Booker T. Washington's Boyhood Home May Be Rebuilt

by Jack Maurice
Charleston Daily Mail
June 18, 1939

There is no memorial to Booker T. Washington at Malden, the scene of his childhood and the place where he began his career as one of the greatest educators of his race, but in a quiet way the memories that Malden's oldest citizens still hold of him serve as a monument to his name.

Booker T. Washington, although he died in 1915, is still Malden's distinguished citizen, the reporter learned last week when he and Dr. John W. Davis, president of West Virginia State college, visited a few of the town's old families to get fresh material on the life of the builder of Tuskegee institute.

Naturally, since the child was probably no better and no worse than a dozen others, he made no great Impression as a boy upon his neighbors, but Miss Mary Norton remembers that he lived in a frame cabin "across the tracks" and that he went to school in the little white church which still stands on Malden's main street in the heart of the town. Booker, as all of his friends call him, came to Malden with his mother when he was about five or six years old in 1863 or 1864. A few years later he was to begin one of the formative experiences of his life.

Training Was Rigid

As Miss Norton recalls it, Booker Washington went into the home of Colonel Lewis Ruffner as a protegee and employee of Mrs. Ruffner. "She was a stern, almost, tyrannical woman," Miss Norton remembers, "but she was good to Booker; and whenever he was called upon to make a speech he always mentioned how much she had done for him." Miss Norton's account of Mrs. Ruffner's treatment of young Washington lends credence to the story of how he "passed his entrance examination" at Hampton college when he went there years later.

A thorough Yankee woman who was accustomed to perfect housekeeping was called upon to test Booker in the line of household duties, which he was to perform to pay for his instruction. "Dust the room," she ordered, and Booker began to work, the supervisor returned when he had finished and ran her clean hand over the table top. With a practiced eye, she looked at it. There was no dust. Not satisfied, she ran her clean linen handkerchief over the table. Still no dust. Young Washington, so the story goes, passed his "entrance examination" and started his college career.

Bought First Book

That career began years before with a small primer purchased at the general store of Elijah Rooke, the town's first merchant, on the riverbank of the Kanawha. Mrs. Blanche Reynolds, 81, who lives in a 103-year-old house, knows that Mr. Rooke, her father, sold Washington his first book. Mrs. Reynolds also recalls the reception that greeted Booker Washington when he made his annual visits to the town after he became the most famous representative of his race.

"When he came back," says Mrs. Reynolds, "it was just as if there was a house on fire somewhere in town. Everyone wanted to see and hear him. Once, when he was at Tuskegee, he brought the school band with him for a concert."

Mrs. Reynolds is able to throw another interesting light on Washington's life through a picture of the Washington home during his Malden residence. Photographed standing in the door is Amanda Washington Johnson, Booker's sister and one of his favorites. One of Booker Washington's last acts was to buy Amanda the lot and house, now 100 years old, across the street from the ancient Reynolds and Ruffner place.

Mrs. Reynolds' picture of the Washington home, long since torn down, is likely to serve a valuable purpose in the creation of a permanent memorial to Washington in the region where he grew up. West Virginia State college is anxious to reconstruct the cabin on the college campus, and the Reynolds picture, the first to be discovered and published in Sunday's Daily Mail apparently for the first time, will serve as a model.

Sources on Booker T. Washington