James Lee Dickey: An Analysis of One African-American's Leadership in Jim Crow Texas

Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington was the most influential African American leader at the turn of the 20th century. He surmounted many obstacles to achieve prominence and devoted his career to attain racial uplift. Booker Taliaferro Washington was born a mulatto slave in Virginia in 1856 and upon emancipation, moved with his family to West Virginia where he worked first in a salt furnace and later in a coal mine. He taught himself simple reading but had an insatiable thirst for knowledge. He overheard people discussing a new colored normal school in Hampton, Virginia and vowed to attend Hampton Institute. Desperate to find more lucrative employment, he accepted a position with Mrs. Lewis Ruffner who was reputedly a strict taskmaster. The combination of her obsession with cleanliness and Booker’s desperation to earn tuition funds made young Washington as meticulous as his mistress. Once he had earned Mrs. Ruffner's trust, Booker was permitted to attend school during the winter and he hired tutors for evening lessons in addition to her own academic instruction. Impressed by him, Mr. and Mrs. Ruffner became Booker T. Washington's staunch supporters. In the fall of 1872, young Washington departed his past to find his future. Armed with a small satchel of personal belongings and very little money (family issues had depleted his savings), he traveled 500 miles to Hampton Institute with the hope that he could work for his tuition and upkeep.

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