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Booker Taliaferro was born a mulatto slave in Franklin Country on 5th April, 1856. His father was an unknown white man and his mother, the slave of James Burroughs, a small farmer in Virginia. Later, his mother married the slave, Washington Ferguson. When Booker entered school he took the name of his stepfather and became known as Booker T. Washington.After the Civil War the family moved to Malden, West Virginia. Ferguson worked in the salt mines and at the age of nine Booker found employment as a salt-packer. A year later he became a coal miner (1866-68) before going to work as a houseboy for the wife of Lewis Ruffner, the owner of the mines. She encouraged Booker to continue his education and in 1872 he entered the Hampton Agricultural Institute.

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