The author and narrator of Up From Slavery. Washington, a serious and deeply ambitious man, is an influential educator and black leader in the late nineteenth century. One of his reasons for writing Up From Slavery is to showcase his achievements and to communicate his philosophy of racial uplift. Washington uses his personal story as an example of the success possible when one follows the dictates of the methods he lays out in his book. He describes his life from birth under slavery to world-renown in freedom. He presents his personal story, particularly his perseverance in the face of many great obstacles, as a blueprint for black advancement.
The wife of the salt-furnace and coal-mine owner and Washington’s employer. Mrs. Ruffner teaches Washington how to properly clean and comport himself in white society. Washington credits her with teaching him discipline, respect, cleanliness, and promptness.
The principal and founder of the Hampton Institute. Armstrong is a white Union Army veteran who founds Hampton Institute, which is one of the first normal schools in the United States for black citizens. Armstrong is a source of inspiration for Washington and a crucial model from which he draws. Washington describes him as uniquely driven and uniquely selfless.
The head teacher at the Hampton Institute. Miss Mackie is the first official that Washington meets at Hampton. She reluctantly admits him to the Institute after he completes a “sweeping examination.” Following this, she develops a strong respect for Washington and invites him to work as a janitor at the school, so he can pay for his studies. Miss Mackie lends her guidance and her aid to Washington on numerous occasions in the text.
Washington’s second wife and the head teacher at the Tuskegee Institute. Miss Davidson is the second teacher, after Washington, at the Tuskegee Institute. She joins the school in its first year and contributes to his growth. She is originally from Ohio and was educated there. Miss Davidson is of mixed descent and light enough to pass as white, though she chooses to devote her life to black education and advancement.
The treasurer at Hampton Institute. Marshall is a former Union Army officer who lends crucial financial support to Washington to support Tuskegee. Washington calls upon Marshall in a time of distress and asks if Marshall will lend the Tuskegee Institute money from Hampton’s endowment. Marshall refuses, but offers money from his own personal savings.
A famous industrialist and philanthropist. Carnegie and Washington meet several times and Carnegie donates generously to the Tuskegee Institute. One crucial donation allows Tuskegee to secure a new building and more books for its library.
President of the United States from 1885-1889 and from 1893-1897. After reading Washington’s Atlanta Exposition speech, President Cleveland writes Washington a personal letter to praise him. President Cleveland later visits the Atlanta Exposition and he and Washington meet for the first time. Washington implores Cleveland to tour the exhibitions celebrating African-Americans and their contributions.