Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

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“I have found that strict business methods go a long way in the securing the interest of rich people. It has been my constant aim at Tuskegee to carry out, in our financial and other operations, such business methods as would be approved of by any New York banking house.” – Booker T. Washington, _Up From Slavery_(1901)

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

One of the surest indicators of how an organization might manage another’s resources-fiscal or otherwise-is to consider how this same organization manages its own, and Mr. Washington’s desire to manage Tuskegee Institute in a manner that “would be approved of by any New York banking house” is quite telling. In both its “financial and other operations,” Mr. Washington wanted to ensure that the practices of Tuskegee Institute (University) were such that it would appeal to the persons who could help fiscally advance and develop the University the fastest-“rich people”. While it is true that Mr. Washington received a great many gifts from persons who were not wealthy-make no mistake-many of the most pivotal and significant gifts came from persons with wealth. For the founding Principal and President of Tuskegee Institute (University) well understood that if he was going to attract the “interest” of persons with means then he would have to follow the very practices that were used in managing–and most importantly–achieving such means.

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] stuck to my old line of argument, urging the education of the hand, the head and the heart.”  – Booker T. Washington, “My Larger Education,” (1911)

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

While there is significant historic disagreement with Mr. Washington’s philosophical orientation toward ‘vocational’ education, what is often omitted in such discussions is his overarching sense of the term “vocation”. The word is derived from its Latin origin, ‘vocare,’ and it means “to call”.  Between the 16th to 19th centuries, ‘vocation’ within a given profession was commonly understood as “calling”. “Vocation” or “Calling” is inclusive of much more than work involving the “the education of the hand,” which undoubtedly was a Washingtonian emphasis in the late 19th and early 20th Century. Notwithstanding, a “heart” enflamed with a personal sense of passion and integrity toward one’s work, a “head” filled with the requisite knowledge for one’s field and, lastly, “hands” that are ready and willing to translate both “heart” and “head” into practical experience within a specified field are the sum whole of Mr. Washington’s notion of “heart,” “head” and “hands”. Thus, Heart (Character) + Head (Competence) + Hands (Capability) = (W)holistic Calling.

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 made up my mind definitely on one or two fundamental points. I determined: First, that I should at all times be perfectly frank and honest in dealing with each of the three classes of people that I have mentioned; Second, that I should not depend upon any “short-cuts” or expedients merely for the sake of gaining temporary popularity or advantage, whether for the time being such action brought me popularity or the reverse. With these two points clear before me as my creed, I began going forward.” -Booker T. Washington, “My Larger Education,” (1911)

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  
While one may have great difficulty in successfully appealing to multiple constituents and interests, the surest way to fail at doing so is pandering to the opinions of all. And there is no better blueprint for negotiating the pitfalls of paltry politics and partisanship than to follow Booker T. Washington’s two-part course of action throughout his 34-year Presidency (1881-1915): 1. Speak clearly, frankly and honestly at all times. 2. Though laborious-and often painstaking-let your work speak for itself. “Integrity,” the single greatest 9-letter word, speaks to the former. Consistency in communication across constituencies produces confidence. (For conversations spoken in one arena are bound to be communicated to other arenas, and multiple constituencies will quickly discover inconsistencies and inequity when conversations are compared to one another.) “Purpose,” the single greatest 7-letter word, speaks to Washington’s latter formulation. Persons consumed with purpose have little time for pandering and cronyism because they are consumed with performance. (For, in the end, performance and accomplishment-not political expediency-is the primary currency needed in communication across constituent groups.) Mr. Washington’s signal accomplishments-best evidenced in the past, present and future testament of Tuskegee University-provides the clearest telltale signs of his philosophy’s success. And it was no “short cut.”

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 have reached a period when educated Negroes should give more attention to the history of their race; should devote more time to finding out the true history of the race, and in collecting in some museum the relics that mark its progress. It is true of all races of culture and refinement and civilisation that they have gathered in some place the relics which mark the progress of their civilisation, which show how they lived from period to period. We should have so much pride that we would spend more time in looking into the history of the race, more effort and money in perpetuating in some durable form its achievements, so that from year to year, instead of looking back with regret, we can point to our children the rough path through which we grew strong and great.”-Booker T. Washington, (1899)  Future of the American Negro
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

John Lukacs suggests the following about the potential of the past coming to bear upon the future: “I saw the future and it was the past.” And Booker T. Washington, founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University offers a similar advisement in his little-known work, The Future of the American Negro published in 1899. Now, the mere assembling of the “relics” of any people group’s history alone is not a sole predictor of its future. For it greatly depends upon what is being assembled as one paraphrased African proverb offers: “The hunter will always be the hero until the lion has his own historian.” And Mr. Washington recommends the assembling of those “relics [in particular], which mark the progress of their civilization” and “achievements” placed “in some durable form.” (Here again, what one consistently reads, one will consistently become.) If one consistently reads a narrative or documentable history of a people characterized by its clear and documentable successes as opposed to failures documented for varying purposes, such histories will serve to shape not only the psyche of a single people group but also the psyche of all people groups who have a special relationship or closeness to this same group. Such is the history of Tuskegee (Institute) University, where reading the narratives of the men and women (including students, supporters, community members, faculty, staff and administrators) provide a documentable, inspiring and motivating “tradition” (past) that can translate into a documentable, inspiring and motivating “trajectory” (future).

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 a 4.0 student or a 2.8 student 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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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: 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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