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Booker T. Washington (1917) ~ Henry Ossawa Tanner

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Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) was the first African American painter to achieve nationwide recognition within the art world. He was born in Pittsburgh and grew up in Philadelphia. His mother, Sarah Miller Tanner, had been sent north by her mother through the Underground Railroad to escape the Maafa (slavery) she was born into. Tanner’s middle name “Ossawa” is based on the abolitionist John Brown’s nickname “Osawatomie” Brown, in honor of the Battle of Osawatomie, Kansas in 1856. Tanner’s father was a preacher, and the family was deeply religious. Many of Tanner's paintings feature religious scenes from the Judeo-Christian tradition, but he also painted portraits, landscapes, animals, and scenes from his travels in the Middle East.

In 1899 he married Jessie Olsson, a white Swedish-American opera singer. Knowing that this marriage wouldn’t be accepted in the United States, the couple made their home in Paris, where the arts were respected, regardless of the artist’s race.

Booker Taliaferro Washington (1856 –1915) was an American educator, author, orator, and adviser to several presidents of the United States. Between 1890 and 1915, Washington was arguably the dominant leader in the African American community and of the contemporary black elite. Washington was from the last generation of black American leaders born into slavery, and he became the leading voice in his time of the formerly enslaved and their descendants.

His base was the Tuskegee Institute, a normal school, later a historically black college in Tuskegee, Alabama, at which he served as principal. As lynchings in the South reached a peak in 1895, Washington called for black progress through education and entrepreneurship, rather than trying to challenge directly the Jim Crow segregation and the disenfranchisement of black voters in the South.

Black activists in the North, led by W. E. B. Du Bois, saw Booker’s approach as too accommodating to white supremacy. They founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to work for political change, decades later leading to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and beyond.
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Though history has not borne out the efficacy of his strategy for attaining racial equity, he was an important leader in the long and beleaguered trajectory of the fight for human rights in the United States.


Booker T. would have figured out by now that nothing good comes of accommodating white supremacy, but I give him points for effort. Great portrait by Tanner! TFP


Wonderful story, donns, from obviously a wonderful educator. Thanks for providing a link, lelabugosi, for any of us in search of more information.


I still have 'Up from Slavery (1901)' in hardback - read it many years ago.

It's available at Amazon -

I love this portrait of this great man.
When I taught struggling 2nd grade readers in a high diverse/low socioeconomic school, I used a picture book about Book T Washington to motivate those readers. The title was More Than Anything Else, and it showed how badly he wanted to learn to read and "crack the code" of reading when he was a child working in salt mines. The book was inspiring to those kids, and so was the man.
Thanks for the portrait and the information.


I'm learning along with you, carolsmc. Even though I attended some fairly progressive schools (for the times), I spent many adult years in ignorance of a history that my privilege shamefully excused me from having to know.


The longer I live, the more aware I am of the tragic inadequacy of my public school social/history/cultural education. I really appreciate that you're making Jigidi a place where I can complement my life-long learning.

"The Good Lord Bird." both the novel and the television series, did a good job of imprinting John Brown's nickname in my brain. The first time I worked one of your Tanner puzzles, I noticed the similarity of his middle name to it and appreciated your providing an explanation of why that was so.

Of course, I know something about BTW, but this painting by Tanner really gives him a human and personal face, even an intimacy. Again, thank you, Judy.

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