Deaths elsewhere

  • Updated: January 29, 2010 - 8:29 PM

Louis Harlan, 87, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian whose two-volume biography of Booker T. Washington made him one of the nation's foremost scholars of the history of race relations, died Jan. 22 in Lexington, Va. Harlan, who taught at the University of Maryland for more than 25 years, devoted much of his scholarly career to Washington, who was born into slavery in Virginia in 1856, led the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and was perhaps the country's most prominent black leader at the start of the 20th century. The first volume of Harlan's biography, "Booker T. Washington: The Making of a Black Leader, 1856-1901," came out in 1972 and was awarded the Bancroft Prize, the most prestigious annual honor in the field of American history. After the second volume, "Booker T. Washington: The Wizard of Tuskegee, 1901-1915," was published in 1983, Harlan won the Pulitzer Prize for biography. Historians saw the biography as a beautifully written portrait of black American life during the nation's darkest days of segregation. During the early years of the civil rights movement, when Harlan began his research, the study of Washington was not a popular subject. When Jim Crow laws were prevalent and lynchings were common, Washington championed a nonconfrontational approach to race relations, maintaining that hard work and self-reliance would improve the lot of black Americans. He fell into disfavor among a later generation of black leaders, many of whom thought he was too willing to make accommodations with white authority.

WASHINGTON POST

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