Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

Daily word_header

“Confidential to Booker T. Washington:

My dear Dr. Washington; At a meeting of the Investment Committee held on Tuesday, the 21st, I took the liberty of suggesting that I thought you ought to take a good vacation, if possible, during the summer. Such speaking campaigns as you have conducted last year and this, through different sections of the South, seem to me as important work as you have ever done, not only for your own race but for the country as a whole. I know very well, however, that that sort of thing is very exhausting; and I want you, if you can, to arrange your plans so that you may get some of the rest and refreshment of mind and body which will enable you to keep up that sort of service for more years. I am happy to report that the Committee was unanimously in sympathy with this suggestion, and I am writing to you now to say that I have at command the sum of One thousand dollars made up by a number of your friends for the purpose of enabling you to go to Europe next summer, or to any other place where you think you can get real rest. We do not want to send you away in order that you may do work elsewhere. Our purpose is to secure for one who has legitimately earned it, the sort of let-up which is so necessary now and then to keep one’s power at their best. I am writing to you at this early day, so that you may have plenty of time to plan for your absence, if you think you can go. Please write to me frankly just how you feel and what you would like to do.   Yours sincerely, Seth Low, “December 23, 1909”

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

Without question, Booker T. Washington’s 34-plus years of correspondence, speeches, writings, fundraising activities, institution building and a wide array of other activities demonstrate nothing other than this single, solitary fact: The founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University worked, and he worked a lot.  And the above passage is taken from one Mr. Seth Low who wanted to arrange for Mr. Washington to take some rest. While it is unclear whether Mr. Washington followed this recommendation-there is correspondence also from Mr. Emmett J. Scott that indicated that Mr. Washington routinely did not wish to rest-Mr. Low and his colleagues were also clear on another single, solitary fact: “Our purpose is to secure for one who has legitimately earned it, the sort of let-up which is so necessary now and then to keep one’s power at their best.” Note the following: Booker T. Washington, at the time of this letter, had been serving 29 years in this capacity as founding principal and president. While he was certain to have vacationed before, Mr. Low and his colleagues took great pains to make some attempt to preserve Mr. Washington’s health. (Unbeknownst to all, the esteemed founding principal and president would pass away only 5 years later in 1934.) Notwithstanding, what was painstakingly clear then and remains painstakingly clear now, the man Booker T. Washington worked tirelessly on behalf of Mother Tuskegee and his documented and verifiable accomplishments attest to it. More importantly, Mr. Low and his colleagues not only benefited from his work but expressed their appreciation tangibly, which was but a small token in comparison with his 29 years of service: “Such speaking campaigns as you have conducted last year and this, through different sections of the South, seem to me as important work as you have ever done, not only for your own race but for the country as a whole. I know very well, however, that that sort of thing is very exhausting; and I want you, if you can, to arrange your plans so that you may get some of the rest and refreshment of mind and body which will enable you to keep up that sort of service for more years.” In the end, it is easy to surmise that Mr. Washington was likely more concerned with the work he was doing as opposed to the appreciation in the form of a vacation that was being offered. And in many ways, his tireless ethic of “work,” the second greatest 4-letter word, is why Tuskegee University celebrates him in this the centennial year (1915-2015) since his passing.
Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.

7th President, Tuskegee University
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition

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