Back to top

Forrester Blanchard Washington: South Boston High graduate and equal employment advocate

February 7, 2018

Forrester Blanchard Washington, a South Boston High graduate, advocated for African American employment and education rights during the Great Depression.

Forrester Blanchard Washington was born in Salem, Massachusetts, but his family later moved to Boston. He graduated from South Boston High School in 1905. His name is listed in South Boston High School’s graduation exercises from 1905, which you can see below. Forrester excelled academically, and earned degrees from Tufts, Harvard, and Columbia Universities.

South Boston Graduation Exercises, 1905, Graduation programs, Collection 0400.004, Boston City Archives

South Boston Graduation Exercises, 1905, Graduation programs, Collection 0400.004, Boston City Archives

In 1916, after finishing his education, Forrester worked in Detroit as the first director of the Detroit Urban League. He led the league during a period of rapid growth in Detroit’s African American population. Forrester worked to help black migrants adjust to urban life, while also advocating for equal employment for African American workers.

Detroit Urban League Building, Courtesy of Bentley Library, University of Michigan

After a decade of working for the Urban League in both Detroit and Philadelphia,  Forrester moved to Atlanta, where he became a professor  at the Atlanta University School of Social Work.

During the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt appointed Forrester as the Director of  Negro Work in the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA).  In this position, Forrester called attention to the unequal treatment of African Americans by both the government and white employers. He argued that the federal government should ensure that African Americans had equal educational and employment opportunities.  Below is a set of statements from Washington about FERA and other labor related programs. 

Transcribed quotes from Forrester Washington, ca. 1934. W. E. B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries

Faced with silence from Franklin Roosevelt and his administration, Washington came to the conclusion that he would be more effective working outside of the federal government. He resigned from FERA and returned to his position at the Atlanta University School of Social Work. Washington is credited with leading the school through some of its most difficult periods and developing a key group of well-trained African-American social workers. Below, you can see a letter from Washington to W.E.B Dubois suggesting articles from the upcoming publication "Encyclopedia of the Negro."

Letter from Forrester B. Washington to W. E. B. Du Bois, October 19, 1935. W. E. B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312). Special Collections and University Archives, UMass Amherst