"Black History Month 2012"

JACKSONVILLE, Ill. (AP) — The famous black educator Booker T. Washington explained his efforts to help his persecuted race in a speech he delivered here more than a century ago.

He spoke to a packed audience at the Grand Opera House on the northeast corner of the Jacksonville public square on Jan. 23, 1900. The title of his lecture that night was The Progress of the Colored Race in America.

“So great has been Mr. Washington's usefulness, so extended his influence, so well acknowledged is his ability as a leader, that he is termed the Moses of his race,” a Jacksonville Daily Journal reporter wrote at the time.

“From the title of a slave, he has won a national reputation as an orator and race benefactor, having some of the major characteristics of John Langston and Frederick Douglass, he surpasses them both and stands today with the title of the greatest of Negroes.'”

Washington was the most influential African-American leader and educator of his time. He became prominent primarily because of his role as founder and head of Tuskegee Institute, a vocational school for blacks in Tuskegee, Ala. The school taught specific trades, such as carpentry, farming and mechanics, and trained teachers.

Jacksonville has a connection to Tuskegee in that one of its former residents, Alonzo H. Kenniebrew, served as the resident physician and teacher of physiology at Tuskegee from 1897 to 1902.

Kenniebrew soon thereafter moved to Jacksonville and founded a surgical hospital and nurses school in 1908. The hospital and school, known as New Home Sanitarium, was located near what is now the intersection of West Morgan Street and Dunlap Court. The hospital, which is believed to be the first operated by an African-American, was torn down in 1930.

Kenniebrew also once served as the personal physician to Washington.

Washington thought that blacks could benefit more from a practical, vocational education rather than a college education. Most blacks lived in poverty in the rural South, and Washington felt they should learn skills, work hard and acquire property. He thought that the development of work skills would lead to economic prosperity. He predicted that blacks would be granted civil and political rights after gaining a strong economic foundation.

Washington advised two presidents — Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft — on racial problems and policies. He also influenced the appointment of several blacks to federal offices, especially during President Theodore Roosevelt's administration.

Throughout his life, Washington tried to please whites in both the North and the South through his public actions and his speeches. He never publicly supported black political causes that were unpopular with Southern whites. However, Washington secretly financed lawsuits opposing segregation and upholding the right of blacks to vote and to serve on juries.

During his local lecture, Washington thanked the citizens of Jacksonville for helping blacks and explained how they could overcome their plight.

“By carefully explaining the methods and aims of the industrial school, giving numbers of practical examples, he convinced most of the audience that education is the only lasting regenerator,” wrote the Journal reporter.

By 1910, Washington's influence had started to decline as W.E.B. Du Bois, a historian and sociologist, and others began new movements to help blacks in the United States. Their efforts led to the creation of such organizations as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League. Washington died in 1915 at age 59.

Information from: Jacksonville Journal-Courier,

Photo: Booker T. Washington