The Booker T. Washington Effect: Audrey’s Story

- Byrd-Giles, Bettina
Booker T. Washington had a tremendous impact on Black life in the South and across America in general, playing a hand in the creation of schools, funding, and vocational opportunities for numerous Black Americans. This presentation ties back to Washington's philanthropy and creation of opportunities. In particular, the presentation will focus on five generations of women in a single family — primarily Audrey Bacon Byrd, but also other phenomenal women — in order to fully illustrate the impact Washington had over a substantial period of time. The series will start at the conclusion of the Civil War and go all the way through the beginning of the 21st century.

The presentation centers around a woman who lived a dynamic life during arguably the most pivotal century in American history. Audrey Bacon Byrd was born in Texas in 1916 and passed away near Oakland, California, in 2002. Growing up near San Antonio, Audrey became a vibrant young woman, engrossed in San Antonio’s Black community and involved in numerous community organizations, becoming somewhat of a local figure.

Several themes have emerged during the process of researching Audrey’s life. The impact of Booker T. Washington’s life on her pedigree and her descendants were influenced by Washington and Tuskegee’s outreach efforts in education and farming in the Freedom Colonies of Texas. Indeed, Tuskegee would even become the family’s college of choice. Washington’s philosophy has extended all the way to Audrey’s granddaughter, Bettina Byrd-Giles, who has utilized the famous philosophy, “Cast down your buckets where you are” to address community needs in west Birmingham.