Booker T. Washington

Social Studies Unit written by: Emmaly Ward

Background References Objectives Procedures Assessment

Related Topics:
Career Choice
Civil Rights


Booker T. Washington was born about five years before the Civil War
began. By the end of the 19th century, he was one of the best-known men
(black or white) in America.

Booker was born into slavery. The cabin where Booker was born, was
also the plantations kitchen. His mother was the cook. Cooking back then
was not as easy as it is now. Cooking was done on a fireplace. Booker
would gather the wood for the fire. Sometimes Booker's mother would
give her children part of a chicken that was cooked for the slave owners.
Most of the time Booker would eat a potato or a cup of milk. The living
conditions were also very different. The cabin had no glass for the
windows and there were holes in the walls. Booker and the others slept on
a dirt floor, on bundles of rags.

Booker had many different jobs to do on the plantation. He would
carry water out to the workers in the field, take corn to the mill, and
other jobs that were asked of him.

In 1865 when he was about 10 years old the slaves were freed.
Booker and his family left the plantation and headed for Virginia.
Booker's stepfather was already there and sent a wagon and some mules
so that Booker and his family could meet him in West Virginia. The trip
took weeks. The wagon was filled with a few things they had. The
children walked beside the wagon. When they reached their new home in
Virginia, it was no better than the one they had left behind. It may have
been even worse.

Booker worked with his father and brother in a salt mine. They put
salt into barrels. Booker had the desire to learn how to read. His mother
bought him some books to help him learn. Finally, Booker was able to
attend school. He had to wake up early and work 5 hours before and 2
hours after school.

At school, the teacher asked the children their names. Booker
noticed that all of the children had two names. When the teacher asked
him his name he said "Booker Washington." Later he found out that his
last name was Taliaferro. He kept that as his middle name. He was called
Booker T. Washington.

When Booker was 15 years old he worked for a lady named Mrs. Viola
Ruffin. He worked hard, cleaning for her. He worked for her because she
allowed him to learn after work.

In the fall of 1872 Booker left for Hampton Institute in eastern
Virginia. He didn't have very much money, didn't know anyone there, or
if they would accept him. He just headed east until he got to Hampton. It
was 500 miles. He arrived and got a job as a janitor to pay for his

Hampton Institute provided vocational training for blacks. That
means it taught students to be farmers, carpenters, teachers, brick
makers, or to do other useful jobs. Students learned skills and to take
pride in their work. Booker was one of the best students. When the
president of Hampton Institute was asked to recommend someone to head
a new training institute for blacks at Tuskegee, Alabama, he suggested
Booker for the job.

When Booker got there he found basically nothing. They met in an old
church, and there were no other teachers. Booker and his students went to
work. They cut down trees, cleared land, dug wells, and built buildings.
They achieved three goals at once. The school got built; the students
learned important and useful trades; and their labor paid for their tuition.
By 1900, Tuskegee had 40 buildings and some fine teachers. Booker T.
Washington was renowned as the voice of the black people. A newspaper
reporter described him as "a remarkable figure; tall, bony, straight as a
Sioux chief, high forehead, straight nose, heavy jaws, and strong,
determined mouth, with big white teeth, piercing eyes and a commanding
manner (Hakim, pg. 176)." Arthur M. Schlesinger said, ôHe was a tall,
commanding, muscular man, with piercing black eyes that had dreams in
them. But it was when he spoke that he was most impressive. He could
have a cheering crowd on its feet in a matter of minutesö (Hakim, pg174).

Booker T. Washington believed that the way to gain equality was
through education. If the Blacks were educated, hard workers they would
reach their goals. He had seen this in his own life and believed that it was
true to all.


Gleiter, Jan and Thompson, Kathleen. (1995). Booker T. Washington Austin,
TX: Steck-Vaughn

Hakim, Joy (1994). Reconstruction and Reform. Oxford University Press.

Booker T. Washington (1965). Up from Slavery New York: Dodd, Mead &


1. Students will be able to describe the contributions made my Booker T.
Washington and the context in which they occurred.

2. Students will list problems and solutions dealing with Civil Rights.
They will also list problems and solutions that they are facing in today's world.

3. Students will identify why it is important to read and value the
opportunity to have an education.

4. Students will be able to identify the personal qualities they would like
to have.

5. Students will demonstrate a willingness to work with others to help
them become better citizens.

6. Students will recognize the need to take a stand and form opinions.

Time Allotment: Approximately 6 class periods

Resources Needed:
Autobiography Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington
Handouts from Appendix
1st or 2nd grade students
Chocolate chip cookies


1. Jigsaw. Separate Booker's life into four subjects: slavery, work,
education, and leadership. Give each student a description of one of the
subjects. Have them read how it played an important part in Booker's
life. (Descriptions can be found in Booker T. Washington's autobiography
Up From Slavery.) Have each of them prepare a 5-7 minute overview of
their topic. After they have prepared their overview have the students
with the same topic come together. Have them discuss what they are
going to present in their groups. In groups of four (one person from each
subject) take 5-7 minute turns, discussing the subjects. Meet back as a
class to take a short quiz on the group discussion.

2. Turn 2 Think. In groups of four pass out a set of question cards on
Booker T. Washington and a set of answer cards (See Appendix A). Have
students count off, one to four. Starting with person number one have
each student select a question card and read it aloud. Have all students
think of their response. Then, have the same person turn over an answer
card to see who will answer the question. Keep going until all of the
questions have been answered.

3. Interview. Booker T. Washington set goals and reached them. He
always wanted to have an education. He worked hard and was able to have
a career that he enjoyed. Have students select a profession that they
would like to have someday. The students will use the questions in
Appendix B to interview someone in that profession. They will find out
how much education they needed for the profession, how much reading,
math and other subjects they use in their work. Students will write a
summary of their interview and make a class listing of jobs and the
education needed to have the job.

4. Listing problems and solutions. Have students fold a sheet of paper in
half. On one side have them make a list of problems that the Blacks faced
in regards to Civil Rights. On the other side have the students make a list
of possible solutions for the problems. Discuss how Booker T. Washington
thought that education was the solution for equality. If the Blacks were
educated they would be equal. If they couldn't read or write, they would
never have the jobs or resources that they desired.As a class make a list of problems
that we face today. Have them thinkout possible solutions. Some examples of problems
that we face today include: pollution, disease, lack of natural resources, drugs etc.

5. Taking a Stand. Booker T. Washington was a great public speaker. Have
the students pick a controversial issue, research the topic, write a
persuasive speech and give the speech for the class.

6. Journal Entry. Have the students pick three qualities that Booker T.
Washington possessed. Have them write a journal entry, describing the
qualities in his life and how they helped him become a leader. Have the
students pick three qualities that they would like to incorporate into their
life and discuss why and how they will do it.

7. Service Project. Booker T. Washington valued the fact that he learned
how to read and write. Have the students go into a first or second grade
class and help a student read a book or write a letter.


1. After the students have finished discussing the four subject areas, the
class will take a quiz on the covered material.
2. Observations of responses to Turn-2-Think will be assessed
3. The interview question sheet will be assessed as well as the students
contribution to the class list of jobs and educational qualifications.
4. Problem/Solution papers will be assessed. Class participation will be
5. Persuasive paper will be assessed.
6. Journal entrees will be assessed.
7. Willingness to participate in the service project will be assessed
through participation and attitude.

Appendix A




Person interviewed:

Date of the interview:

1. How much schooling did you need for this job?

2. How much reading ( math, science, writing etc.) do you need for your

3. How would your life be different if you had not had the opportunity to
go to school?

* Have students think together as a class and formulate more questions
that they want to find out

Appendix B


1. What was Booker T. Washington's greatest accomplishment?

2. What was Booker T. Washington's childhood like?

3. Why did Booker T. Washington want to learn how to read?

4. Culture plays a big part in who we are. What part does the cultural
background of Booker T. Washington play in his life?

5. If Booker T. Washington had lived his life in a different country, what
may have been different?

6. What descriptive words might you use to describe the personality of
Booker T. Washington?

7. What was Booker T. Washington's greatest strength and weakness?

8. What was Booker T. Washington's greatest challenge?

9. What might be changed if Booker T. Washington did not exist?

10. How can you best portray the highlight of Booker T. Washington's

11. How was Booker T. Washington affected by slavery?

12. Why was education so important for Booker T. Washington?

13. What would have been different if Booker T. Washington never went to
school or learned how to read?

14. What would you have done differently if you had lived back in the days
of Booker T. Washington?