Booker T. Washington, Andrew Carnegie, and a gift for a lifetime

Booker T. Washington is known for many things.  Most people know him for his “Atlanta ‘Compromise’ Address,” his rivalry with W. E. B. Du Bois, and his unwavering allegiance to industrial education.  However, there are many more layers dying to be peeled back in regards to the life and contributions of Washington.  Most people do not realize his commitment to African American education, and his aptitude for fundraising.  By the turn of the century, Washington’s small school, in the middle of rural Tuskegee, Alabama had acquired a larger endowment than any surrounding black school AND what is now Auburn University and the University of Alabama.

It is true that most donations were given by wealthy northern philanthropist.  However, I would not be doing my job if I didn’t mention lay people, such as one woman who although had no money, offered her services to provide food to early students at Tuskegee.  Many locals and other African Americans contributed what they could, often times in the form of resources or time.  In the early years of Tuskegee, much of the money donated came from men and women like Robert C. Ogden, Olivia Phelps Stokes, Julius Rosenwald, John Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie.

Greatly impressed by Washington’s “self-made” image, Carnegie became an instant supporter of the Tuskegee model.  Born into poverty and serving his early childhood as a child laborer in a textile mill, Andrew Carnegie closely aligned his life’s journey to Washington’s. After reading Washington’s Up From Slavery while on vacation in Europe, Carnegie pledged to help build a library at Tuskegee Institute.  Carnegie’s most significant contribution came about a year later, when the former steel magnate donated one of the most generous gifts Tuskegee ever recieved.  It is transcribed below:

William H. Baldwin., Jr.


My Dear Friend,

I have instructed Mr. Franks, my cashier, to deliver to you an Trustee of Tuskegee six hundred thousand dollars 5% U. S. Steel Co. 1st Mortage bonds for the Endowment Fund.

I give this without reservation except that I require that suitable provision be made from the gift for the wants of Booker Washington and his family during his own or his wife’s life.  I wish that great good to be entirely free from [psouniary] (sic) cares that he may be free to devote himself to his great mission.

To me he seems one of the greatest of living men, because his work is unique, The Modern Moses, who leads his race and lifts it through education, to even better and higher things than a land of flowing with milk and honey.  History is to tell of two Washington’s one white, the other black, both fathers of their people.

I am statisfied that the serious race problem of the South is solved wisely only through Mr. Washington’s policy of education which he seems to have been specially born—a slave among slaves to establish and in his own day greatly to advance.  Glad am I to be able to assist this good work in which you and others so zealous labor.

                                                                                                Truly yours,

                                                                                                Andrew Carnegie

Other records shows that $150,000 was set aside for Washington’s salary.  There are numerous points of commentary on this letter and to further points to Washington as a trendsetter for African American philanthropy, however, I just came across this letter and wanted to share.  It made me think about Carnegie’s instructions to use this salary to lift his race, so he could be free from all cares.  It made me wonder, if someone paid my salary what would I devote all my time too?  So readers… What would you devote your time to?  Washington went on to create the Committee of Twelve and the National Negro Business League, and contributed countless other milestones.  If I could choose to do anything without considering financial obligations or restraints, I too would devote my energies to bettering education for African Americans.. just food for thought


10 thoughts on “Booker T. Washington, Andrew Carnegie, and a gift for a lifetime

  1. Very interesting piece. There are two items you might want to read. If you look on my website, there’s a piece on Du Bois and Johnson (and it talks about Washington too) — it’s philanthropy oriented. Also, I wrote a piece on Rockefeller and his support of HBCUs. If you are interested in philanthropy — both are good reads. 🙂 Keep up the good work!

  2. Great letter. Wondering if you took a photograph of this at the Library of Congress. I work at the Carnegie Corporation of New York and hadn’t been able to find any correspondence from AC to or about BTW. Would love to get a better copy of it. Is it possible you still have the call number? Thanks!
    Kate Newburger

    • Kate,

      Thanks for your interest. This photo is not from the LOC, it was taken from the archives at Tuskegee University. That is pretty odd there is no correspondence where you are. However, there is a ton of correspondence at Tuskegee, and I am sure at the LOC. Additionally, you may want to consult Louis Harlan’s edited volumes of the Booker T. Washington Papers. They are online and you can conduct a search through History Cooperative.

      • Thanks Brian! I have a few pieces from BTW to Carnegie but nothing in return. So glad to have Tuskegee as a resource. Made one trip to the LOC but the sheer volume of material warrants another visit.

        Thanks again!

  3. I am in the process of reading Andrew Carnegie’s autobiography. I came across an entry regarding BTW and AC and the letter written to Mr. Baldwin. Mr. Carnegie states that BTW kept the original letter for preservation. It is an interesting read!

  4. Thanks Brian –That’s so great to know! I wonder where the original letter is housed. The Corporation is celebrating its centennial this year and just reprinted AC’s autobiography. I haven’t read it yet but hear it’s quite interesting.

  5. Pingback: Uncivil Rights, Vol.2 – Black and White, and Red All Over – The Libertarian Heathen

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