BOOKER T. WASHINGTON WAS one of the most influential African-Americans of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was an educator, school administrator, orator, race spokesperson, author, and high-profile public figure. His driving desire was to help black Americans acquire better living conditions, which he attempted to do through appeasing powerful white elites. A masterful communicator, he was given rare positive attention for blacks of his era, but critics believed he was simply a pawn to white interests.

Washington's two autobiographies, the classic Up from Slavery and the lesser-known The Story of My Life and Work, tell of the hardships of his youth, although some critics think these might have been exaggerated to emphasize his personal success story. Washington was born in abject poverty ...

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