“[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