I recently had the honor of visiting
Washington's boyhood home in Malden, West Virginia. It was in
this modest cabin he took the first steps that led him on the
path of leadership of his people. A visit to this complex where
Booker T. Washington spent his formative years will give you a
deeper understanding of the man he became.
|A replica of the boyhood cabin
of Booker T. Washington
The complex is composed of a reconstruction
of the cabin young Booker lived in from age nine to sixteen and
the first school he attended. There is also the actual church he
worshiped in while living there. According to Larry L. Rowe,
local historian and our guide to the complex, "The cabin was
build based on photographs… The original cabin had two rooms
across the front and one room to the back. The reconstruction
has the two rooms across the front but not the back room."
|Interior of the cabin
Booker was born a slave on the Burroughs
Plantation in Franklin county, Virginia. He was nine in 1865
when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. He along with his
mother , Jane, his half-sister and brother, walked approximately
225 miles from the plantation to Malden where his stepfather
Washington Ferguson lived.
Young Booker worked there in salt furnaces
and coal mines but the most influential job he had was a s
houseboy and gardener for the wealthy Ruffner family. The
Ruffners owned the extensive salt works in Malden and
surrounding areas. Lewis and Viola Ruffner were firm believers
in equal pay for equal work and were supportive of the freedmen.
Early on there was
a small African American Baptist congregation.
Gen. Lewis Ruffner
construction of a the present church in 1865, the first African
American church in the state In 1872, it was moved to its
present location. When you enter you have to think "if only
these walls could talk."
Viola Ruffner was demanding and expected
hard work from her employers but a bond was formed between the
matron and the young Black houseboy. He understood and respect
her ideals of honesty, cleanliness, order and hard work and
adopted the same standards for his entire life. Another incident
may have shaped his somewhat more cautious method of advancement
for African Americans in the Jim Crowe era of lynchings and
violence against t the freed slaves in the post reconstruction
South. It occurred while
he was working for the Ruffners. Lewis Ruffner was struck in the
back of the head by a brick thrown by a party of violent night
riders attempting to terrorize some of the Ruffner's Black
employees. Lewis went to their defense and suffered permanent
brain damage due to the injury.
In his spare time, Booker attended school
taught by Reverend Rice, the church's
founder. . It was at this point that Booker adopted his
stepfather's name of Washington as a surname. Viola gave him
time off to attend and encouraged his quest for an education.
She gave him free use of the Ruffner's extensive library. In
later years, he referred to Viola Ruffner
as "one of the best friends I ever had."
At sixteen he left Malden to attend Hampton
Institute in Virginia, a school founded to educate freedmen. The enthusiastic student
caught the eye of Hampton Institute president Samuel C.
Armstrong and in 1881, he recommended Washington to become the
first principal of a new
teachers Collage at Tuskegee Alabama. Tuskegee Institute was
Booker T. Washington's life work. It was the base from which he
worked for the advancement of his people.
At first he was befriended by W.E. B.
DuBois, who would go on to found the NAACP. They later split
over Washington's less aggressive methods to achieve equality.
Washington's methods allowed compromise but he worked
tirelessly to promote good race relations while helping his
people become educated and financially stable.
His autobiography, "Up
From Slavery" published in 1901 is still widely read today.
BBooker T. Washington won the respect not
only of his Black followers but some of the wealthiest and
highest ranking Whites in the country. He received support from
men such as Andrew Carnegie, President William Howard Taft, John
D. Rockefeller, Henry Huttleston Rogers who was president of
Standard Oil and one of the richest men in the country, George
Eastman, Julius Rosenwald, the founder of Sears and Roebuck. In
1901, he was invited to dine with President Theodore Roosevelt
and his family at the White House. He was the first African
American so honored. Who can deny that Booker T. Washington was
a Civil Rights Leader who influenced events long after his death
|The Oaks, Washington's home at
In Senator John McCain's concession speech
to President Obama, he cited this history making event "A
century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt's invitation of Booker
T. Washington to visit — to dine at the White House — was taken
as an outrage in many quarters. America today is a world away
from the cruel and prideful bigotry of that time. There is no
better evidence of this than the election of an African-American
to the presidency of the United States."
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