Virginia’s Booker T Washington National Monument celebrates one of the most influential African Americans of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Dr. Booker T Washington (1856-1915). From the parking lot of the Visitor Center guests are drawn in by the broadcasting of historic field songs. Once inside, a 12-minute introductory video examines the life and legacy of Dr. Booker T Washington.
A newly designed interactive exhibit, “Born Here, Freed Here,” is split into chronological sections that highlight the first nine years of Dr. Washington’s life and was it was like to be born a slave, as well as offering a history lesson on the extraordinary accomplishments Dr. Washington achieved in his years as a “freed man.” Activities throughout the exhibit inspire guests to imagine the life of an enslaved person and what it would be like to be unable to read, feed or clothe your family. A gift shop offers books relating to the life of Dr. Booker T Washington, the history of slavery in America, and the Civil War, including Dr. Washington’s own memoir, “Up From Slavery.”
Guests may explore the log cabin in which Dr. Booker T Washington spent the first nine years of his life until being freed from slavery after the Civil War. The intact log cabin has been restored, and it’s bare bones furnishings, no beds, no dressers, no cupboards, reminds visitors of the harsh reality of life as a slave, sleeping on the dirt floor of a small room who’s primary utility was as a kitchen to the plantation.
A garden area exemplifies a typical subsistence farm of the mid 1800’s. Separate from the tobacco farm, which grew the plantation’s cash crop, the subsistence farm grew corn and other vegetables for food. A working farm area recreates an 1850’s tobacco farm and houses pigs, chickens, sheep and horses. Visitors may watch the park rangers feed and care for the animals. The site also contains an 1850’s smoke house, blacksmith shed, tobacco barn, and the Burroughs’ family cemetery.
Surrounding the property is the Jack-O-Lantern Branch Heritage Trail, a 1.5-mile loop that offers an easy walk through forests and fields, alongside three different creeks. There is also a picnic area on site adjacent to the visitor center.
History: Dr. Booker T. Washington was born in 1856 to his mother, Jane Washington, a slave on the Virginia plantation belonging to James and Elizabeth Burroughs. His mother, the plantation cook, prepared meals for the plantation from the small log cabin in which the family of four lived. The family lived in the cabin for the first nine years of Dr. Washington’s life, until they were emancipated after the end of the Civil War. During the war, the family managed the farm, along with 10 other slaves, while five of the Burroughs’ children fought for the confederacy.
At war’s end in 1865, the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was finally enforced. Washington recalls one of the Union soldiers reading the proclamation from the front porch of the Burroughs’ home to an overwhelmingly ecstatic response. His mother, Jane, was at last able to take her three children to West Virginia, to reunite with her husband, who was working there at the salt mines.
Booker T Washington had always wanted an education, but as a slave, was not permitted to attend school. After emancipation, he achieved his dream of education and became a noted orator, author and educator. He was the founding force behind the Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, which is credited with “lifting the veil of ignorance” for many African American former slaves, by first educating black teachers, then expanding into an institute of higher education for all.
The purchase of the National Monument site was funded via proceeds from a commemorative coin authorized by Congress in 1946, with assistance from the state of Virginia. The National Monument was designated in 1956, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places ten years later.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Tours of the site are mostly self-guided, with interpretative materials available from the Visitor Center. Guided ranger-led tours are available for groups of 10 or more only, with reservations required. The 30-60 minute tours take guests on a short walk through the National Monument. An Educational Guide to the National Monument is available for area educators who wish to bring the lessons from the site’s history into their classrooms, or to bring groups of school children to the site for hands-on learning.
12130 Booker T. Washington Highway Hardy, VA 24101, Phone: 540-721-2094