Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

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“My dear Mr. Rockefeller: I am sorry that the amount left over after the completion of Rockefeller Hall is not as large as I thought it would be, still I take great pleasure in returning to you in the enclosed check Two Hundred and Forty-nine ($249.00) Dollars. You do not know how very grateful we are to your father for this generous help. It has made a very large number of our boys much happier and placed them in a position to do better work than they have ever done before. I hope at some time your father can see the school that he has done so much to put upon its feet. The students and teachers would give him a great welcome if he could ever see his way clear to come. Yours very truly.”-“June 11, 1903,” Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

We find repeatedly in Booker T. Washington’s letters and writings to major donors and foundations three characteristics that are often looked at long before such donors and foundations make commitments to institutions and the men and women who lead them: Accountability, Stewardship and Sustainability. As to accountability, donors and foundations do not simply give to institutions and positions but to the persons in back of them. Firstly, accountability is akin to transparency. The founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University did not merely make requests for such donations, but he clearly expressed for what reason he was making such a request and for what purpose shall the donation be put to. Mr. Washington apologized in part that the request he had made was beyond what he anticipated: “I am sorry that the amount left over after the completion of Rockefeller Hall is not as large as I thought it would be…” (Here again, “integrity” is the single greatest 9-letter word and Mr. Washington was clearly panged that somehow his estimation was slightly above what he had communicated. A man of conscience, he did not think this a small matter to make such an apology. Rather he admitted this oversight on behalf of either himself or the institution.) Secondly, stewardship is the silentsister of accountability. As a “steward” indeed-anothergreat 7-letter word-he indicated thus: “…I take great pleasure in returning to you in the enclosed check Two Hundred and Forty-nine ($249.00) Dollars.” This man made no presumption that the additional $249.00 might have been spent for other purposes or placed within another institutional account to be used for other purposes. (He adhered to the twin sisters, accountability and stewardship, in all of his dealings so that there would be no questioning either his “integrity” or his “knowledge,” the second greatest 9-letter word.) Lastly, Sustainability is a nearly absent consideration for those engaged in the advancement and development of an organization. Donors and foundations seek to be associated with success and continued success. One gives to what can be sustained. (Has anyone ever given his or her dollars to an individual or an organization merely to waste without any sustaining power?) Givers desire to be continuous contributors to the on-going work and success of an individual and organization. As the individual and organization’s success is sustained, so is the reputation of both the giver and the gift. Hence, the founding principal and president’s parting request for Mr. Rockefeller to visit the campus directly: “I hope at some time your father can see the school that he has done so much to put upon its feet. The students and teachers would give him a great welcome if he could ever see his way clear to come.” Booker Washington knew that such men and organizations desired to “see” for themselves the effects of their giving; For what is sustainable can not only be seen,but also supplemented with future gifts for continuous, on-going success.

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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“After I got so that I could read a little, I used to take a great deal of satisfaction in the lives of men who had risen by their own efforts from poverty to success. It is a great thing for a boy to be able to read books of that kind. It not only inspires him with the desire to do something and make something of his life, but it teaches him that success depends upon his ability to do something useful, to perform some kind of service that the world wants.”-Booker T. Washington, _My Larger Education_(1901)

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  
The great scholar, literary critic and ‘Narnia’ chronicler, C. S. Lewis, remarks about the value of books upon a young boy or girl’s imagination: “Since it is so likely that (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.” Here again, what one consistently reads, one consistently becomes; Just imagine what one might become when one reads about the lives of great men and women from the time of one’s youth even into one’s mature years. This is what the founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University recommends, and it is a recommendation that we would do well to not only just follow, but continuously follow. First, the world needs verifiable, authentic and organic heroes, not simply scripted and fictional ones. Men and women whose lives are grounded in believable and relatable life experiences that one can readily identify with provides great grounds for hope for those who have similar experiences. Second, one can learn from the mistakes made in the lived lives of others. It is simply not true that one must repeat the mistakes of others. (Instead, you read and learn from them.) The triumphant records of men and women that also record both their foibles and follies are useful for persons of any century to learn, discern and comprehend that what happened before may very well occur again. Third, the lived lives of men and women who are no longer amongst us are permanent, indelible and fixed records that will remain ever unchanged. (One may repeatedly interpret and re-interpret their deeds done but there will be no adding nor taking away from them.) And this final thought is one that certainly motivated men and women of the class of Booker T. Washington and should motivate us as well. For Booker T. Washington knew that one has but one life to live, and there would be no do over. When future chroniclers composed the narrative of his life, he wanted to be certain that it contributed to making someone else’s “destiny brighter” not “darker.” The founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) did not simply write correspondence, books and speeches worth reading; he lived a life worth reading not only in his generation but also in the many future generations to follow.

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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“More than that, a school that is content with merely turning out ladies and gentlemen who are not at the same time something else — who are not lawyers, doctors, business men, bankers, carpenters, farmers, teachers, not even housewives, but merely ladies and gentlemen — such a school is bound, in my estimation, to be more or less a failure.”-Booker T. Washington, _My Larger Education_(1901)

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

In keeping with his constant emphasis that “style”-however impressive to the eye or palpable to the ear-will never ever be a replacement for “substance,” Booker T. Washington here speaks to the central purpose of a university education. Make no mistake, appropriate dress and eloquent speech is quite essential for the university-trained man or woman. Grades alone without accompanying poise, presence and posture will not assure one’s entrance into career fields where appearance often factors into personal prejudices and/or preferences. All the same, “knowledge,” which is the second greatest 9-letter word after “integrity,” is one of the single most important attributes to be in possession of for the university-trained man or woman for not only the successful entrance into a field of activity but a successful stay. Whether in the 19th Century or the 21st Century, one has to know something. In an increasingly knowledge-based economy and society, “knowledge” is the chief currency and substance in fields of activity where performance enables one to transcend multiple work environments. And the institution that is more concerned with what is upon the backs of her students than what is between the ears of her students, is in the founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University’s “estimation…more or less a failure.”

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. Washington: Please let me know by bearer if you will go driving at five o’clock.” “May 27, 1904,” -B.T.W. (Booker T. Washington)

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

Though expressed in his customary formal tone, this is perhaps one of the most touching communiqués from the founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University), Booker T. Washington. Addressed to his loving and supportive wife, Mrs. Margaret James Murray Washington, Mr. Washington-a man whose time was consumed with the care and concern of a great university-here  finds time to go driving, likely by horse and buggy, about campus and town with his lovely wife. Note, it is a great matter of refreshing, rest and repose to be able to recreate within the confines of family and love ones.  (There is no better place of refuge and retreat than one’s own family. And Mr. Washington’s principal family consisted of 4 primary persons: Portia, Booker, Earnest and Mrs. Washington). A leader of a vast organization such as Mr. Washington certainly acquired a great many friends, acquaintances and associates-particularly upon his ascendancy to such a renowned post-yet here he makes it crystal clear that there is but one he would invite to join him for a relaxing ride-Mrs. Margaret James Murray Washington. Incidentally, she replied, “Yes-Mrs. W.”

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 Charles Winter Wood] Fear Booker still unwell. Go Wellesley at once and have full consultation with Mr. Brenner. If you and he think wise and necessary have good physician give Booker thorough examination and do whatever is best for him at any reasonable expense. Have all your dealings with Mr. Benner and do nothing he does not approve. Find out how Booker getting on in every way. Telegraph answer my expense after you have been to Wellesley.”-  “May 21, 1904,” Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

In still another correspondence demonstrating the paternal regard he had for his son, Booker during his tenure at Wellesley school for the boys, the founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University once again demonstrates concern for his son yet without undermining the authority of Mr. Brenner, the principal and chief administrator of Wellesley. It is clear that a man of Booker T.Washington’s eminence, renown, position and wealth might have easily sought to “go around” the principal to have his designate attend to his son. However, he did not do so. As a principal and president of an educational institution himself, he fully understood policy, process and protocol. (How could he have otherwise expected others to respect his authority and process as principal of Tuskegee Institute if he did not respect the authority and process of Mr. Benner, principal of Wellesley?) He did not seek advantage upon the grounds of patronage, parentage, position or prominence with respect to young Booker. Instead, he instructed his designate, one Mr. Charles Winter Wood, as follows: “Have all your dealings with Mr. Benner and do nothing he does not approve.”  Here again, “integrity” is the greatest 9-letter word, and one’s words ought to necessarily be synonymous with one’s works. What Mr. Washington expected from others during his tenure at the helm of Tuskegee (Institute) University is in turn what he expected of himself.
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 Mr. Benner: Please tell Booker that I am to be here for a week, and that I should like to hear from him. He has a tendency, I have noticed, to stoop over when he sits, and to stand not at all erect when he walks. I hope you will do all that you can to correct this habit. Very truly yours.”- “May 5, 1904,” Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

The founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University was not only an affectionate father who wanted to hear from his sons, he was also a father that provided instruction to them as well. His namesake attended the Wellesley School for Boys in Wellesley, MA, and Mr. Edward Augustine Benner was principal of the school during young Booker’s tenure. Similar to his stewardship over the affairs of Mother Tuskegee, he equally considered important the stewardship over his children as a father. A consummate educator, his letters, speeches and writings demonstrate that he used every incident occurring in the walls of the university to provide object lessons to his students–the “sons and daughters of Booker and Mother Tuskegee”–for their betterment. Similarly, he used the opportunity to inquire of his son’s well -being while simultaneously requesting that the principal make note of his recommendations concerning his son’s posture. Like a good teacher, Mr. Washington well understood that paternal love is not constrained to a demonstration of empathy and concern, it also involves correction. For love, empathy and concern properly understood involves both.
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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“I hope that each of you as you go out for the summer, whether you go out with the view of returning here to finish your course of study, or whether you go out as graduates of the institution, I want each of you to remember that you are going to go backward or you are going to go forward. It will be impossible for you to stand still. You will either go upward or you will go downward, and as you go upward, you will take others up with you, or as you go downward, you will take others with you.”Sunday Evening Talk,” “May 13, 1900,” Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

In life, leadership and a host of other endeavors, one can hardly expect to move “forward” or “upward” while “stand[ing] still”. As the founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University eloquently articulates in one of his “Sunday Evening Talks” with students, “you are going to go backward or you are going to go forward.” To be sure, Mr. Washington’s idea of moving “forward,” “backward,” “upwards,” or “downwards” is not an absolute formula. There are a great many occasions where perceived “backward” movements propel individuals and organizations “forward,” and perceived “upward” movements move individuals and organizations “downward.” Notwithstanding, the idea contained in Mr. Washington’s aforementioned formulation speaks most precisely to “activity” or “inactivity,” which is otherwise known as, “stand[ing] still”. History and contemporary society are replete with examples of men, women and organizations whose constant activity have led to a single monumental success after many repeated failures. Yet, what is constant in both the successes and failures is “activity.” Mr. Washington has also described it as, “going”. And while it is true that busyness is not the same as effectiveness, it is equally true that the man, woman or organization that is busy “going” is more likely to become successful as opposed to those who are “standing still.”
Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.
7th President, Tuskegee University
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition

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