with high marks in 1875.