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School named for racial pioneer

Booker T. Washington Middle School took its name from a person who was an educational revolutionary.

MICHAEL CANNING
Published June 6, 2003

Booker T. Washington Middle School, known to students and faculty as Booker T, opened in 1924 on the western edge of the Historic Ybor neighborhood. It serves as a magnet middle school for international studies.

Washington was born a slave in Hales Ford, Va., in 1856. After the abolishment of slavery, his family moved to Malden, W.Va., where Washington worked in coal mines and salt furnaces.

He later returned to Virginia to attend the Hampton Institute, an industrial school for blacks. By 1879, he was on the institute's faculty.

Two years later, Washington took an abandoned church and shanty in Alabama and founded the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, later called the Tuskegee Institute. As most African-Americans in the South continued to live in poverty, Washington turned the institute into a prestigious school for industrial education.

By the late 1880s, Washington had become a racial leader. He espoused economic advancement over social equality for blacks. It was a shrewd stance that garnered him political power and enhanced his status as a fundraiser for black causes. His beliefs also won him criticism, most notably from prominent African-American historian and sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois.

By 1900, Washington owned and funded several black newspapers and founded the National Negro Business League.

He died in 1915.

- Source: Hillsborough County School System, World Book Encyclopedia.

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