Booker T. Washington: What Would He Do Today with Gates’ Money

Question: If Booker Taliaferro Washington (the Wizard of Tuskegee) were alive and well today what would he do with the money that is available to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation? Where he seek to make his mark? What collaborations would he build? What would be his priorities? Education? Health? What would his position be on Africa or the future of Africans in the U.S.? In what ways would he seek to influence public policy and private practice?


What would you do?


  1. I suspect were Washington alive today, he’d proceed in the manner of most modern college presidents; focused on securing endowments and research funding for Tuskeegee — which, I also imagine, would perhaps rival Duke and Vanderbilt in prestige and scope among research institutions in the South.

    Washington & Tuskeegee were beneficiaries of the leading philanthropists of the late 19th century, including Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. It follows then that Washington would leverage the resources of a Gates Foundation today for political access on behalf of Black economic progress as he did in the 1890’s. It’s also likely that access would be manifest in the form of a Brookings Institute-style think tank with fellows producing policy papers reflective of Washington’s left-of-center politics and moderate tone.

    Because I view Washington as a pragmatist, I tend to believe Africa, Pan-Africanism, and foreign policy in general would have been treated as secondary, or collateral, issues to his domestic agenda before the public. OTOH, privately, I can see Washington attempting to export his agenda to African nations while inconspicuously positioning Tuskeegee as a repository of global Black scientific knowledge and research.

  2. I agree with most of that. In reading Louis Harlan’s 2-part biography on Washington, an interesting picture emerged re: Africa. He was certainly pragmatic – but also of the mind that Black folk should reside and work in Africa on their own terms – and not as subjects of European powers. Based on the extent to which Europeans were entrenched on the continent during his time, he believed that only Liberia provided even the faintest short term hope.

    His resolve to establish a viable industrial and commercial complex in the Southern states was constant.

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