Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

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Personal and Confidential

[To William Howard Taft]

My dear Mr. President: In considering the matter of the new judge for the Northern District of Alabama, I hope you will bear in mind the interests of the Negro. The United States Courts have been, as it were, kind of “cities of refuge” for the colored people. I mean that in these courts they have been always sure of securing justice in cases that properly come under the jurisdiction of such courts by reason of the fact that the judges have been such broad and liberal men that the juries have represented a class of people who would see that a fair verdict was rendered.

Not only this, but in the United States Courts in the South Negroes have heretofore been place on the grand jury and petit jury and in this way they gotten recognition that they have not gotten in any other case. This matter, as small as it is, has gone to make them feel that they were citizens and has encouraged them not a little. With few exceptions, where narrow minded men have been made judges they have gradually used their influence in some way to keep Negroes off the juries and have made them feel that they had few rights in these courts.

Please do not take the time to answer this letter. Yours very truly, Booker T. Washington, “May 6, 1909″

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

After “integrity,” and “knowledge,” “influence” is the third greatest 9-letter word. And in this letter to the 27th President of the United States of America, William Howard Taft, Booker T. Washington once again demonstrates that the range of his “influence” extended to the very highest levels of American government. In earlier correspondence, President Taft, who succeeded President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909, made it crystal clear that the founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University would still be expected to play a similar major role in advising the President of the United States as he had done with President Roosevelt. (The correspondence reveals that Roosevelt not only recommended Washington’s pivotal role in consulting on major affairs but also Taft readily assented.) All the same, we learn in the letter to President Taft three very important considerations about the founding principal and president of Tuskegee University and his “influence.” First, we learn, contrary to popular opinion, he used his “influence” to address issues that concerned one of his most important constituents: African Americans. Here again, one would be remiss to think that Mr. Washington did not advocate on issues of importance. Rather, he moved “in a rather quiet way” as he indicated in a previous communiqué.  (The loudest communication is not necessarily the most effective communication, and Mr. Washington’s direct correspondence with the President of the United States is effective communication.) Second, the “influence” of Mr. Washington’s correspondence was certain in that it was marked “personal and confidential.” This was not one of many letters that the President of the United State or any man or woman situated at the helm of a large organization receives that may or may not come to his attention or was handled through an intermediary. It is clear that Mr. Washington’s letters would be read by the President himself. So much so that Mr. Washington did not even need a reply: “Please do not take the time to answer this letter.” Third and last, Mr. Washington’s “influential” advocacy was owing to sound, sober and logical reasoning. His letter thoughtfully and dispassionately articulates the potential success for President Taft in following his suggestion based upon both past and present successes in similar matters. (No doubt Mr. Washington was likely part of such decisions during the Roosevelt Administration.) All three of these reasons-along with many, many more-are why Tuskegee University celebrates the “influence” of Booker T. Washington in this the centennial year (1915-2015) since his passing.

Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.

7th President, Tuskegee University
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition

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Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

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[To Booker T. Washington, From George Washington Carver]

My dear Mr. Washington, Your letter received and read with great care. Your letter encourages me greatly. I am determined to raise chickens regardless of difficulties, I mean just that. I only sent you the report for your information, and not as a complaint. I thought you would be glad, or rather that it was my duty to keep you posted in detail. I want you to know that I am not sitting down permitting such a condition to exist without trying to remedy it. I fully appreciate the fact that we have a fine plant here for which I am extremely grateful. And without taking more of your time, will say in closing that you shall have chickens.- Very Truly G.W. Carver, May 4, 1909

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

 It is quite difficult for us to fully comprehend both the far-reaching “breadth” and richly textured “depth” contained in the personal correspondence between not only two of the great personages in the intellectual and educational history of Tuskegee (Institute) University but two of the great personages in all of African American, American and global intellectual and educational history-Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver. Mr. Carver’s response above was in reply to Mr. Washington’s letter of May 2, 1909 wherein the founding principal and president of Tuskegee University expressed the following: “I have received your letter bearing upon the poultry yard, also your report of the analysis of the eggs… I think if everybody will simply stop thinking and talking about difficulties and what prevents success and go to talking about working in the direction of getting chickens and at the same time be determined to get them regardless of difficulties that you will succeed.” George Washington Carver, a man of similar “integrity” and “knowledge”-the first and second greatest 9-letter words-would in no wise permit anyone, including Booker T. Washington, to interpret his “report” as mere “complaint.”  To the contrary, he disabused Mr. Washington of any inclination that he was simply “sitting down permitting such a condition to exist without trying to remedy it.” Serving as both a professor and steward of the university’s resources, Mr. Carver remarked that the intent of his report was to provide the president with “information.”  (What one may view as the “paralysis of analysis,” another may view as “climbing the speculative ladder [before] leaping out into the darkness of faith.”) All the same, Mr. Carver goes on to state in the most exacting fashion: “I am determined to raise chickens regardless of difficulties, I mean just that.” And herein lies the sum whole of the matter concerning the “raising of chickens” for both President Washington and Professor Carver: They both wanted results without regard to difficulties. For both men, whose records of accomplishment would be difficult-not impossible-to surpass, “success” and “results” were the chief assets in the late 19th and early 20th Century. (And it remains so here in the 21st Century.)  These men operated according to their functions-not their feelings. Their foremost priority was to develop the fiscal, intellectual and knowledge-based educational prowess at Tuskegee University that would come to be recognized both nationally and internationally as the “Tuskegee Machine.” In this, the centennial year since the passing of Booker T. Washington (1915-2015), we reflect upon both the words and works of these Tuskegee luminaries as they remind us of what made Tuskegee (Institute) University great. A mission and a vision, a “tradition” and a “trajectory,” led by one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known, Booker Taliaferro Washington.

Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.
7th President, Tuskegee University
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition

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Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

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[To George Washington Carver]…I can see no reason why we cannot get some results from the geese and ducks. With the large number of geese and ducks on hand we ought to have two or three hundred young ones of each kind, but as it is we have almost nothing. Certainly we are not being troubled with the sore head, neither should there be any trouble about the eggs of the geese and ducks. I think what is most needed is for you to make an earnest effort to master the incubators so as to get some young fowls out of the eggs. Nobody in the South has such an excellent chance to show what can be done in raising poultry as you have right now at Tuskegee, and I hope that you can bring about results. The weather is unusually cool, and I am sure that you can with safety use the incubators up until the 20th or 25th of June.

You will remember that it was at your request that we stopped buying eggs from a distance. A good many people have the idea that we are not able to put in practice what is taught in the classroom in the agricultural teaching. Here is an excellent chance for you to show that you cannot only give instruction in the class room in poultry-raising, but you can actually get results in the poultry yard…I think if everybody will simply stop thinking and talking about difficulties and what prevents success and go to talking about working in the direction of getting chickens and at the same time be determined to get them regardless of difficulties that you will succeed. Yours truly, -Booker T. Washington, May 2, 1909

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

Even world-renowned Tuskegee (Institute) University professor, George Washington Carver, was not beyond the founding principal and president’s reach when it came to his preoccupation with “success” and “results.” And Mr. Washington offered the following prescription for the age-old malady of explaining why something could not be done: “I think if everybody will simply stop thinking and talking about difficulties and what prevents success and go to talking about working in the direction of getting chickens and at the same time be determined to get them regardless of difficulties that you will succeed.” Although the above excerpt is taken from a rather lengthy correspondence from Washington to Carver, Mr. Washington essentially encourages Professor Carver to spend less time reporting, explaining and contemplating the reasons why the “geese” and “ducks” are not producing sufficient offspring. Rather, he wrote the following to Professor Carver: “I confess that the report does not interest me over-much. What I want you to do is to devise some means by which you can get fowls. These reports which simply discuss matters pro and con do not help your getting of young fowl.” To be sure, contemplation and analysis has its place. (This is especially evidenced in the extraordinary accomplishments of Professor Carver, which were largely done here on the campus of Tuskegee.) Notwithstanding, there is a great deal to learn from Washington’s administrative suggestion, which is akin to Andrew Jackson’s adage: “Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in.” The professor-turned-president (Washington) offered this proverbial piece of administrative wisdom to the professor (Carver) who elected to remain a professor after rebuffing several overtures from Washington to join administration through their long tenure working together. In the end, we now are able to celebrate in this the centennial year since the passing of Booker T. Washington (1915-2015)-not one or the other but both the accomplishments of President Washington and Professor Carver here at Tuskegee University.

Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.

7th President, Tuskegee University
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition

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Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

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 “A person never gains anything in real power, in real lasting influence except as he remains always himself, always natural, always simple-and whenever he departs from that attitude, yielding to the temptation to imitate somebody else, of something else, to be that which he is not, in that same degree he loses his influence, he loses his power, and his strength.”-Booker T. Washington, “A SundayEvening Talk, “January 10, 1909

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

Ralph Waldo Emerson suggests in his essay, “The American Scholar,” the following concerning individuals and their originality: “Is it not the chief disgrace in the world…not to yield that peculiar fruit which each man was created to bear [?]” And the founding principal and president of Tuskegee University, Booker T. Washington, reminds students about this all too forgotten principle in one of hisSunday evening talks. In sum, Washington and Emerson both bid students the following: Be Organic. Like fruit and trees, individuals come in all sizes and shapes. Moreover, they all serve different purposes. Still further, individuals have been born in different soils of environment, culture, creed and ethnicity for the singular purpose of fulfilling the distinct function they were each designed to fulfill in the earth. Each person is designed “to yield that peculiar fruit which each man [or woman] was created to bear.” And when a person, like a particular tree that was designed to produce a particular “fruit,” “departs” from its central purpose in life, “in that same degree he loses his influence, he loses his power, and his strength.” Any student, like any fruit-bearing tree, that is not developed or cultivated to produce that which he or she alone can produce cannot fulfill their “purpose” and tap into the requisite “passion” to succeed in their given career or still better “calling.” And Tuskegee University students-and all students situated anywhere in this increasingly global and knowledge-based economy-need look no further than the example of Booker Taliaferro Washington who Tuskegee University celebrates in this the centennial year since his passing (1915-2015). For this man’s life and work embodied and continues to embody the greatest 7-letter words in succession: Purpose, Passion and Calling.

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Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

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“I do not say you should not use them, should not posses them, should not crave them, but do not make the mistake of feeling that titles are going to help you, unless you have got strength aside from the title. No amount of titles will put brains into a person’s head if the brains are not there before.”-Booker T. Washington, “A Sunday Evening Talk,” January 10, 1909

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

Hear this again and again: Positional and titular authority is the lowest form of authority. If a man or woman cannot nor does not command the respect of his supervisors, peers, colleagues and subordinates independent of a position or title, this man or woman is no greater than the man or woman who has no such position and title. Positions change, and the only permanence one can possess is that found in one’s own person in back of the position. This is why the founding principal and president of Tuskegee University constantly impressed upon his students the need to constantly improve their own persons. Note the following: It is but half the task to secure the title or position. The most significant half is what one does with the title or position. (One must not only plan how to get the position or title but what to do with the position and title when one gets it.) And the attention paid to one’s own person helps towards this end. Aside from acquiring credentials and competence, the comprehensive development of one’s person is a third facet that can never be taken from the person in back of a position. More importantly, these facets are easily transferrable from position to position, unit to unit or organization-to-organization, which is why the singular, solitary focus upon a position and title as opposed to the development of one’s own person is unwise. For the man or woman who has “strength aside from the title” and who has “brains” in their “heads” will always possess these attributes without regards to a position or a title. (And they will always be desired and in demand.) And the founding principal and president of Tuskegee University who we celebrate in the centennial year since his passing (1915-2015) was not only such a man, but he also offered these wise “words” and set forth the accompanying “works” in his 34-year long presidency at the helm of Tuskegee (Institute) University (1881-1915).

Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.

7th President, Tuskegee University
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition

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Tuskegee University Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Observance

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Booker T. Washington Centennial Kickoff Lecture (1915-2015) by Dr. Brian Johnson

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