Booker T. Washington & the keys to a successful life

American Minute with Bill Federer

Born a slave, he taught himself to read and attended school after working all day. At age sixteen, he walked nearly 500 miles to attend Hampton Institute, founded by Union General Samuel Chapman Armstrong. At age 25, he founded Tuskegee Institute and recruited George Washington Carver.

By his death, NOVEMBER 14, 1915, Tuskegee had over 1,500 students. His name was Booker T. Washington.

Elected to the Hall of Fame, Booker T. Washington was the first African American to have his image on both a U.S. postage stamp and coin. Booker T. Washington resisted yielding to race prejudice, as he wrote in Up From Slavery (1901):

“I learned this lesson from General Samuel Chapman Armstrong, and resolved that I would permit no man, no matter what his color might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him. With God’s help, I believe that I have completely rid myself of any ill feeling toward the Southern white man for any wrong that he may have inflicted upon my race. I am made to feel just as happy now when I am rendering service to Southern white men as when the service is rendered to a member of my own race. I pity from the bottom of my heart any individual who is so unfortunate as to get into the habit of holding race prejudice.”

Booker T. Washington was thankful for rich people who supported his work at Tuskegee (Up From Slavery, 1901):

“The more I come into contact with wealthy people, the more I believe that they are growing in the direction of looking upon their money simply as an instrument which God has placed in their hand for doing good with. I never go to the office of Mr. John D. Rockefeller, who more than once has been generous to Tuskegee, without being reminded of this. The close, careful, and minute investigation that he always makes in order to be sure that every dollar that he gives will do the most good – an investigation that is just as searching as if he were investing money in a business enterprise – convinces me that the growth in this direction is most encouraging.”

Booker T. Washington cited the Biblical work ethic in his address The Place of the Bible in the Uplifting of the Negro Race:

“The men doing the vital things of life are those who read the Bible and are Christians and not ashamed to let the world know it…No man can read the Bible and be lazy.”

Booker T. Washington believed that to be great, one should read the Bible, (The Booker T. Washington Papers, Vol. 3: 1889-95, ed., Louis R. Harlan, Univ. of Illinois, 1974, p. 93):

“You never read in history of any great man whose influence has been lasting, who has not been a reader of the Bible. Take Abraham Lincoln and Gladstone. Their lives show that they have been readers of the Bible. If you wish to properly direct your mind and necessarily your lives, begin by reading the book of all books. Read your Bible every day, and you will find how healthily you will grow.”

Booker T. Washington believed a religious life was key to freedom, usefulness and honor, as he wrote in Putting the Most into Life (NY: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 1906, ch. “Making Religion a Vital Part of Living,” p. 23-25):

“People who stand for the most in the educational and commercial world and in the uplifting of the people are in some real way connected with the religious life…We ought to make the most of our religious life… First the habit of regular attendance at some religious service should be cultivated… Systematic reading and prayerful study of the Bible is the second…”

Booker T. Washington concluded:

“Reference is made in the Bible to the freedom that comes from being a Christian. A man is free just in proportion as he learns to live within God’s laws… As we learn God’s laws and grow into His likeness we shall find our reward in this world in a life of usefulness and honor.”


Self-Educated American contributing editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.


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