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 transferable 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: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

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“ONE of the first questions that I had to answer for myself after beginning my work at Tuskegee was how I was to deal with public opinion on the race question.It may seem strange that a man who had started out with the humble purpose of establishing a little Negro industrial school in a small Southern country town should find himself, to any great extent, either helped or hindered in his work by what the general public was thinking and saying about any of the large social or educational problems of the day. But such was the case at that time in Alabama; and so it was that I had not gone very far in my work before I found myself trying to formulate clear and definite answers to some very fundamental questions.”-Booker T. Washington, My Larger Education(1911)

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

As a prelude to the second chapter, “Building A School Around A Problem,” contained within his book, My Larger Education (1911), the founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University discussed his need to not only build a school but to do so “around a problem.” And like similar undertakings when starting something anew, it was never a question of Booker T. Washington’s professional preparation, training or skill set; nor was it ever a question of his personal “integrity” and “knowledge”. Rather, Mr. Washington found himself consumed with the “problems” of race that persons were more concerned with than the work of “building a school” designed to partly address these matters. And Mr.Washington makes it crystal clear how he would proceed to begin grappling with matters beyond the strict performance of his duties associated with being principal and president of Tuskegee: “ONE of the first questions that I had to answer for myself…” Note, no one was qualified nor experienced enough to assist the 25-year-old Booker newly arrived in Tuskegee, Alabama (Macon, County) in 1881, where the idea of starting an institution would be entirely foreign to a group of newly emancipated slaves who possessed no literacy nor life experiences beyond the rural locale. (He would also have to learn to communicate with former slave owners who had never encountered a gifted, visionary educational leader who could read, write and think beyond what they had probably expected.)  To be sure, advisers similar to General Samuel Armstrong, founding principal and president of Hampton Institute (University) could certainly provide guidance on the actual work he was doing and on these matters in general; but on the day-to-day matters of living, learning and leading in Tuskegee, Alabama, this young founder had to find out “for myself.” And what is crystal clear is that he not only did so but he did so in exceedingly, demonstrative and effective ways for everyone to see in both Tuskegee and throughout the world for over 34 years at the helm of Tuskegee. Here again, this is why we celebrate his “vision”, his abilities as a “leader” and his extraordinary-not ordinary-“genius” in this the centennial year (1915-2015) since his passing. And in this writer’s opinion, “vision,” “leader” and “genius” are the greatest 6-letter wordsin succession.

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Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

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“I have been a slave once in my life-a slave in body. But I long since resolved that no inducement and no influence would ever make me a slave in soul, in my love for humanity, and in my search for truth.” -Booker T. Washington, (1907) The Negro in the South

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

In a little-known, yet most noteworthy moment in the history of both American and African American literary history, Booker T. Washington jointly published the book, The Negro In the South (1907) containing 2 essays from himself and 2 other essays from none other than W.E.B. Du Bois. (And this was not their first co-publication. This would be the second book containing these two stalwarts in American and African American educational and intellectual history.) All the same, in the first of Mr. Washington’s two essays, he makes the distinction between being a “slave in body” versus being a “slave in soul.” Note the following concerning the remarks of the founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University: He made a strategic, calculated set of decisions to ensure that his outward circumstance would not determine his future circumstances. (And these decisions revolved around a “love for humanity” and a “search for truth”, which will always place the “lover” and “seeker” of such beyond the pale of those whose pursuits are self-interested and selfish.)  First, a lover of humanity is unafraid to come to learn to love others because he or she has first come to love himself. One can hardly come to learn others if one does not possess a deep love for one’s self, and this includes learning to love both the learned and the ignorant. For a man or woman who ascended to  leadership, as Mr. Washington had done, not only encountered both but had been both during his long ascent Up From Slavery. Second, the seeker of truth seeks after that which is right without regard to where this truth leads. Leo Tolstoy eloquently suggests the following about such a principle: “If you wish to know the truth, first of all free yourself from all considerations of self-interest.” Whether the truth Mr. Washington discovered was for the benefit or detriment to himself or not-“integrity” is the single greatest 9-letter word-this pursuit is without question what leads to 34 years of ongoing, consistent and enduring success for Tuskegee (Institute) University. For unbroken, undivided and unwavering consistency and wholeness is perhaps the closest description of both “truth” and Mr. Washington’s presidency that has served and will continue to serve generations of “humanity.” And this is why we celebrate his accomplishments in this the centennial year of his passing (1915-2015).

Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.

7th President, Tuskegee University
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition

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TUSKEGEE UNIVERSITY TRANSCRIPTS NOW AVAILABLE ONLINE.

Tuskegee University.

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Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

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“My dear friend Mr. Briggs: I will open school the 1st Monday in July. Judging from present prospects I shall have about thirty students the first day and a steady increase…”-Booker T. Washington, June 28, 1881

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

On  June 28, 1881, a 25-year old Booker T. Washington had enrolled 30 students before Tuskegee Institute (University) was officially founded on July 4, 1881. While this was clearly a noteworthy moment at the onset of his presidency, this is not what is most startling about the first of many achievements that this young president would accomplish during his subsequent 34-years at the helm of Tuskegee (Institute) University. This young man’s single most signal historic achievement-in this writer’s opinion-occurred on June 24,1881, which is the date that this student and teacher who had been trained by General Samuel Armstrong, arrived in Tuskegee, Alabama. (We know this because on June 25, 1881 Mr. Washington wrote to James Fowled Baldwin Marshall the following: “Dear friend: Arrived here yesterday.”) And it was on that day that a “Copernican Revolution” in the landscape of higher education occurred, not only in Tuskegee but in the history of the world. For this young man’s arrival (to start an institution of higher learning for newly freed African Americans) reverberated and transcended not simply the city of Tuskegee and the county of Macon, but the entire world. These 30 men and women who were likely still using skill sets acquired during enslavement would now be afforded the opportunity to use these skills to gain their own economic and intellectual independence. They need not work for their former masters with little distinction in pay from the time of physical bondage. After the training of their hearts, heads and hands within this new institution of higher learning called Tuskegee Normal School (Institute) University, they could now use their own skill sets to start their own businesses and offer their services in a much more economically viable exchange between formerly enslaved men and women and their former masters. And this perhaps ranks atop of the many other significant reasons why we celebrate 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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“My dear Mr. Schmidlapp: I thank you very much for your letter of January 3rd, also, for yours of December 7th, which I did not have the privilege of answering in person. We thank you for your subscription of One Hundred Dollars toward the Repair Fund. This will help us much.” -Booker T. Washington, January 12, 1910.”

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

There is no greater expense for many universities that were founded in the mid to late 1800s than the following: Deferred Maintenance Costs for both living and learning facilities. And the founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University was at the forefront of understanding how to create a diverse portfolio of fundraising that included, among other things, restricted gifts for the express purpose of going to the “Repair Fund.” Note, the modern-day equivalent of the “Repair Fund” is akin to seeking both small and major “restricted” gifts for the renovation, restoration and repair of “bricks and mortar”. (These are living facilities where students reside and learning facilities where professors teach and research. Many institutions have now combined such functions where students and professors can simultaneously “live and learn.”) “Restricted” gifts designated for the renovation, restoration or repair of living and learning facilities are often used to serve “unrestricted” purposes. For when an institution can secure such gifts then monies contained within its own annual deferred maintenance budget can be used to renovate, restore and repair additional living and learning facilities. More importantly, when an institution possesses a deferred maintenance plan or schedule that designates monies for renovation, restoration and repair projects over a certain period, a single major “restricted” gift might allow the institution to improve a residential facility or classroom facility years before what the deferred maintenance schedule and plan originally projected. While this is generally understood in a knowledge-based, data-informed and outcomes-oriented 21st century higher education enterprise, here we find that Booker T. Washington was doing this not only in 1910, but as early as 1881 when he arrived in Tuskegee, Alabama only to discover that he would be spending his earliest years teaching in a hen house. (34 years later, he took this hen house and-with the help of employees like Robert R. Taylor and Emmett J. Scott and faculty members like George Washington Carver-transformed it into the single most immaculate campus in all of higher education both nationally and globally.) And this is why we celebrate Booker T. Washington in this the centennial year (1915-2015) since his passing. For this was a man of substance whose writings, correspondence and (most importantly) deeds have demonstrated that he worked with “integrity” and “knowledge,” which are the two single greatest 9-letter words, which is also probably why one of Mr. Washington’s favorite sayings was as follows: “Let Examples Answer.”
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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“Confidential to Booker T. Washington:

My dear Dr. Washington; At a meeting of the Investment Committee held on Tuesday, the 21st, I took the liberty of suggesting that I thought you ought to take a good vacation, if possible, during the summer. Such speaking campaigns as you have conducted last year and this, through different sections of the South, seem to me as important work as you have ever done, not only for your own race but for the country as a whole. I know very well, however, that that sort of thing is very exhausting; and I want you, if you can, to arrange your plans so that you may get some of the rest and refreshment of mind and body which will enable you to keep up that sort of service for more years. I am happy to report that the Committee was unanimously in sympathy with this suggestion, and I am writing to you now to say that I have at command the sum of One thousand dollars made up by a number of your friends for the purpose of enabling you to go to Europe next summer, or to any other place where you think you can get real rest. We do not want to send you away in order that you may do work elsewhere. Our purpose is to secure for one who has legitimately earned it, the sort of let-up which is so necessary now and then to keep one’s power at their best. I am writing to you at this early day, so that you may have plenty of time to plan for your absence, if you think you can go. Please write to me frankly just how you feel and what you would like to do.   Yours sincerely, Seth Low, “December 23, 1909″

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

Without question, Booker T. Washington’s 34-plus years of correspondence, speeches, writings, fundraising activities, institution building and a wide array of other activities demonstrate nothing other than this single, solitary fact: The founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University worked, and he worked a lot.  And the above passage is taken from one Mr. Seth Low who wanted to arrange for Mr. Washington to take some rest. While it is unclear whether Mr. Washington followed this recommendation-there is correspondence also from Mr. Emmett J. Scott that indicated that Mr. Washington routinely did not wish to rest-Mr. Low and his colleagues were also clear on another single, solitary fact: “Our purpose is to secure for one who has legitimately earned it, the sort of let-up which is so necessary now and then to keep one’s power at their best.” Note the following: Booker T. Washington, at the time of this letter, had been serving 29 years in this capacity as founding principal and president. While he was certain to have vacationed before, Mr. Low and his colleagues took great pains to make some attempt to preserve Mr. Washington’s health. (Unbeknownst to all, the esteemed founding principal and president would pass away only 5 years later in 1934.) Notwithstanding, what was painstakingly clear then and remains painstakingly clear now, the man Booker T. Washington worked tirelessly on behalf of Mother Tuskegee and his documented and verifiable accomplishments attest to it. More importantly, Mr. Low and his colleagues not only benefited from his work but expressed their appreciation tangibly, which was but a small token in comparison with his 29 years of service: “Such speaking campaigns as you have conducted last year and this, through different sections of the South, seem to me as important work as you have ever done, not only for your own race but for the country as a whole. I know very well, however, that that sort of thing is very exhausting; and I want you, if you can, to arrange your plans so that you may get some of the rest and refreshment of mind and body which will enable you to keep up that sort of service for more years.” In the end, it is easy to surmise that Mr. Washington was likely more concerned with the work he was doing as opposed to the appreciation in the form of a vacation that was being offered. And in many ways, his tireless ethic of “work,” the second greatest 4-letter word, is why Tuskegee University celebrates him 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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