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Booker T. Washington Puts Economic Advancement Ahead of Political Rights

Booker T. Washington, born a slave in 1858, was the most influential black leader at the turn of the century. He had worked as a laborer and domestic servant after the Civil War, eventually attending Virginia's Hampton Institute. In 1881, he founded Tuskegee Institute, training African Americans to work with their hands, believing that if black workers remained unskilled, they would forever be discriminated against. In speeches and writings, Washington advocated that African Americans accommodate to white political power as they pursued economic opportunity.

"The Negro should not be deprived by unfair means of the franchise, political agitation alone would not save him, and that to back the ballot, he must have property, industry, skill, economy, intelligence, and character, and that no race without these elements could permanently succeed."

"Many of the Negroes in the South are hungry; and when a man is hungry, he cannot get his political rights...  Property, brains and character will settle the question of civil rights."

Source | Booker T. Washington, Black Belt Diamonds, Gems from the Speeches, Addresses and Talks to the Students, Selected and Arranged by Victoria Earle Matthews, (New York: Fortune and Scott, 1898).  
Creator | Booker T. Washington
Item Type | Speech
Cite This document | Booker T. Washington, “Booker T. Washington Puts Economic Advancement Ahead of Political Rights,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed October 22, 2021,

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