Booker T. Washington National Monument

Location: Hardy, Virginia

Webpage: National Park Service

General Description: Booker T. Washington began his life as a slave on this small Virginia tobacco farm in 1856.  For the first 8 years of his life he lived and worked on the farm with his mother who was the cook.  The farm is only 207 acres with half of the land unimproved, and the other half devoted to growing tobacco as a cash crop, grazing for livestock, and food crops for use on the farm.  Although very young, he worked doing errands all day long as did all the members of James Burrough’s family and about 10 slaves.  The farm is an excellent example of living conditions for the vast majority of landowners in Virginia prior to the Civil War, which is mistakenly perceived as large plantations.  Booker T. Washington was 8 years old in 1865 when the Emancipation Proclamation was read to the joyful slaves.  Being freed following the Civil War, his mother moved them to West Virginia to grow up with his stepfather where he took a job in the salt mines.  However, his job began at 4 am leaving him time to attend school later in the day, thus beginning his passion for learning and setting his future.  To pursue his education he walked most of the 500 miles back to Virginia to enroll at Hampton Institute, a new school for black students.  Some of Booker T. Washington’s belief that a college education must include learning and practicing a trade began with his childhood on this small farm.

Brochure

Impressions:

1)  It was cool and misty the day we visited the National Monument in late April, so we did not spend as much time outside exploring the farm as I would have liked.  However, what we saw impressed me since it was a different view then you normally get about pre-Civil War rural life.  The majority of landowners were not large plantation owners dependent upon slave labor.  This farm was much more typical, where everyone including the family members, worked all day every day of the year just to make a living.  Even though the Burrough’s house did not have a dirt floor, it was not much bigger than the cookhouse that Booker T. Washington grew up in and most of the time they ate the same food as well.

Barnyard

2)  The only original structure left on the property is the tobacco drying shed.  The barn and slave cabins are reconstructions and only the foundations of the home site are marked out.

TobaccoDryingShed SlaveQuarters

3) The very small Visitor Center includes a short film on the early years of Booker T. Washington and a second short film covering his later years at Tuskegee Institute.  Both films are informative, but I especially liked his early years.  It was interesting to gain a perspective on why his views about the future of African-Americans was so different from the more radical views, most notably, WEB Dubois.  Booker T. Washington believed that education was the key to freedom for the former slaves.  Learning a trade that would provide them with the tools and knowledge needed to make a living as free men and women, in addition to reading, writing, mathematics, science, history, etc was essential.  Thus his life long goal for the lasting success of Tuskegee University.

4) As always when the crowds are small (we were they only visitors for the first hour or so), take time to talk with the NPS volunteers.  Our host was a graduate of Tuskegee University in the 60s and had all kinds of great stories of living and working on campus back then.  With literally all the students working and most living on campus, it was a different environment then my experience in the late 70s or student life know at Auburn University.

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