Booker Taliaferro was born a mulatto slave in Franklin County, Virginia. There are no birth records so his exact birth date and father's name are unknown. It's believed that Booker was born about 1856 to his mother Jane. His father was a white man from a nearby plantation. Booker later took the last name of his step-father: Washington. The young man worked from the time he arose in the morning until the time he went to sleep for the night. He dreamed about learning to read and write. In spring of 1865, Booker and his family learned that they were freed. A short time later, his step-father sent word that he had obtained a job working in the Ruffner salt furnaces in West Virginia. This is where Booker's dream came true because Mrs. Viola Ruffner, wife of the owner of the mines, was a former school teacher. Viola began teaching him to read and write. In 1872 at age 16, Booker began attending Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia. He continued his friendship with Viola who encouraged him to obtain an education. Booker graduated in 1875 as Hampton's top honor graduate. In his autobiography, Booker T. Washington writes of Viola, ...I soon looked upon her as one of my best friends. He also states, ...the lessons that I learned in the home of Mrs. Ruffner were as valuable to me as any education I have ever gotten anywhere since. Viola passed away in 1903 and will always be remembered as a dear friend to Booker as her name is engraved on several of his monuments. This white woman named Viola and black man named Booker had a friendship with such a strong bond that it has lasted over 150 years. It continues on today, with the Ruffner and Washington families attending one another family reunions each year.
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