“I have spoken of the impression that was made upon me by the buildings and general appearance of the Hampton Institute, but I have not spoken of that which made the greatest and most lasting impression on me, and that was a great man-the noblest, rarest human being that it has ever been my privilege to meet. I refer to the late General Samuel C. Armstrong.”-Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery (1901)
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson
Some men and women are impressed by bricks and mortar, while others are impressed with fashionable style as opposed to formidable substance. However, the founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University was most impressed with flesh and blood, particularly the example set before him in the person of General Samuel C. Armstrong who personally recommended Booker Washington to become Tuskegee University’s first president. It is no wonder that Mr. Washington considered the General “a great man-the noblest, rarest human being that it has ever been [his] privilege to meet.” In addition to being named founding principal of Hampton Institute, here is a man who first distinguished himself through his service at the head of a regime of African-American soldiers during the Civil War. And while it is clear that Mr. Washington held General Armstrong in high regard as progenitor of the Hampton idea, it would not be surprising if his experiences as a military leader impressed him as well. For the qualities of leadership knows no boundaries. Whether in politics, sports, academia, or business, leadership is transcendent. General Armstrong had not only led men upon a field of battle, he also led them on a battlefield of education where the fight was equally strenuous. His courageous and victorious leadership upon both fields are likely what made such a lasting and influential “impression” upon Mr. Washington where works not words embodies his much repeated phrase: “Let examples answer.”
Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.
7th President, Tuskegee University