Location: Tuskegee, Alabama
Webpage: National Park Service
General Description: Tuskegee Institute, which is now Tuskegee University, was started by Booker T. Washington in 1881 as “Tuskegee Normal School for Colored Teachers.” He built the School into a center for African-American education, bringing the best and brightest teachers and researchers. This included George Washington Carver, who’s research in southern agriculture was world renowned. Most notable was his research into the cultivation of peanuts as an alternative crop for southern farms and plantations. The early years of Tuskegee were focused on the education of teachers who were encouraged to return to the plantations in the south to provide education to African-Americans, mostly former slaves following the Civil War, and training in agricultural methods to their communities. Many of the students earned all or part of their education costs through the construction, agriculture and domestic service to the Institute. Consequently, nearly all of the buildings were constructed, furnished, and maintained by the students. Even down to the making of bricks and furniture. Currently, Tuskegee University is a privately owned Historically Black Institution that offers 35 Bachelor degrees and 14 graduate degrees covering a wide range of liberal arts, science, architecture, and engineering degrees. The Historic Site includes all of the campus which includes many historical buildings that are open to the public. Highlights include the George Washington Carver Museum and “The Oaks”, home of Booker T. Washington. Especially when classes are in sessions, Tuskegee University is a vibrant example of higher education for minority students that blends the historic past of the Normal School.
1) The George Washington Carver Museum was closed for renovations when we visited, so a return trip is in our future.
2) The home of Booker T. Washington was inspiring and the personal tour from the National Park guide was very informative. We got a real sense of what life was like on campus in the late 1800s. Some interesting items included the staircase with the very short handrails to accommodate the stature of Mrs. Washington. The style of the additions made to the home over time were also fascinating. In particular, the use of small wall murals in each of the main rooms set the theme for the room and were beautifully done.
3) I was very impressed to learn about the extent that the Normal School was self sufficient. They made their own bricks for construction and their own furniture for every need on campus. They grew their own crops and livestock and the students provided all the domestic services to clean, maintain, and serve the needs of the professors and visitors. This was considered part of the education of the students and many of them were able to pay for their education through this work. A very impressive approach to educating teachers.
4) The campus is a mix of very old historic buildings and modern classrooms and laboratories. The students were on break when we visited the campus, so the walk around campus was quiet and relaxed. It was a relaxing couple of hours spent getting a feeling for life on campus.