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In his autobiography Up from Slavery, Booker T. Washington discusses the impact that education had on the lives of the community in which he grew up and also on his life. While we know him as one of the important African American political leaders of the early twentieth century, few know of his experiences in trying to obtain an education. Chapter two of his book details Washington’s intense desire to attend Hampton Institute (now University) by any means necessary, even if that meant walking more than 500 miles. His tenure at Hampton not only inspired him to advance his race, but also served as a template for his founding of Tuskegee Institute years later.
The following is an excerpt from Up from Slavery:
This experience of a whole race beginning to go to school for the first time, presents one of the most interesting studies that has ever occurred in connection with the development of any race. Few people who were not right in the midst of the scenes can form any exact idea of the intense desire which the people of my race showed for an education. . . It was a whole race trying to go to school. Few were too young, and none too old, to make the attempt to learn.2