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‘Up From Slavery’: Preserving Booker T. Washington’s Franklin County roots

Preserving Booker T. Washington's writings
Preserving Booker T. Washington's writings

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Va. – One of the most powerful and inspirational voices for civil rights has his roots in Southwest Virginia.

Author and educator Booker T. Washington was born a slave in Franklin County near Rocky Mount.

Washington himself told the world of his upbringing in his autobiography “Up From Slavery,” and his Virginia legacy has been preserved long after his death.

“It’s an inspiring story that we all need to remind ourselves happened and began right here in Virginia,” said Suzanne Moomaw, director of the University of Virginia Press.

The plantation where he was born, located on Route 122 between Rocky Mount and Smith Mountain Lake, has been the Booker T. Washington National Monument since 1956.

While the buildings themselves remain closed due to COVID-19 concerns, the trails and the grounds are still open to the public.

Moomaw has done her own part in preserving Washington’s legacy. Under her guidance, the University Press recently acquired 14 volumes of Washington’s writings and documents, which stretch back to his time as a slave in Franklin County.

“It’s understanding his voice in his own experience,” Moomaw said. “His own writings, his own books, his professional life but also his national and international influence.”

Moomaw intends to make the documents available on the University Press’ online collection, Rotunda, so that anyone anywhere can learn about Washington through his own words.

“I don’t know that I’ve had many things that I’m more proud of than our ability to get his words out into the larger world,” Moomaw said. “He never gave up. He continued the fight.”