"The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera house." -- Booker T. Washington, 1895
Originally called the Normal School for Negroes, the Tuskegee Institute (named for the town of Tuskegee, Alabama) was one of the first colleges for African Americans in the South. Booker T. Washington was its first principal. (He was 26 years old!) In the post-reconstruction South, in an environment of growing racial violence and shrinking civil rights, Washington attempted to work within the system to provide education and better job opportunities to Black Americans.
Although the state of Alabama had provided $2,000 for teachers' salaries, the institute started with no land, buildings, or equipment. When the first 30 students arrived on July 4, 1881, classes were held in a dilapidated church and shanty. In 1882, the school moved to 100 acres of abandoned farmland, purchased with a $200 personal loan from the treasurer of Hampton Institute (another Black college). Today, the Tuskegee main campus has grown to include 161 buildings on 268 acres and an academic community of nearly 5,000 students, faculty, and staff.
Washington had three stated objectives for his school:
- To produce teachers. Specifically he wanted to produce teachers who would "return to the plantation districts and show the people there how to put new energy and new ideas into farming as well as into the intellectual and moral and religious life of the people."
- To develop craft and occupational skills which would prepare students for jobs in the trades and agriculture. The ways in which he did this were ingenious. Students learned architechture, surveying, bricklaying and carpentry and built buildings for the school. Students managed a school farm, which fed the student population. And all the students were workstudy, i.e. their work on school projects paid part of their tuition.
- Tuskegee should be a "civilizing agent". Washington insisted on high moral character and absolute cleanliness for both student and faculty.
In later years, Washington's methods received criticism from more radical Black leaders, who felt that his emphasis on vocational education
kept Blacks in a subordinate
role. W.E.B. Du Bois
especially advocated an emphasis on academic higher education
. Tuskegee boasts many famous alumnii and faculty, including George Washington Carver