Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

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“My dear Dr. Grimke: You cannot realize how much satisfaction your kind words of congratulation bring to me. I know that no utterance comes from your lips that are not sincere. The reception given my words at Atlanta has been a revelation to me. I had no idea that a Southern audience would treat a black man’s utterances in the way that it did. The heart of the whole South now seems to be turned in a different direction. You can easily see that I had rather a difficult task. First I wanted to be very sure to state the exact truth and of not compromising the race. Then there were some things that I felt should be said to the colored people and some others to the white people; and aside from these considerations I wanted to so deport myself as not to make such an impression as would prevent a similar opportunity being offered to some other colored man in the south.” September 24, 1895, Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

In the days and weeks following Booker T. Washington’s “Atlanta Exposition Address (1895),” he received several commendations and congratulatory messages from a host of well wishers for this now historic address. In addition to remarks received from Francis James Grimke who was instrumental in the founding of the NAACP, W.E.B. (William Edward Burghardt) Du Bois-his noted rival-remarked, “My Dear Mr. Washington: Let me heartily congratulate you upon your phenomenal success at Atlanta-it was a word fitly spoken.” In deed and in truth, the founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University) “had rather a difficult task” in delivering such an address that has profound reverberations, even in this present century. Mr. Washington’s detractors-including many who praised him in private-decried against the address calling it the “Atlanta Compromise” because of its emphasis upon industrial education and developing economic independence for African-Americans as opposed to pressing for social justice during that volatile period. Yet, what many failed to appreciate then about Washington-and fail to appreciate now about men and women in leadership situated similar to Washington-is that such men and women have multiple constituencies and audiences to appeal to. In 1895, in the Deep South, where Mr. Washington had spent 15 years building an institution of higher learning for formerly enslaved African-Americans, he needed to be especially keen, prudent and cautious about enflaming the fires of lynching, unprovoked beatings and murder, and the burning down of his facilities during a dark and infamous period in American history that is all too well documented. (For this man, unlike many of his detractors was in a position of leadership over students whose parents entrusted them to him, and if the institution were burned to the ground with several casualties because he spoke what others thought he should speak, one need only have a rudimentary historical imagination to understand the consequences of this.) On the other hand, he could hardly deny that the racial atrocities and social injustices committed against African-Americans solely based upon their ancestry and skin color could go unnoticed or unspoken on such a prominent platform. Thus, he-like most persons who have ever successfully led or spoken to diverse and multiple constituencies-followed a three-prong approach in his address: 1. “First [he] wanted to be very sure to state the exact truth…” (One will never go awry in speaking a plain statement of facts to audiences without regard to how such facts are received. As J.K. Miller wrote: “It is not the truth that people cannot handle. It is the consequences that stem from that truth.”) 2. Second, “there were some things that I felt should be said to the colored people and some others to the white people;”(It is a poor, paltry and partial speaker or leader indeed who makes one-dimensional arguments and directs messages of truth to one racial, socioeconomic, ethnic or cultural group or another.) The greatest speakers and leaders transcend such categorizations and will inevitably share truth that falls wherever it may. 3. Third, “aside from these considerations [he] wanted to so deport [himself] as not to make such an impression as would prevent a similar opportunity being offered to some other colored man in the south.” (Make no mistake, one’s words and actions in leadership always set precedents for those who come afterward. While one’s conscience and sense of “speaking one’s mind” may lead one to offer a torrent of remarks without regard to one’s constituency, the prudent leader exercises restraint for he or she knows that his words and leadership impacts someone other than himself.) And this final regard is the hallmark of Booker T. Washington’s leadership at the helm of Tuskegee Institute (University). Possessing real and actual responsibility with respect to others deepens one’s commitment and capacity for serving others and lessens one’s commitment and capacity for serving one’s self.

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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 “Mr. J.B. Washington: You have been connected with the office now five or six years, and should know how to perform, at least common duties around the office. If you do not know it is your own fault. I entrusted to you the mailing of the Advertisers which were purchased at quite an outlay, and I find that the whole expenses, and work in connection with this work, are to a large extent, thrown away by reason of the fact that the papers were not properly wrapped. I did not suppose it was necessary to go into each detail and tell you how to wrap these papers. They have been wrapped, I find, with no idea of making the marked article conspicuous, and at least half of the person whom the papers will go will not see the article owing to your carelessness. It seems to me just that a part of the expense connected with purchasing these papers should be charged to your personal account.” – “February 27, 1895,” Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

It is amazing to continuously read the administrative and management philosophy that Mr. Booker T. Washington demonstrated in his correspondence and writings from 1881-1915-his 34-year long tenure as founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University). For this man’s philosophy was truly without respect for persons and such persons included his very own brother-his younger adopted brother-Mr. James B. Washington.  Washington Baseball Field at Tuskegee University was named after James B. Washington who came to Tuskegee from Hampton Institute in 1890. He is affectionately referred to as the “Father of Athletics at Tuskegee.” Washington, the adopted brother of Booker T. Washington, organized the first Tuskegee baseball team in 1892. In the present communiqué, Mr. Washington’s remonstrations directed towards this employee, his very own brother were premised upon the following: “You have been connected with the office now five or six years, and should know how to perform, at least common duties around the office.”

If an employee has been at an institution for less than a year, one year or possibly two, one may readily concede a person’s relative unfamiliarity about the unit they have been given the charge over or have inherited from a predecessor. (The very best leaders do not rely upon such concessions for they immediately assume the charge over their unit and/or organization without regard to their longevity in the post.) All the same, Mr. James B. Washington had now possessed the charge of the unit he was leading for a full “five or six years,” and the expertise required for leading his unit ought to have been either been acquired by diligent acquisition or pursuit, or he might have relinquished his post and simply acknowledged before his employer-his older brother-Booker T. Washington that he did not possess the requisite talent, skillset or ability to do what the institution needed from him in his present capacity. (If it were a matter of lack of institutional support for what he had needed, he might have communicated this as well.) Notwithstanding, it is not an admission of weakness or non-strength to concede that one cannot do what is expected of him or her. Rather, such admission is the surest sign of both professional maturity and vocational integrity, and might possibly lead such an employee to a better position, within the institution or otherwise, more properly aligned to his or her skill sets and capabilities. We know that Mr. James B. Washington ably served alongside his brother Booker, and well after the passing of the university’s first president. Nevertheless, for the post he held in the capacity described above, Mr. James B. Washington’s efforts did not meet with the expectations of his employer-his older brother, the founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University), Booker T. 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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“Ever since the beginning of this school, we have made it a point to try to secure teachers who would be willing to work wherever and whenever duty called, and in this respect I feel that we have been unusually successful. This school is supported almost wholly by people who make sacrifices of personal conveniences in order that they may give to us, and I cannot feel that it is right to allow a teacher to refuse, without adequate reasons to give a small sacrifice of her time to work that has the good of the girls in view, while at the same time our Northern friends and others are doing all they can to support the school in the belief that each teacher is willing to perform her duty in the same spirit that they give the money. We have a large number of girls whose mothers have entrusted them to our care [and it] seems to me that you should count it a privilege to go into their rooms once in a while and get acquainted with them and help them in a way that will impress them all through their lives. Such work should not be counted a task.” “February 9, 1895,” Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

No single individual can ever be fully and thoroughly compensated at the level he or she deserves especially for all the good that one is able to do for students when working in an institution of higher learning. From attending events that celebrate student success in the classroom to cheering students on as they represent the institution’s proud brand and heritage in extracurricular activities, there is not a price that can be put on these interactions. And this was precisely Mr. Washington’s point in his communiqué to one of his teachers at Tuskegee Institute (University). Non-profit work, which includes higher education, is indeed a revenue-generating endeavor but revenue and high salaries are not the principal reasons for the existence of such organizations. The mission of non-profit organizations like Tuskegee University serve humanity in a number of ways, and the work of the university is to provide an education both inside and outside the classroom to equip a student for future employment and life-long living and learning. This is why it is generally “count[ed] a privilege to go into their rooms once in a while and get acquainted with them and help them in a way that will impress them all through their lives. Such work should not be counted a task.” For the man or woman who helps a single student on his or her pathway to full adulthood during such an impressionable period will be rewarded with something greater than mere money. This man or woman will be rewarded with the sense of knowing that his or her work has impacted not only the future of a single student but the lives of many others who will also become impacted through the single life of a single student.

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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“Mrs. Scott: I am informed by Mrs. Kaine that you do not cooperate with her in the proper spirit in relation to the changes and improvements to be made in your department. I am very sorry to hear of this. I have stated more than once that Mrs. Kaine’s suggestions and orders are to be carried out, and I can certainly make no exception in your case; in fact, I am sorry that you take my time in compelling me to repeat an order which has already been given more than once. Mrs. Kaine is not here for the purpose of begging teachers to do what she asks, nor should it be required to repeat an order. I hope you will look at this matter calmly, and when you have thought it over, I think you will find that it is best for you as well as for the school to obey Mrs. Kaine and carry out her suggestions in the proper spirit. The school will be will satisfied with nothing less than this. I hope the matter will not come to my attention again. Yours Truly. -“December 28, 1894,” Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

In an earlier “Washington Digest” or “Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary” appearing just this week, we found the founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University), Booker T. Washington, seeking the services of one Mrs. Kaine to come alongside him to assist him with the mission and vision-the trajectory and tradition of Tuskegee Institute (University). And a quote recently taken from Forbes Magazine speaks profoundly to this dynamic of selecting capable leaders: “A leader’s job isn’t to be the smartest person in the room, but to fill the room with the smartest, most creative and most capable people. It’s when the leader gets out of the way that the real magic happens.” Yet, in the present correspondence, Mr. Washington was unable to “get out of the way [so] that the real magic happens.” Having sought out and selected a capable colleague to come in to assist him, Mr. Washington directed this communiqué to an apparent recalcitrant employee who simply refused to “cooperate with [Mrs. Kaine] in the proper spirit in relation to the changes and improvements to be made in [her] department.” It is a poor leader indeed who attempts to fix what is not broken; but, when there are clear and obvious needs for change and improvement-needs that all agree to but either have lacked the courage or competence to implement-and the leader assigns a capable, courageous and competent person to implement such change then it is incumbent upon the employee-no required of this employee-to comply with the dictate and direction. Moreover, when a leader of a large organization has to be engaged in matters already decided upon, it takes him or her from far more pressing matters requiring the attention of the chief executive officer. (This is why the leader selects competent persons to assist him so that he does not have to do both his or her job and the job of others.) And this indeed is where the “magic happens.” For when any leader selects or endorses the leadership of a particular unit, it is his or her strongest “hope [that] the matter will not come to [their] attention again.”

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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“The more I come into contact with wealthy people, the more I believe that they are looking upon their money simply as an instrument which God has placed in their hand for doing good with. I never go to the office of Mr. John D. Rockefeller, who more than once has been generous to Tuskegee, without being reminded of this. The close, careful and minute investigation that he always makes in order to be sure that every dollar that he gives will do the most good-an investigation that is just as searching as if he were investing money in a business enterprise-convinces me that the growth in this direction is most encouraging.” -_Up From Slavery_(1901), Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

Although this historical fact is rarely heralded, the founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University), Booker T. Washington, ranks at the very top of all higher education fundraisers in American history. Mr. Washington’s letters and writings are replete with examples of his dealings with men and women who gave both large and small donations to the work of Tuskegee Institute (University). And it appears that Mr. Washington quietly and quickly-and the results indicate that he did so with accompanying quality-came to understand two of the single most important characteristics of those who are deeply engaged in philanthropic activity: stewardship and investment. The first of which is stewardship. No matter how wealthy an individual, organization, corporation or foundation may be, they will not simply give money to another to be wasted. (The individual or organization has not wasted its own monies nor the monies of others to achieve its great success so why should the individual or organization begin doing so now?) The guiding principle of stewardship often leads to the accumulation of great sums of wealth, and the notion that simply because an individual, organization, corporation or foundation has achieved great amounts of wealth will now, in turn, give away such wealth to any and every cause is unfounded. Proper stewardship in accumulation of wealth necessarily required decision-making and care in recognizing the individual or organization’s priorities and interests; thus, the mere giving away of money on the singular basis that the individual or organization has wealth is absurd. Investing is the second characteristic of philanthropic activity. One never seeks to invest in what will inevitably become a failed cause or enterprise. The very idea of investing is to receive a return. Whether this return is in furthering the individual or organization’s own cause being advanced in the investment or merely to have the return satisfaction of seeing the recipient actualize its own success, investment always seeks a return. Moreover, philanthropic investment into an institution is a way to become associated with its brand, cause and/or undertaking. What individual or organization seeks to be associated with a failed brand or cause? Rather, an investment in an institution is generally associated with investing in the documented and demonstrated-or soon to be-success of an institution. (In the latter regard, the earliest investors in new undertakings always receive the greatest return for they saw, believed and invested early on in what would eventually become a successful enterprise. And they did so before others who preferred to “wait and see.”) In sum, stewardship and investment are not only the hallmarks of givers but recipients as well. For if recipients are to every rise to the ranks of givers-indeed it is more blessed to give than receive for it indicates that one has resources to give-then stewardship and investment are individual and organizational traits that they must learn quietly, quickly and with quality. And Mr. Washington established the blueprint for this at Tuskegee Institute (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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“Dear Madam: Replying to yours of August 22nd, I would say that we wish to employ some woman who can assist us in improving our Household Departments. We wish a person who can stay with us long enough to get each department in the best possible condition. We wish one who understands the science of the household economy in the broadest sense, who will be frank in all her criticisms, and have the executive ability to have matters properly adjusted. It is my idea to have the one employed to take each department in turn, and remain in it long enough to make whatever improvements are necessary, all, of course, to be done in connection with the teacher directly in charge, who, I am sure, will be willing to cooperate in the right spirit.” – “September 5, 1894,” Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

The search for new employees to come alongside in service to a mission both broader and larger than any one person was not an unfamiliar undertaking for the founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University). Mr. Washington was always looking for talented and competent leaders to assist him in the carrying out of both the mission and vision-the tradition and trajectory of Tuskegee Institute (University) that he became the principal architect of. In a period where the tidiness of departments bore a direct impact upon the institution’s ability to court donors to help support the growth of the institution, Mr. Washington needed someone with Mrs. Alice J. Kaine’s skillsets. First, he needed someone “who understands the science of the household economy in the broadest sense.” Depth and breadth is the greatest 5 and 7-letter word combination. Mr. Washington needed an employee who had more than a passing familiarity or cursory knowledge of household science; he needed someone who can both identify problems and implement the necessary changes needed to bring departments in compliance. Secondly, he desired someone who could be “frank in all her criticisms.” (Hear again, frankness and directness is the surest way to ensure transparency when instituting change where it is needed, and a new employee arriving in an environment where such change is needed can ill-afford to be something other than “frank.”)  Third, she absolutely must have “executive ability.” Try as one might, there is no way to be an effective and efficient administrator or leader without “executive ability.” Whether these talents are inherent or learned through the crucibles of experience, this trait is a combination of many things but is summarily described as effectiveness. (Busyness is not the same as effectiveness. For the true sign of efficiency and effectiveness in leadership is getting deeds done without direction.) And finally, this new employee must be committed to remaining at it “long enough” to see the transformation to its completion. Possessing the appropriate fortitude, endurance and perseverance in seasons of both success and disappointment requires patience. It would be no quick work to turn around “household departments” that have long been stagnant or unattended to. This new employee would need the same patience and long-term service that her future employer had exhibited in his very long and very impressive 34-year long presidency of Tuskegee Institute (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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“We frequently hear the word ‘lucky’ used with reference to a man’s life. Two boys start out in the world at the same time, having the same amount of education. When twenty years have passed, we find one of them wealthy and independent; we find him a successful professional man with an assured reputation, or perhaps at the head of a large commercial establishment employing many men, or perhaps a farmer owning and cultivating hundreds of acres of land. We find the second boy, grown now to be a man, working for perhaps a dollar or a dollar and a half a day, and living from hand to mouth in a rented house. When we remember that the boys started out in life equal-handed, we may be tempted to remark that the first boy has been fortunate, that fortune has smiled on him; and that the second has been unfortunate. There is no such nonsense as that. When the first boy saw a thing that he knew he ought to do, he did it; and he kept rising from one position to another until he became independent. The second boy was an eye-servant who was afraid that he would do more than he was paid to do-he was afraid that he would give fifty cents’ worth of labour for twenty-five cents [...]The first boy did a dollar’s worth of work for fifty cents. He was always ready to be at the store before time; and then, when the bell rang to stop work, he would go to his employer and ask him if there was not something more that ought to be done that night before he went home. It was this quality in the first boy that made him valuable and caused him to rise. Why should we call him ‘fortunate’ or ‘lucky’? I think it would be much more suitable to say of him: ‘He is responsible.” – “Individual Responsibility: A Sunday Evening Talk,”-Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

At the onset of receiving an entering incoming freshmen class into a university, one becomes awed and buoyed by the extraordinary sense of possibility that each student has in his or her future. Whether they were 4.0 student or 2.8 students in high school, the beginning of freshman year matriculation is a unique opportunity in their lives to start anew and afresh. And Mr. Washington, founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University), provides an example of two young boys who possessed the same opportunities, but had very different outcomes 20 years later. It is all too easy to pass off Mr. Washington’s telling as some moralizing tale designed to motivate his students during one of his Sunday evening talks. Yet, we must be inclined to think that either Mr. Washington himself experienced this so-called tale directly-his autobiographical narrative Up from Slavery (1901) suggests as much-or he observed this in the lives of two of his students in his 34-year long tenure at the helm of Tuskegee University. Washington’s telling of such a tale might also raise the ire and suspicion of those who might argue the following:”It is roundly unfair for Mr. Washington to ascribe lacking personal responsibility to the woes of the second boy’s life because he doesn’t know what happened to him.” Notwithstanding any such dismissals, what Mr. Washington seeks to convey in this talk was the sense of a very real distinction between two young men who approached life matters-whether in the classroom or beyond-quite differently. The first young man was likely accused of being too punctual, too exact or just plain too serious. He often heard the now common proverbial expression: “It doesn’t take all of that.” And in spite of all attempts to justify the many failures of the second boy, all such attempts are undergirded with a profound sense of irony. (The very individuals who defend or make excuse for the second lad will also not hire him nor give him any responsibility regarding that, which is their own.) Wholly consistent with his reputation for being frank, honest and giving ‘straight talk,” Mr. Washington would not allow any such misgivings about his impressions of the success-or relative lack thereof-of the two boys described here. For Mr. Washington believed that “it does take all of that” to reach any desirable outcome, and one will be subject to the envy and criticism of others while doing it. Yet, enduring the sort of suffering experienced by the first boy is far better than experiencing the suffering of the second. We all experience one form of suffering or another, and if one learns how to suffer-to truly know how to suffer well in the thing that is good-one will learn how to succeed.

Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.

7th President, Tuskegee University 
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition 

 

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