Booker T. Washington National Monument, April 10, 2011

Posted on April 11, 2011. Filed under: Civil Rights, Education, History, Travel |

Statue Depicting Booker T. Washington as a Slave Child

Statue Depicting Booker T. Washington as a Slave Child

Restored Kitchen House Like That Inhabited by Booker T. Washington's Family

Restored Kitchen House Like That
Inhabited by Booker T. Washington’s Family

Restored Kitchen House Like That Inhabited by Booker T. Washington's Family

Restored Kitchen House Like That
Inhabited by Booker T. Washington’s Family

Stream, Booker T. Washington National Monument

Stream, Booker T. Washington National Monument

Booker T. Washington Bust

Booker T. Washington Bust

Inscription: A RACE, LIKE AN INDIVIDUAL,
LIFTS ITSELF UP BY LIFTING OTHERS UP.

Gravestone, Sparks Cemetery

Gravestone That Reads "SID DID, The 30 August 1893"
(Maybe "1873"), Sparks Cemetery

Stable, Booker T. Washington National Monument

Stable, Booker T. Washington National Monument

Sleeping Rare Pig, Booker T. Washington National Monument

Sleeping Rare Pig, Booker T. Washington National Monument

Photos copyright 2011 VisualInfo.Biz, Inc.

Booker T. Washington National Monument Web Page (National Park Service)
Some quotations by Booker T. Washington
Note: Use Google Maps or MapQuest to plan your journey beforehand, as there are not many road signs leading to this park. Or use GPS! The park is about thirty minutes east of Roanoke in western central Virginia.

The Booker T. Washington National Monument made such a strong impression that the next morning I imagined myself waking up with Booker T. Washington, his mother, brother, and sister, on the dirt floor of the kitchen house in which they all lived. As Chris and I walked miles through the beautiful park the day before, we visualized ourselves walking with Booker as a child.

You don't just read about Booker T. Washington's life here — you live it. You feel what this tobacco farm was like when Booker T. Washington lived here from 1856 to 1865.

We spent a good four hours walking the complete trail, taking in the restored period buildings, farm animals, Gills Creek, and Sparks Cemetery. While we walked, obviously happy and curious kids bounced in and out of the exhibits and ran to look at farm animals. Even small toddlers were energized by the place. This park is so well set up that it offers something for everyone — all ages; all backgrounds.

The park guides are unusually friendly and helpful. The information about Booker T. Washington's life and the times in which he lived is presented in many ways — art work, informational tableaus, well-written brochures, a movie (which we did not even watch; we spent four hours absorbing everything else they had to offer).

The guides give you a number to dial on your cell phone and, as you walk through the hiking trail, you can listen to pre-recorded information about certain trail stops. There is a lot of very interesting information presented in many different ways.

For instance, did you know that slaves introduced licorice to the United States in necklaces made out of licorice seeds? There are so many little details to absorb.

We hiked by a cemetery about which almost nothing is known. Only one gravestone had very simple letters carved into it; the rest of the stones were unmarked but positioned like gravestones. Perhaps the Sparks Cemetery is a slave cemetery; no one knows. The National Park Service guides know its name from oral history.

The Booker T. Washington National Monument is on a section of the 207 acres owned by the Burroughs family. It was a tobacco farm on which Booker T. Washington was born to a slave named Jane. He knew very little about his father, a neighboring white plantation owner. As a slave child, Booker worked hard literally as soon as he could walk.

I find it ironic that at birth his mother Jane named him "Booker" and that early on he developed a love for learning that persisted throughout his life. It was a prophetic name. Booker T. Washington also always believed in the value of hard work. Perhaps a little too much so — I read online that after his death, doctors discovered that his blood pressure was twice the normal range; they thought that he had developed congestive heart failure from overwork.

The Burroughs Farm was a smaller farm where the master and slaves worked side by side. Young Booker did not experience the extreme cruelties known at the larger plantations. When Booker was nine years old, Master Burroughs read the Emancipation Proclamation to him and his family on the porch of the "Big House."

As you walk through the park, you see this man's humble beginnings — sleeping on a dirt floor in a scratchy flaxseed slave shirt he hated — and you take in information about what he later became. He strove on to remarkable achievements. Booker T. Washington became a famous educator, author, orator, influential advisor, and civil rights activist.

When his money ran out for train transportation to the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University) in Hampton, Virginia, he walked the rest of the way to begin his education.

He was the first principal of the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama at the age of twenty-five. He obtained funding for thousands of small African-American community schools and higher education institutions from Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, George Eastman, and many other famous self-made businessmen of the time. He also obtained support for these schools from prominent African-American educators, ministers, and businessmen. He was an advisor to President Theodore Roosevelt.

Booker T. Washington wrote fourteen books, including the classic, Up From Slavery. In 1895, he was thrust into national prominence by his famous "Atlanta Compromise" speech.

These are all admirable achievements for any man, but how did someone born a slave bring his idealistic visions to life while the Ku Klux Klan was on the rise and segregation was becoming the new norm? (There is a disturbing photo of lynching victims and other information about racism's harsh realities on display at the park to remind you of the general sociopolitical climate.) Once the bizarre economic system of slavery was abolished, how was American society to be organized? This had to be a difficult transitory period.

Booker T. Washington seemed to size up a given situation's limitations and possibilities, and magically transform it into new opportunities no one else had envisioned. Blessed with unusual intelligence, inner strength, resourcefulness, interpersonal skills, and a persistent need to see concrete results, Booker T. Washington negotiated pathways even more remarkable in light of the time in which he lived.

Washington became one of the most famous men in the country during the last twenty years of his life; his opinion was sought by many. He had become a spokesman for civil rights. Some thought his message should be less compromising. W.E.B. Du Bois was perhaps his most outspoken critic, wishing that Booker T. Washington would talk and write less conservatively about civil rights. A man who knew how to get things done, Washington believed that outright confrontation would harm African-Americans. After his death, it came to light that Booker T. Washington had secretly been financing litigation for civil rights cases.

Optimistic and idealistic, but also a pragmatic man of action, Booker T. Washington strongly felt that men could lift themselves up by hard work. He thought that if they first contributed to society by educating themselves and developing skills so that they could make a living, African-Americans could move forward in other areas. His own life experience was that economic strength was the necessary first step, the base from which to spring forward. An unusual Renaissance man, he wrote, "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."


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