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Interracial Friendship Lasts over 150 years


Colours of Friendship

This book was written and illustrated by students who are descendents of Viola Ruffner and Booker T. Washington. Their family's friendship has lasted over 150 years. Booker Taliaferro was born a mulatto slave in Franklin County, Virginia. As a child, Booker was never allowed to play for he worked from the time he arose in the morning until the time he went to sleep for the night. He dreamed about learning to read and write. In spring of 1865, Booker and his family learned that they were freed. His step-father obtained a job working in the Ruffner salt furnaces in West Virginia.

His family secured a two-horse wagon and loaded it with the little clothing, household goods, and coarse ground corn that they owned. Booker and the other children walked the 200 mile, two-week journey to West Virginia. Once they were settled in their cabin Booker immediately went to work at the Ruffner salt furnace and coal mines. His dream to read and write started to materialize when he began to work in the home with Mrs. Viola Ruffner. There was not enough work to keep him busy, so Viola began teaching Booker to read and write. She encouraged him to attend an outside school as well. When he began attending school, it was necessary for him to have a last name so Booker creatively decided to use Washington, his step father’s first name.

Booker continued his friendship with Viola who encouraged him to obtain an education. He graduated in 1875 as Hampton’s top honor graduate. He taught at Hampton for several years and then at age 25, began building the nation’s leading African American institution, Tuskegee Institute. Booker used Mrs. Ruffner’s character-building standards of hard work, cleanliness and order for his plan to build the university. In his autobiography, Booker writes of Viola, “… I soon looked upon her as one of my best friends.”

This white woman named Viola and black man named Booker had a friendship with such a strong bond that it has lasted over 150 years. It continues on today, with the Ruffner and Washington families attending one another family reunions.

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