Just down the street from us is the childhood home of an important American: Dr. Booker Taliaferro Washington. I stopped in for a visit this week.

Who is Booker T. Washington? Born into slavery in 1856, he spent the first nine years of his life as one of ten people laboring on the tobacco plantation belonging to James Burroughs. Upon obtaining his freedom at the end of the Civil War, Washington used education and tenacious hard work to elevate himself to prominence as an accomplished educator, author, and statesman.

At the Booker T. Washington National Monument, I was greeted warmly by National Park Service volunteer Vickie, who let me know that a brief biographical movie was about to begin. Prior to the movie, she gave a description of the conditions in which Washington lived until, in the summer of 1865, and his subsequent lifelong mission to obtain the benefits of education for himself and for other African Americans.

Walking the grounds of the former plantation and looking over the exhibits in the visitors’ center, you can’t help but appreciate his accomplishments. The exhibits are written compellingly and simply, to stress to young visitors the many ways that the institution of slavery appropriated the humanity of those enslaved.

A depiction of a Union soldier reading the Emancipation Proclamation to the residents of the Burroughs plantation

And the extensive grounds depict the stark living conditions of those working on them, particularly on an unusually warm day in October.

As a bonus, at the back of the property a beautiful trail runs along Gills Creek.

Back at the Visitor’s Center, Park Ranger Brittany Lane made sure to mention the upcoming Harvest Time and other events that the park offers throughout the year.

The Booker T. Washington National Monument does a great job introducing visitors to this impressive neighbor of mine, and would be a fine complement to a visit to this corner of Virginia.

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