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Born into slavery on a Virginia plantation, Booker T. Washington (1856–1915) educated himself tirelessly in the years after the American Civil War. In 1881, he was appointed head of the Tuskegee Institute, a teacher-training college for African Americans. As a writer, orator and fundraiser, he became one of the leading figures of the black community. Washington argued that the best way of bettering the social position of African Americans was through vocational education, which would make them indispensable and productive members of society. In this 1901 autobiography, he uses his life as an example to illustrate these principles, covering particularly the work of the Tuskegee Institute and his fundraising on behalf of black education. The book also contains the full text of his 1895 Atlanta Exposition speech, which created the model for Southern race relations until Washington's death and the emergence of more overtly assertive African-American civil rights leaders.