“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