Booker T. Washington National Monument, in Franklin County, Virginia, is the former Burroughs Plantation. In 1850, James and Elizabeth Burroughs moved their children and a few slaves to this 207-acre tobacco farm in southwestern Virginia. The plantation cook, a female slave named Jane, gave birth to three children over the next 10 years. Her middle child would simply be called Booker.
This National Monument is very close to Smith Mountain Lake and is worth a visit. You can explore the small plantation where Washington first longed for an education, pondered what freedom meant and eventually took his “first breath of freedom.”
He has such an interesting history where he was born in April of 1856, during a time when the U.S. was trying to work towards a solution dealing with slavery. As slavery ceased to exist in the most Northern states, abolitionists began to demonstrate and influence state governments pushing toward the emancipation and sometimes the relocation of former slaves and descendants.
Booker T. Washington wrote in his autobiography, Up From Slavery, about his birth and his nine years living as an enslaved person on the Burroughs tobacco plantation. “I was born in a typical log cabin, about fourteen by sixteen feet square. In this cabin I lived with my mother and a brother and sister till after the Civil War, when we were all declared free. Of my ancestry, I know almost nothing…the cabin was not only our living place, but was used as the kitchen for the plantation. My mother was the plantation cook. The cabin was without glass windows; it had only openings in the side which let in the light, and also the cold, chilly air of winter…there was no wooden floor in our cabin, the naked earth being used as a floor.” He goes on to describe how he never slept in a bed, but just on a “bundle of rags.”
He had the desire to get an education but was not allowed to go to school, although he was expected to carry the books to school for Laura Burroughs, one of the owner’s daughters, who was a teacher. He remembered wearing a flax shirt that was very painful to wear when it was new because it felt like “a dozen or more chestnut burrs or a hundred small pin-points coming into contact with his flesh.”
Washington described the moment when he and his family found out they were free at the end of the Civil War. “Finally the war closed, and the day of freedom came. It was a momentous and eventful day to all upon our plantation.” He remembered a stranger who came to the plantation and read a speech that he thought was the Emancipation Proclamation. “After reading we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased, my mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children while tears of joy ran down her cheeks.” She explained what it all meant to them. This was the “moment she had been praying for.” Washington pioneered forward to get an education and became Dr. Booker T. Washington and became a noted educator, orator, author and advisor to presidents.
The Booker T. Washington National Monument is a place where people visit to come to remember and reflect on this time in American history. He wrote, “No race or people ever got upon its feet without severe and constant struggle, often in the face of the greatest discouragement.”
You can plan your visit by clicking here. It is a free National Monument that encourages donations.