“I reached Tuskegee, as I have said, early in June, 1881. The first month I spent finding accommodations for the school, and in travelling through Alabama, examining into the actual life of the people, especially in the court districts, and in getting the school advertised among the class of people that I wanted to have attend it.” -Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery (1901)
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson
Consider the following: Tuskegee (Institute) University was formally founded on July 4, 1881, and its founding principal and president, the man Booker T. Washington, had already begun work in June 1881. Once again, the words of any visionary undertaking are but the top of the iceberg but the works of its subsequent execution and implementation are what lies beneath the surface-the large unseen mass beneath, not within view until you come closer to inspect. And Mr. Washington’s unseen wall work occurring in June 1881 in many ways laid the foundation-or built the wall-for Tuskegee University’s lasting and enduring success. His early days were spent “finding,” “travelling,” “examining” and “advertis[ing]” for students. Unconcerned with any idea of pomp and circumstance long before he began his tenure, Booker T. Washington came to work. (According to Mr. Washington, “Nothing is accomplished but by faith and hard work,” and this founding principal and president was focused on the latter in his beginning days.). And unlike his presidential peers in later centuries-including those who succeeded him at Tuskegee-this man had no standing facility, faculty, endowment or, most importantly, students. He was teacher, principal, admissions director, advancement head, marketing director and chief financial officer and everything in between. (He had been previously trained under General Samuel Armstrong and was the very best and brightest representative of the Hampton idea. How could he be possibly consumed with anything other than true and documentable success?) He could ill-afford to be concerned with the many ancillary matters that modern-day presidents often spend time grappling with. The problem of getting bread and students for his institution was a very real one that few truly knew. As such, he was primarily focused upon his life-long “purpose,”-the greatest 7-letter word-building and firmly establishing the legacy that is now Tuskegee Institute (University).