Professor at Case Western Reserve University Clears Up the Mystery Surrounding the Death of Booker T. Washington

In 1915 Booker T. Washington, the founder of Tuskegee University, checked himself into St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City suffering from exhaustion. Washington, who was 59 years old, had just given a speech at Yale University.

The examining physician at St. Luke’s Hospital concluded that Washington was suffering from “racial characteristics,” which in those days was widely regarded as meaning that he had syphilis. Washington died two weeks later and his personal physician vehemently denied that Washington had syphilis. The Washington obituary in The New York Times said that he had died from “hardening of the arteries following a nervous breakdown.”

Jackson Wright, an African-American professor at the Case Western University School of Medicine in Cleveland, recently examined Washington’s medical records at the request of his descendants. The records showed that Washington’s blood pressure was 225 over 145, nearly double the level considered healthy. The records also revealed that Washington suffered vision problems consistent with severe hypertension. Family medical records indicated that hypertension was common in the Washington family and had led to the death of his mother and a sister.

Dr. Wright concluded that hypertension led to kidney failure which resulted in Washington’s death.