THE LIZ LIBRARY PRESENTS:
This child did not even know that he had been given a last name until he was an adult, long after he had adopted another one for himself. He was born in a cabin on a tobacco plantation. His mother was a cook. His father took no interest in either the child or his mother, and never lived with either of them. The boy was not formally educated as a young child, and in fact, he was not even permitted to attend school. Instead, he worked.
The child's clothes were ragged. He never had toys, and he did not play. He slept on the floor of his mother's shack, and worked as soon as he was old enough to be useful. Sometimes he carried other children's books to school for them and daydreamed about being able to learn to read. One day his mother found a spelling book, and he studied from it on his own.
When the boy was 10, he was given permission to attend school, provided that he still worked. So he went to work in the salt mines, starting each day at 4 a.m. so that he could go to school in the afternoons. A few years later, he got a job as a household servant, doing the same thing -- working in the mornings and evenings, and going to school in the afternoons. When he was 16, he walked 500 miles to another town in order to attend another school where he would be able to live and study full-time, and be permitted to pay his way there by doing menial tasks.
Early on, he developed a personal philosophy of self reliance. In later life he would say that there was no period of his life that was devoted to play. Every day of his life was occupied in some kind of labor.
But he persevered. He worked, and he excelled in his studies. In fact, he learned so well that after a time he became an instructor at the school.
He married his childhood sweetheart, but when she unexpectedly died, he married again, ultimately having two children.
Subsequently, he established another school for the purpose of educating children like him. He began to write papers and articles, to give speeches, to meet people, to make friends, and to get involved in politics. To raise money for his new school, he wrote an autobiography which was so impressive that he was invited to dine at the White House in Washington, D.C. Wealthy philanthropists read his story, "Up From Slavery", and supported his school. He was invited to tea with the Queen of England. He became an advisor to the president on various matters of national policy, notably education and race relations.
The school he founded is now known as the Tuskeegee Institute. His name, including the last name his mother gave him, and the second last name that he chose for himself, is carved on a monument in his honor. Schoolchildren everywhere in America know who he is:
Booker T. (Taliaferro) Washington,
a boy from a "fatherless home."
* The term "fatherless" is used in this series as it is in current research and policy rhetoric by the U.S. federal government, DHHS and the National Fatherhood Initiative, most U.S. states in connection with child custody law and policy, and various family values and fatherhood interest policy and lobbying groups.
"...Just add Dad, the magic ingredient. It's hard to know where wishful thinking becomes deliberate deception. But this argument, advanced by the fathers' rights movement, is like saying that, since Mercedes Benz owners make more money than people who drive Hyundais, you will become wealthy if you buy a Mercedes..." Mike Peterson
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