By Alan Schroeder
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Additional info for Booker T. Washington: Educator And Racial Spokesman
Armstrong wrote back, saying that at the moment he had no white man to recommend, but if a black man was acceptable, he would send Booker T. Washington, “a very competent capable mulatto. . ” A week later, during chapel service, the commissioners’ reply arrived at Hampton Institute. Armstrong read the telegram aloud before the assembled students: “Booker T. Washington will suit us. ” “There was,” Washington remembered, “a great deal of joy expressed among the students and teachers, and I received very hearty congratulations.
One by one, they each picked up an ax and headed for the woods to join him. For the next several weeks, Washington and his pupils worked every afternoon, chopping wood and burning undergrowth, until 20 acres had been cleared. Unfortunately, the land proved to be too hilly and the soil too sandy to produce high-quality cotton. Wisely, the students decided to concentrate their efforts on planting vegetables instead. Before long, a large and healthy garden was thriving on campus. From the beginning, Washington ran his school very much like Hampton Institute.
This proved to be a grueling schedule, however, and after a month or two, Booker returned to night school. Like most black schools in the South, the one in Tinkersville was very small. Until suitable quarters could be found, classes were held in the bedroom of a local home. The teacher was a young educated black man, a Civil War veteran named William Davis. Charismatic and extremely conscientious, Davis was largely responsible for the school’s success. Within two years, attendance had risen from approximately 30 to 79 students.