Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

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“The title is the shadow; what you say [and do] is the substance.” – “Substance vs. Shadow: A Sunday Evening Talk,” Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson     

Shortly after beginning his presidency, Booker T. Washington began a series of “Sunday Evening Talks” to students and teachers. When compiling these in a book for compilation in 1901, he wrote in his preface: “These addresses were always delivered in a conversational tone and much in the same manner that I would speak to my own children around my fireside.” Unlike a well-prepared lecture or speech that any might be able to prepare, Mr. Washington allowed his hearers to engage him directly in a “conversational” manner to learn who he was as opposed to who he appeared to be. And few other quotations excerpted from one of these talks demonstrate that he was a man of purpose, not pretension, than the one found here: “The title is the shadow; what you say [and do] is the substance.” It would have been all too easy for Mr. Washington to rely upon his fame and renown to fully justify his not appearing before students in such an informal manner. (For he gave speeches across the nation, wrote books read 100 years since his passing and was the force behind what came to be regarded as the “Tuskegee Machine.”) Rather-as a man of both words and works indeed-Mr. Washington wanted to fully demonstrate that he was a tangible person whose life embodied what he proverbially preached. He did not simply possess a title, which permitted him to perpetually parade in pomp and circumstance because of it. His work and achievements could be readily deduced and substantively emulated and followed by those he led. In sum, he was the real thing-not the “shadow” but the “substance.” And in hindsight these Sunday evening talks are what likely lent even more power to his reputation. For Mr. Washington would have them to understand that he was no pretender but a man of purpose. And in the end, it was the person of Washington that men and women of Tuskegee could follow not the position of Washington-the principal and president 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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“[New York City Nov. 10, 1915] [To Alexander Robert Stewart] Be sure my yard is well cleaned.” -Booker T. Washington

 
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson     
 
In all likelihood, this was the final letter written by the eminent founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University). (For Booker T. Washington died on Sunday morning November 14, 1915-not 5 days later-after requesting to return to Tuskegee, Alabama to spend his final days.) Until his death, Mr. Washington wrote several short letters with instructions to his colleagues in Tuskegee with the above being the last: “Be sure my yard is well cleaned.” While one may regard this final communiqué as someone who regarded his yard more important than his soul, this is not so. For this final writing was a reflection of his soul indeed-a soul devoted to his work. Tales abound in the Tuskegee community about Mr. Washington’s intense devotion to work, and there is no greater joy for a man or woman than to be engaged in a line of work that honors both the souls of others as well as their own.  Mr. Washington spent countless hours in the yard and in the garden working, when time and travels permitted.  Mr. Washington took great pride in the now world-renowned “Oaks,”-the president’s home at the time, located on the Tuskegee University campus, the only national park on a fully functioning college campus. Annually, thousands of visitors trek across the nation and the world to visit the home site of Tuskegee’s founding principal and president. So perhaps Mr. Washington’s final concern for his yard being cleaned was not only for that generation but also for the many future generations that would follow in the 100 years since his death.  
 
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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“I said I would take living men and women for my study, and I would give the closest attention possible to everything that was going on in the world about me [...] I said to myself that I would try to learn something from every man I met; make him my text-book, read him, study him and learn something from him. So I began deliberately to try to learn from men. I learned something from big men and something from little men, from the man with prejudice and the man without prejudice. As I studied and understood them, I found that I began to like men better; even those who treated me badly did not cause me to lose my temper or patience, as soon as I found that I could learn something from them.” -Booker T. Washington,My Larger Education (1911)
    

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson     

 
Of his many writings demonstrating the magnanimity of Tuskegee Institute’s (University) founding principal and president, this sits on top. For the most learned men and women are those who continue to learn, and there is no greater “text-book” to learn from than the lives of men and women. And Mr. Washington not only learned from great men and women-those who have achieved fame deservedly or not-but he learned “from big men and something from little men.” He even learned from his enemies. Any man or woman “with prejudice” is an enemy to humanity because this person has predetermined expectations of what a person within a racial, ethnic, socio-economic, religious or organizational group is capable of without regard to examining the merit and makeup of the singular individual. Even in this, Mr. Washington was able to “learn something from them.” When one learns about people, you learn about yourself. And this understanding leads to one of the most important facets in leadership and service to others: All people understand and show favor to the leader who recognizes that his or her condition is very much like their own.  
 
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 Sir: Yours of May 2nd has been received and is somewhat of a surprise to me. I would say, however, at the outset that it is against my custom to make reply in regard to tales that are floating about in the air. Any man who is at all before the public will have any number of stories put into his ears, and if he permits himself to be influenced by them I find he will impair his usefulness for work, and it has been my rule to neither deny nor affirm such stories [...]” -Booker T. Washington, “May 4, 1892″

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson     

Of all the considerations persons fail to consider when they approach the President of Tuskegee Institute (University)-or any leader of a highly visible organization-is perhaps the most obvious of all: “[...] in regard to tales that are floating about in the air. Any man [or woman] who is at all before the public will have any number of stories put into his ears [...]“. And Mr. Washington’s assertion is one that all leaders and talebearers would do well to take heed to. For talebearers, such an omission does not injure the public figure, but injures the bearer of the “tales” designed to “put into his ears.” Unknown to many, the role of President or CEO grants access to a great many details that most persons are not-nor ever will be-privy to.  And those who approach a leader with information that he or she is likely already familiar with will generally find that their information is likely-partial at best or faulty at worst. For if a leader allowed himself or herself to be “influenced” by partial or faulty information, it would “impair his [or her] usefulness for work.” And, in the end, it would be the leader-not the talebearer-who would be standing alone to explain why he or she relied on “floating” tales as opposed to facts. 

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. Douglass:] According to promise I have delivered your message to Mr. A.C. Bradford in Montgomery to the effect that you would speak there on the night of the 26th of May, and not on the 25th, leaving here after our Commencement exercises in time to reach Montgomery for the lecture there. This arrangement I find can be made to work, and for this arrangement I have said to Mr. Bradford would be final. For you to speak in Montgomery before coming here, would defeat one of the main objects which I have in view in having you at Tuskegee, and I hope you will not consider for a moment any proposition to appear at any meeting in Alabama before coming to Tuskegee. I shall go ahead with our arrangements with the understanding above stated. We shall look for you here on the 24th. Yours truly, B.T.W.” -Booker T. Washington, “April 29th 1892″

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson     

 
Herein lies one of the single most important communiqués in the annals of world and American history. One of the most important figures in world history, Frederick Douglass, receives a letter from one of the most looming personages in the 19th, 20th or any American century-the founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University). Mr. Douglass, who would die three years later in 1895, the same year of Booker T. Washington’s “Atlanta Exposition Address,” also has correspondence directed to the young leader of Tuskegee. All the same, the current communication involves Mr. Washington seeking to ensure that Tuskegee’s thunder was not usurped by a competitor in Montgomery, Alabama, who was attempting to secure Douglass’ services prior to his speech in Tuskegee. Mr. Washington responded quietly and quickly to rebuff this attempt. For Mr. Douglass was not merely being brought to Tuskegee for appearances’ sake, but to genuinely help advance and develop the institution with both his presence and-no doubt-his ties in Washington, D.C. and Maryland, where he would ultimately spend the remainder of his life. Apparently, some organization in Montgomery sought to secure Mr. Douglass’ presence when it learned of his pending engagement at the institution. Tuskegee was preeminent amongst similarly situated institutions at the time of Douglass’ appearance on campus. As a steward of the Tuskegee Institute (University) brand and reputation, Mr. Washington was particularly careful that the words and works of Tuskegee and its principal and president would go to the renown of Mother Tuskegee and not to another. 

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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“Miss Bolling: The Faculty has decided to ask you to have the girls’ rooms given a thorough cleaning this week with a view of trying to get rid of the bed bugs that are to be found in all the buildings. It is not to the credit of the school and much to its hurt to have the constant report of bed bugs existing in the rooms. The girls not only talk about the matter but report it to their parents, and it brings disgrace to the institution. The cleanliness of the rooms is in your hands and we hold you responsible for this. Miss Murray says that she has spoken to you about the matter several times and given you a girl to do the work, but it has not been done. I have told Miss Murray to let you have as many girls as you desire. Dr. Dillon will help you in making any mixture to help eradicate the bed bugs. This must be attended to right away. I wish to have the building cleaned this week. The cleaning must be done once a week during the remainder of the term so that we can get rid of this pest. In this connection I wish to say that it will amount to nothing without your remaining constantly with them while they are doing the cleaning.” -Booker T. Washington, “May 3rd, 1892″      
 
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson     

The management and condition of a university’s residential housing and its facilities is as important as the university’s academic programs. This is why faculty and staff members alike play an equally important role in the success of an institution. There are several noteworthy considerations in Mr. Washington’s communiqué to Miss Bolling. First, it did not matter how great the instruction might have been at Tuskegee Institute (University) if the ‘daughters of Booker and Mother Tuskegee’ not only talk[ed] about the matter but report[ed] it to their parents[;] it brings disgrace to the institution.” (The concern and care that an institution shows beyond the classroom is often the most important consideration that parents deliberate upon when deciding to send their children to a university.) Second, it was not Mr. Washington that was to be held chiefly responsible but the person who possessed oversight of the area. (Indeed the university president possesses ultimate responsibility in the governance of a university. However, he or she must rely heavily upon those within his or her charge to ensure that their areas reflect the expectations of the president. Thus, Mr. Washington’s reminder to colleague: “We hold you responsible for this.”) Third and last, Mr. Washington had not only provided additional resources to assist with this problem but was also willing to provide more “to help eradicate the bed bugs.” Moreover, he provided Miss Bolling with first-rate management advice: “…it will amount to nothing without your remaining constantly with them while they are doing the cleaning.” (What you expect, you must inspect. And if one has units that you are being held responsible for then it is not unwise to personally inspect those units so that you are not held accountable for the performance of others.) Let no university employee believe that his or her work does not impact the success of an institution. For the individual’s success will ultimately become the university’s success.

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 William Addison Benedict]…You remember you said in one of your previous letters that you could raise $30,000 per year for the institution and we were led to believe that your experience and acquaintance with people would enable you to secure funds without having to go through the long “breaking in” process that a man unacquainted with the ways and means would go through, and when you sent your report for December you said the one for January would show quite a different state of things. The time has now come when we must look facts squarely in the face in a business way. So far as the figures before us show you have collected in all $269.21, $25 of this comes from Miss Amelia H. Jones of New Bedford, who for the last six years has given us regularly every year $50, but her last address was put down Boston, so in this way you were misled; but up to the first of February this institution owes you $625, and you have collected of this amount $269, thus leaving the institution in debt to you in the sum of $356. So you see we are poorer by this amount than we were this time last year and the same time our salary account is very much enlarged by your being employed thus making the appropriation of money spent for securing funds very much larger than it should be and throwing us open to the criticism of the public cannot escape. I hope you will not understand that I mean to speak in an unkindly spirit. I think we will both understand each other by being business-like and frank.” – Booker T. Washington, “February 8, 1892″

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson     

Whether in the 19th, 20th and 21st Century, the Tuskegee Institute (University) President is often presented with proposals from outside vendors designed to benefit the university’s interest. And in addition to the task of discerning between profitable and unprofitable proposals, the Tuskegee Institute (University) President must also decide when existing agreements are no longer beneficial to the university. This was the case in Booker T. Washington’s communication with one William Addison Benedict. Mr. Benedict indicated in one of his “previous letters” that he could raise “$30,000 per year for the institution.” Moreover, the institution was “led to believe” that his report for “January would show a quite different state of things.” Unfortunately for both Mr. Benedict and Tuskegee institute (University), this was not the case. One of the more unpleasant sides to business is the necessary parting of ways when one party does not live up to or honor what was agreed upon. While there are a host of factors that might have led to Mr. Benedict’s poor record of performance as opposed to what he had promised, it was clear to Mr. Washington that Tuskegee’s “salary account [was] very much enlarged” by paying for his additional services unaccompanied by his expected performance. And herein lies Mr. Washington’s appeal to Mr. Benedict to “understand each other by being business-like and frank.” For what university President in any century continues to perpetually make payments based upon promises as opposed to performance?

Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.

7th President, Tuskegee University 
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition 

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