Booker T. Washington Lesson for Kids: Biography & Facts

Instructor: Abby Federico

Abby has taught elementary special education and has her master's degree in this area.

In this lesson you will learn about Booker T. Washington, an American educator, author, speaker, and presidential adviser. He is most famous for founding the Tuskegee Institute. Read on to learn more!

Early Life

Imagine being a slave, having to do everything your master told you to and working for long, hard hours every day. Then, suddenly, you are free - you can go places and do things you never thought possible before. Now that you have a choice, what do you want to do with your life? Read on to see what Booker T. Washington did after becoming free.

Booker Taliaferro Washington was born a slave in Virginia in 1856. He was nine years old when the Civil War ended and he and his family became free. His family moved to West Virginia, where they worked in the salt and coal mines. Washington went to Hampton Institute, which was one of the first schools for free African Americans. After graduating, Washington became a teacher at the school. He would later use the Hampton Institute as a model for the school he opened himself.

Tuskegee Institute

In 1881, Booker T. Washington founded the Tuskegee Institute, a school for African Americans in Alabama that focused on training teachers. The school started small, with Washington as the only teacher. At first they didn't even have any buildings, and the students were the ones who helped to build them! Throughout Washington's lifetime, the school grew into a major university that is still open today.

Civil Rights

Washington believed that after the Civil War, African Americans should focus on economic issues like education and getting jobs, instead of political and civil issues like desegregation. This caused friction between him and other African American civil rights leaders who believed they should be working towards equal rights. These other leaders thought Washington was giving in to segregation, or the separation of blacks and whites, and the laws that enforced segregation, which were known as Jim Crow laws. But in reality, Washington was secretly working against racism and helping to protect blacks from lynch mobs.

Booker T. Washington
Booker T Washington


Washington had a lot of support from white philanthropists, or people who donate to others, and he used this support to help fund the Tuskegee Institute. Many white leaders also recognized his leadership skills and ideas, and he was named adviser to two presidents: Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.

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