Tuskegee University

views updated May 14 2018

Tuskegee University

Tuskegee University was founded in 1881 as the Normal School for colored teachers at Tuskegee in Alabama's Macon County, as the result of a political deal made between local white politicians and Lewis Adams, a leading black citizen. In exchange for black votes, Arthur Brooks and Col. Wilbur Foster, candidates for the Alabama legislature, promised to seek state appropriation for a black normal school in Tuskegee. Adams successfully rallied black support, and on February 10, 1881, House Bill No. 165 was passed, appropriating $2,000 annually for a black state and normal school in Tuskegee. The act prohibited the charge of tuition and mandated a minimum of twentyfive students to open.

Booker T. Washington was recommended to organize the school by his mentor, Gen. Samuel Chapman Armstrong, the founder of Virginia's Hampton Institute, although Tuskegee's trustees had specifically requested a white man. Washington had been Armstrong's best student at Hampton, where he fully accepted Armstrong's philosophy that the first step for blacks was economic and moral uplift.

When Booker T. Washington arrived at Tuskegee on June 24, 1881, there was no actual school to open, just an appropriation and authorization by the Alabama state legislature. Before selecting a location, Washington met with local white supporters, toured the area to recruit students, and investigated existing living and educational conditions for Tuskegee's black population. Washington selected a shack next to Butler Chapel, the African Methodist Episcopal Church on Zion Hill, where Lewis Adams was superintendent, as the site for the school. The school officially opened on July 4, 1881, as a secondary normal school with thirty students.

By July 14, 1881, Tuskegee Normal School had more than forty students ranging in age from sixteen to forty, most of whom were already public school teachers in Macon County. As enrollment increased, Washington recruited other Hampton and Fisk graduates to teach, including Olivia A. Davidson (who served as lady principal from 1881 until her death in 1889 and who married Washington in 1886). He decided that a larger facility would soon be needed. He wrote to J. F. B. Marshall, the treasurer of Hampton Institute, and requested a loan of $200 to purchase a new farm site. Although the school could not make such loans, Marshall personally loaned Washington the money, enabling him to make a down payment on the Bowen estate.

The Bowen estate, owned by William B. Bowen, was located one mile south of town. The main house had been burned down during the Civil War, leaving two cabins, a stable, and a chicken house. In keeping with his philosophy of self-knowledge, self-help, and self-control, Washington required students to clean and rebuild the Bowen estate while attending classes. By requiring such manual labor of his students, Washington was attempting to demonstrate that others were willing to help themprovided that they help themselves.

The money acquired to complete the payments on the Bowen estate came from many sources, including northern philanthropy and student fund-raisers, such as benefit suppers and student "literary entertainments," organized by Olivia Davidson. Payments on the Bowen estate were completed in April 1882.

Washington's philosophy of industrial education made Tuskegee Normal School a controversial model of black progress. Washington supported the use of manual labor as a moral training device, and he believed that manual labor would build students' character and improve their minds. In implementing a program of mandatory labor and industrial education, Washington had four basic objectives: to teach the dignity of labor, to teach the trades, to fulfill the demand for trained industrial leaders, and to offer students a way to pay expenses while attending the school (although no student, regardless of his or her economic standing, was exempt from this labor requirement). Washington also considered industrial education to be valuable because it trained students in specific skills that would prepare them for jobs. However, Tuskegee's graduates primarily became members of the teaching profession. Instructors also offered academic and normal courses in botany, literature, rhetoric, astronomy, and geography in addition to the much publicized industrial courses.

Tuskegee expanded steadily over the years with money acquired from the northern speaking tours of Olivia Davidson and Booker T. Washington. Davidson began touring New England in spring 1882, soliciting support door to door on weekdays and speaking in churches and Sunday schools during the evenings and on weekends. Washington began his own fund-raising tour on May 1, 1882, in Farmington, Connecticut. He traveled through the North with letters of introduction from such prominent southern officials as Henry Clay Armstrong, the state superintendent, and Gov. Rufus W. Cobb. By the end of May, they had collected more than $5,000 for the expansion of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute.

Porter Hall was the first new building erected, named in honor of a generous Brooklyn businessman, Alfred Haynes Porter. The three-story building housed recitation rooms on the first floor, a chapel and library on the second floor, and the girls' dormitory on the third floor. Up to this time the boys stayed with neighboring black families. Shortly after Porter Hall was completed, Washington arranged to rent several nearby cottages to house the boys, until their three-story dormitory, Armstrong Hall, was completed in 1888.

State funding for Tuskegee was increased in 1883 when the Alabama state legislature approved an additional $1,000 appropriation. The school also began receiving a $500 annual appropriation from the Peabody Fund in 1883 and $1,000 annual awards from the Slater Fund in 1884. Philanthropic funding to Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute signified the extent of northern support for black industrial education.

In addition to fund-raisers, grants, and philanthropic support, money was raised for Tuskegee through brick making, which Washington began at the school in 1883, though its long-term contribution to Tuskegee's financial health was more symbolic than practical.

In 1892 the Alabama legislature adopted an act to incorporate Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, legally changing the school's name. After 1895 new buildings replaced those built from northern philanthropy. With names like Rockefeller, Huntington, and Carnegie, these buildings indicated support from the northern, chiefly New Yorkbased business community. Such support increased Tuskegee's property value to more than $300,000 by 1901 and facilitated the growth of the faculty and student body.

On April 1, 1896, Booker T. Washington wrote to George Washington Carver, an agricultural chemist who had just completed his M.A. at Iowa State College of Agricultural and Mechanical Arts, and offered him a position as the head of the agriculture department at a salary of $1,500. Carver arrived shortly thereafter and established the Agriculture Experiment Station, where research was conducted in crop diversification. Carver taught Tuskegee's students, emphasizing the need for improved agricultural practices and self-reliance, and also made a great effort to educate Tuskegee's black residents. He garnered national and international fame in the 1920s for his experiments with sweet potatoes, cowpeas, and peanuts.

Both Carver and Washington left a powerful legacy of manual and agricultural training at Tuskegee. Their educational philosophies had a lasting impact upon Tuskegee's curriculum and continued to influence the school's direction. After Washington's death in 1915, it had become apparent to many that Tuskegee's industrial training was increasingly obsolete in the face of rapid technological transformation in American business. The school thus entered a new era, shifting its emphasis from industrial to vocational education.

In 1915 Robert R. Moton became the second principal of Tuskegee, and although he practiced Washington's accommodationist style, he moved the school forward in directions that Washington had refused to move. Despite white opposition, Moton was instrumental in bringing a veterans' hospital to Tuskegee in 1923. He ensured that the institution, like Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, was staffed entirely by blacks. Under Moton's direction, a college curriculum was developed in 1927. Two years later, Tuskegee's students demanded a shift away from "Washington's education." Moton heeded their voices and coordinated a new emphasis on science and technology.

Robert R. Moton was succeeded by Frederick D. Patterson in 1935. Patterson's administration also brought fundamental changes to the school, reflected in the name change to Tuskegee Institute in 1937. During World War II Patterson pursued the placement of a program for the segregated training of black pilots in Tuskegee, an action that was criticized by the NAACP. From 1939 to 1943 the air force trained more than nine hundred black pilots at Tuskegee, establishing the Tuskegee Army Airfield in 1941. Patterson also obtained significant state funding for the establishment of a graduate program (1943), a school of veterinary medicine (1945), and a school of nursing (1953).

In its entire history, Tuskegee has had only five presidents. Subsequent presidents have included Luther H. Foster (19531981) and Benjamin F. Payton (1981). Foster modernized and expanded Washington's emphasis on the trade industry and established the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Business. He led Tuskegee through the civil rights movement, when in 1968, Tuskegee students briefly held members of the board of trustees hostage in an attempt to force changes in campus policies. When Benjamin E. Payton assumed control of the school in its centennial anniversary, Tuskegee boasted five thousand acres, 150 buildings, and an endowment of more than $22 million. Payton presided over the school's name change to Tuskegee University in 1985, and in 1989 he also undertook a major fund-raising effort for the school, the largest ever attempted by a black college.

Although the school's curriculum and focus shifted over the years, the school continued to emphasize business, scientific, and technical instruction, a legacy of both Washington and Carver. In 1994 Tuskegee University had 3,598 students; the number had dropped to about 3,000 in 2004, but that year's record-setting entering class included over a thousand students. It offered fifty programs of study, twenty-one master's degrees, and a doctor of veterinary medicine degreethe only historically black college to grant such a degree. Distinguished alumni include novelist Ralph Ellison, actor Keenan Ivory Wayans, and Arthur W. Mitchell, the first black Democratic congressman.

See also Carver, George Washington; Education in the United States; Fisk University; Howard University; Lincoln University; Moton, Robert Russa; Washington, Booker T.


Anderson, James. The Education of Blacks in the South, 18651935. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988.

Bowman, J. Wilson. America's Black Colleges: The Comprehensive Guide to Historically and Predominantly Black 4 Year Colleges and Universities. Pasadena, Calif.: J. Wilson Bowman, 1992.

Harlan, Louis R. Booker T. Washington: The Wizard of Tuskegee, 19011915. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

Homan, Lynn M., and Thomas Reilly. Black Knights: The Story of the Tuskegee Airmen. Gretna, La.: Pelican, 2001.

Manber, David. Wizard of Tuskegee: The Life of George Washington Carver. New York: Crowell-Collier, 1967.

Marable, Manning. "Tuskegee Institute in the 1920s." Negro History Bulletin 40 (NovemberDecember 1977): 6468.

Norrell, Robert J. Reaping the Whirlwind: The Civil Rights Movement in Tuskegee, 2d ed. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

lisa marie moore (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005

Tuskegee University

views updated May 29 2018


TUSKEGEE UNIVERSITY. In 1880 Lewis Adams, a mechanic and former slave, and George W. Campbell, a banker and former slave owner, both of Tuskegee, Alabama, saw the need for the education of black youth in Macon County and secured a charter, which appropriated $2,000 annually for teachers' salaries, from the state legislature. Booker T. Washington was chosen to head the school, and the coeducational Normal School for Colored Teachers was established by an act of the Alabama general assembly on 12 February 1881. Washington became the first principal and opened the school on 4 July. Spectacular growth and development took place under Washington, who was President from 1881 to 1915, and continued under his successors: Robert Russa Moton (1915–1935), Frederick D. Patterson (1935–1953), Luther H. Foster (1953–1981), and Benjamin F. Payton (1981–). In 1881 the school was renamed Tuskegee State Normal School; subsequent names include Tuskegee Normal School (1887–1891), Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (1891–1937), and Tuskegee Institute (1937–1985). In 1985 the institution became known as Tuskegee University.

Tuskegee University is a small university, offering undergraduate degrees in six major areas—arts and sciences, applied sciences, education, engineering, nursing, and veterinary medicine—and degrees at the master's level in each area except nursing. The program is fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and many of the professional areas are approved by national agencies. The school's enrollment, predominantly undergraduate, was 3,000 in 2001, with students representing most U.S. states and many foreign countries. Twenty-five degree-granting courses make up the curricula of six areas. The campus has over 150 buildings on more than 5,000 acres of land.

Tuskegee University has achieved or maintains numerous distinctions. Distinguished doctoral programs are offered in material science, engineering, and veterinary medicine. More than 75 percent of the world's African American veterinarians graduate from Tuskegee. The university is the number-one producer of African American aerospace science engineers and is also an important producer of such engineers in chemical, electrical, and mechanical specializations. The first nursing baccalaureate program in Alabama and one of the earliest in the United States was developed at Tuskegee University. The university is also the only college or university campus in the nation to ever be designated a National Historic Site by the U.S. Congress. Famous alumni or faculty include Daniel "Chappie" James, the first African American four-star General; and Ralph Ellison, the first African American writer to win the National Book Award.


Dozier, Richard K. "From Humble Beginnings to National Shrine: Tuskegee Institute." Historic Preservation 33, no. 1 (1981): 40–45.

Jackson, McArthur. A Historical Study of the Founding and Development of Tuskegee Institute (Alabama). Ed. D. diss., University of North Carolina Greensboro, 1983.

Washington, Booker T. Up From Slavery. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Daniel T.Williams

A. J.Wright

See alsoAfrican Americans ; Education, African American ; Education, Higher: African American Colleges .