Booker T. Washington was born a slave in Hale's Ford, Virginia, on April 5, 1856. After emancipation, his family was so poverty stricken that he worked in salt furnaces and coal mines beginning at age nine.
Washington was always an intelligent and curious child. He yearned for an education and was frustrated when he could not get one where he lived. When he was 16, his parents allowed him to quit work to go to school. They had no money to help him, so he walked 200 miles to attend the Hampton Institute in Virginia and paid his tuition and board there by working as the janitor.
Dedicating himself to the idea that education would raise his people to equality in this country, Washington became a teacher. In 1881, he founded the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, which is now known as Tuskegee University.
In 1895, Washington was asked to speak at the opening of the Cotton States Exposition, an unprecedented honor for an African-American. His Atlanta Compromise speech explained his major thesis, that blacks could secure their constitutional rights through their own economic and moral advancement rather than through legal and political changes.