"Booker's first exposure to education was from the outside of a school house near the plantation; looking inside, he saw children his age sitting at desks and reading books. He wanted to do what those children were doing, but he was a slave, and it was illegal to teach slaves how to read and write." (www.biography.com)
Booker T. Washington worked as a slave on a Virginia plantation, clad only in a large t-shirt since his owner refused to buy him pants. He used to lug 100 pound sacks of grain to the mill on the back of a mule. If the sack fell off, he would have to wait until someone came along to help him hoist it back onto the mule. Returning late, his owner would whip him for his tardiness.
"Booker's first exposure to education was from the outside of a school house near the plantation; looking inside, he saw children his age sitting at desks and reading books. He wanted to do what those children were doing, but he was a slave, and it was illegal to teach slaves how to read and write." His mother, seeing his interest in learning to read, gave him a book from which he learned the alphabet. (http://www.biography.com/people/booker-t-washington-9524663#tuskegee-normal-and-industrial-institute)
When the Civil War ended, Booker and his mother were freed. His mother had remarried, and along with his stepfather, he moved to West Virginia. There, he and his stepfather secured work in a salt mine. But Booker's heart was not in it.
A nearby plantation owner's wife, Mrs. Ruffner, was looking for a houseboy and gardener. Rumor had it that Mrs. Ruffner was very particular and had high standards. Booker was up to the task. He impressed his employer so much that she gave him books to read. She taught him proper English, history and math. She encouraged him to take pride in his work, even if it was physical labour. (http://lookingglassreview.com/books/a-hunger-for-learning-a-story-about-booker-t-washington)
At 16, Booker wanted to attend university so badly that he walked 500 miles to the Hampton Institute. There, he took a job as a janitor to finance his school tuition. His hard work earned him a scholarship.
Upon graduation, he taught for a short time in an elementary school. Within four years, he was offered a teaching position at his alma mater. In 1881, the Alabama legislature approved $2000 for a colored school. Booker headed up the new Tuskegee Institute until his death in 1915.