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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“Dear Gen’l [Armstrong]: Soon after our conversation in Phila.[delphia] I arrived here and found a letter announcing that the Misses Mason had given us $7000. Faith [Washington italics] and hard work [Washington italics] I find will accomplish anything. Yours &c” -B.T. Washington, November 26, 1885

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson

We all tend to misconstrue notions of the importance of “faith” and “hard work.” For some, “faith” is the single most important attribute-absent any personal diligence, integrity, work and sacrifice-all of which is critical to achievement and accomplishment. And, for others, “hard work” is the all-encompassing personal quality that is sufficient for all things achieved in life. However, Mr. Washington suggests that both are required, and our daily lives suggest the same. There are a great many pursuits that we have diligently “worked hard” towards that have simply not yielded expected results. And there are those pursuits where “faith” exercised towards an expressed desire was all that one could do under the circumstances, and it produced unexpected success. (And such “faith” was more times than not unmerited.) All the same, the two qualities listed here in Mr. Washington’s letter-“faith” and “hard work”-are the highest ideals in daily accomplishment leading towards long-term success. For our words of sincere desire must always work together with our works of sincere effort because when daily difficulties push the one, the other stands ready to push back.

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 Gen’l [Armstrong]: Mr. [Albert] Howe stayed with us 4 days and no one’s visit has done us the real good that his has. His suggestions were valuable and criticisms frank. He has been especially helpful in his suggestions regarding our land and brick works.” Tuskegee, Alabama, April 29, 1885

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson 

The founding Principal and President of Tuskegee Institute (University) offers here a noteworthy and rare commendation for one Mr. Albert Howe. While it is true what the Greek Historian Plutarch writes concerning friends and acquaintances-“I don’t need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better”-it is equally true that simply offering a criticism does not make the criticism valuable. Of the many eminent visitors and well wishers-invited or not-that Mr. Washington received at Tuskegee Institute in the first four years of his Presidency, “no one has done [Tuskegee] the real good that [Howe] has.” Mr. Washington states unequivocally that unlike other suggestions that were offered, Mr. Howe’s were “valuable and criticisms frank.” To be sure, uttering a frank criticism was the not the sole characteristic of Howe’s suggestion when a man of Mr. Washington’s position assessed the value of Howe’s recommendations as compared to those of others. Instead, Howe’s suggestions came directly to bear upon how the institution managed two of its most important resources at the time-it’s “land and brick works.” One has to simply pause here to consider the regard Mr. Washington must have held for such a person who after spending “4 days” with him at Tuskegee, was able to be regarded as the single most helpful visit in his early four-year tenure. For it matters not whether the person offering a suggestion deems it valuable, but whether the person who receives the suggestion regards it as valuable.

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

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Tuskegee University: Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

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“As I have said before, I do not regret that I was born a slave. I am not sorry that I found myself part of a problem; on the contrary, that problem has given direction and meaning to my life that has brought me friendships and comforts that I could have gotten in no other way.” -Booker T. Washington, “My Larger Education,” (1911)

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson

Booker T. Washington had more reason than most to decry the circumstances of his upbringing. (For he was born enslaved.) Yet, Mr. Washington’s reference to himself as “part of a problem” was not owing to any intrinsic qualities of his own person. Rather, it was akin to W.E.B. Du Bois’s expression: “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.” All the same, the fact that Mr. Washington was born into such a difficult period did not ultimately deter his ambitions; Instead, it fueled them. And this is clearly one of the most singularly important lessons of Mr. Washington’s life and career-long work at Tuskegee Institute (University) evidenced in his most quoted aphorism: “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.” For the satisfaction gained in spending one’s life transforming seemingly insurmountable obstacles into long-standing triumph and achievement is, after all, the definition of an overcomer.

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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“Editor Mail: I take this method of expressing the thanks of the Tuskegee State Normal School to the Magnolia Hook and Ladder Fire Company, colored, of Tuskegee, for their very generous donation of $25 towards the proposed new building.” – B.T. Washington, April 16, 1884     

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson     

Appreciation expressed for donations or services given to Tuskegee Institute (University) in matters both small and great is a recurring theme in Mr. Washington’s correspondence to donors and organizations who contributed to his work. And such a theme speaks profoundly to the notion of stewardship. While supremely important, stewardship is not simply utilizing resources according to the donor’s intentions. Stewardship is also expressing appropriate measures of gratitude when gifts are received. For if one cannot take the time to express gratitude when a gift is received, it is unlikely that one will take the time to steward over the gifts received in a manner consistent with the donor’s wishes.

 

Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.

7th President, Tuskegee University 
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition 

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Tuskegee University: Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

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‘[To Fanny Norton Smith Washington] Dear F. I send you a telegram today so you may know where to write. Write me at once. I shall probably stay here tillApril 1, when I shall come home. Had a fine a[nd] very large meeting here last night. Love to all. Kiss Portia for me. Yours. B.”  -Booker T. Washington, March 22, 1884

 

 Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson     
  

Although Mr. Washington’s letters and other writings that reference significant historical personages are most often heralded, his domestic letters revealing his role as both husband and father are equally important. Fanny Norton Smith Washington was the founding Principal’s first wife, and their daughter Portia was born in 1883. While the aforementioned note containing but a simple communiqué informing Fanny of his plans and day in Philadelphia, his expression of love and, finally, a request to pass along a kiss to his year-old daughter is compelling, it was his desire to learn what was taking place in the homestead even as he was engaged in the significant work of advancing and developing Tuskegee Institute (University). For more often than not, the care and concern one has for family members and matters within the private sphere of home, reflects the care and concern one will have for one’s constituents and organization in the public sphere.

 

 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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“In order to be successful in any kind of undertaking, I think the main thing is for one to grow to the point where he completely forgets himself; that is, to lose himself in a great cause. In proportion as one loses himself in the way, in the same degree does he get the highest happiness out of his work.” -Booker T. Washington, “Up From Slavery,” 1901

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

One can find no greater joy than to serve a cause higher than one’s self-particularly when the cause is associated with one’s work. And it would be very difficult to find a historic figure whose life and work better embodies this notion than Booker T. Washington and the work of building Tuskegee Institute (University). Consider the circumstances of his arrival in Tuskegee from Hampton Institute. An abandoned hen house served as his first classroom; His students possessed varying levels of literacy, and above all, he had few resources to purchase additional property for the institute’s growth-pawning his own watch in repayment of an early loan. And while he might have easily thought of himself and abandoned the entire enterprise, he did precisely the opposite. Mr. Washington “completely [forgot] himself” to serve a “great cause.” Serving a cause greater than personal preference often leads to the kind of success that benefits not only a singular person but both people and purposes. For careers fill pockets; Careers linked to callings fulfill people; and fulfilled people achieve great purposes.

 

 

 

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

 

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