Booker T. Washington Started This Health Movement That Lasted Over 40 Years

booker t washington sitting down
Via Picryl
Adé Hennis
March 14, 2024

"Without health, and until we reduce the high death rate, it will be impossible for us to have permanent success in business, in property getting, in acquiring education, or to show other evidences of progress." Booker T. Washington was fed up with our lack of access to healthcare and suitable living environments, so he launched a week-long movement that ended up lasting nearly 40 years.

In 1913, Washington observed how the Negro Organization Society of Virginia encouraged people to keep their homes, property, and fields cleaner; battling against structural racism that left their living environments more vulnerable to health and safety hazards. After seeing the improvement in environmental health for our people, he wanted to take those efforts even further.

Washington launched National Negro Health Week in 1915, a Sunday-to-Sunday week dedicated to assisting local Health Week committees around the country and to “stimulate” our people to improve health and sanitary conditions in our community on a larger scale.

The observance, initially managed by the Tuskegee Institute, was eventually picked up by the U.S. Public Health Service, which made improving Black health a priority for one of the first times ever.

National Negro Health Week unified our people to take a stance against structural racism, and improve their living conditions because the government didn’t want to help them. It is essential for us to remember that we are responsible for our communities - no one else.

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