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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

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Tuskegee University Was Founded

With the leadership of Dr. Booker T. Washington and the dream of Lewis Adams, a former enslaved person and community leader, Tuskegee University was founded on July 4, 1881. The university grew from 30 adults in one room to 3,000 students on a campus that consisted of 5,000 acres and more than 70 buildings.  

When Adams was approached by W. F. Foster, a candidate for re-election to the Alabama Senate about gaining the support of African-Americans, Adams did not know that he would go on to help establish Tuskegee University. Foster asked, in exchange for securing the black vote for him, what Adams’ would like and he told Foster that he wanted an educational institution for his people. 

Foster followed through with the agreement and with assistance from a colleague in the House of Representatives, legislation was passed for the establishment of a “Negro Normal School in Tuskegee.” The school received a $2,000 appropriation, for teachers’ salaries, and Lewis Adams, Thomas Dryer and M. B. Swanson formed the initial board of commissioners to organize the new school. 

The commission had to find resources such as the land, buildings and teachers because the legislation only authorized the creation of the school. George W. Campbell replaced Dryer as a commissioner and was able to find teachers for the school. With the help of Campbell’s nephew, he was able to connect with a teacher from Hampton University.

Booker T. Washington was approved by the commissioners and Adams was able to see his dream school come to life. Washington was the principal of the school from its start until his death in 1915. Tuskegee gained national recognition and institutional independence under his leadership. Washington was a counsel to American Presidents and was also able to secure legislation that granted Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute authority to act independently of the state of Alabama.

In the 1920s, Tuskegee shifted from vocational education to an accredited, degree-granting institution. It was renamed Tuskegee Institute in 1937. Tuskegee attained university status in 1985 under their fifth president, Dr. Benjamin F. Payton. Dr. Charlotte P. Morris assumed the role of Interim President of the University in 2010 and on July 1, 2018, Dr. Lily McNair was unanimously appointed Tuskegee University’s first woman president. 

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