The end of the Civil War brought a time known as the Reconstruction. During this time, the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery. The newly freed slaves needed jobs, housing, and education in order to enter society, but the rejection of their new status by southern whites made the transition difficult. In 1895 a former slave named Booker T. Washington emerged as the most influential and prominent black leader and educator of the time. Although his theories and ideas directed many African Americans towards social and economic equality with whites, criticism and opposition rose with increased racism and violence towards blacks.
In the years before Booker T. Washington's freedom began, he was a young boy living on a plantation with his mother. In his autobiography, Up From Slavery, he mentions his early yearn for education saying "I had the feeling that to get into a schoolhouse and study in this way would be about the same as getting into paradise." After the abolition of slavery, Washington's family moved to West Virginia and he began to work in salt and coal mines. His stepfather's decision to make him work instead of study disappointed him. It "seemed to cloud my every ambition," Washington stated (Gates, 501). While at work in the coal mine one day he heard about a school for African American students where he could work for his room and board. At that moment he knew nothing would stand in his way of getting to that school, Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute. After many years at Hampton he received a degree and taught as a professor there. Later he discovered his calling in life at the school he founded, Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama. He founded it in the south where there was little opportunity for youth of his race to get a proper education. Because of his work at Tuskegee, Booker T. Washington was invited to speak at the Atlanta Exposition.