The Scholastic snd Dynamic Role of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Higher Education

by Danielle Brandli

One individual who was involved in the development of education during the 19th century was Booker T. Washington (1856-1915), who founded the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in 1881 (Tuskegee University). Washington played a large role in the education of the recently liberated African American race after the cessation of the Civil War. The Tuskegee Institute became the medium for Washington’s philosophies of the education of African Americans. At Tuskegee, African Americans were provided with a practical and scholastic education that was much needed during the time period and was meant to lead to dynamic education in the future.

To understand the impact of the Tuskegee Institute on education, we must be familiar with the personal philosophies of the founder, Washington, which were the basis for the education system at Tuskegee, and the events that shaped the formation of his philosophies. To begin, we will investigate the life and education of Washington and highlight key experiences that would shape his educational ideology. The information on Washington’s childhood and education in this essay comes from his autobiography, Up From Slavery, which was published in 1901 (Washington). His autobiography is a first-hand account written by the individual shortly after the specified time period and thus, it can be classified as a primary source, the most credible type source. Up From Slavery also provides further information about the foundation of Tuskegee Institute, Washington’s accomplishments, and Washington’s personal philosophies regarding the education of African Americans.

Booker Taliaferro Washington was born into slavery on April 5th, 1856 in Franklin County, Virginia (Thornbrough 26, Washington 1). Washington’s original name, given to him by his mother, was “Booker Taliaferro” but Washington had only been called “Booker” during his life, thus he was unaware of his full name (Washington 35). When Washington first attended school he thought, “…I knew that the teacher would demand of me at least two names, and I had only one” (Washington 34). Hence, when asked by his teacher for his name, he fabricated a last name and responded that he was “Booker Washington” (Washington 35). This is how his name came to be Booker Taliaferro Washington (Washington 35).

Washington’s mother was a plantation cook named Jane and his father was an unknown white man (Thornbrough 26, Washington 4). Washington knew nothing of the history of his family beyond his mother and her two half-sisters (Washington 2). For the beginning part of his life, Washington lived and worked on a plantation in Virginia with his mother and his siblings (Washington 5). Washington received no education (Washington 6-8). During his time as a slave, Abraham Lincoln became president and the Civil War took place (Washington 8). Being enslaved for part of his life did not cause Washington to reject slavery; however seeing the contrast between whites and African American slaves drove Washington to seek an improved education for himself and later on, for other African Americans as well (Washington 12, 27).

In 1865, the Civil War ended with the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Washington and his family were emancipated (Thornbrough 26). Once gaining their freedom, Washington’s family moved to Malden, West Virginia and Washington began working in salt-furnaces (Thornbrough 26). Washington viciously sought an education and unsuccessfully tried to teach himself to read (Washington 31). Eventually, he found a way to attend night-classes and then day-classes at the recently founded African American school in town (Washington 31). Washington was continually late for day-school because of the walk from work at the salt-furnace to the school house so he devised a plan to reach school on time (Washington 31-32). In small increments each day, he tediously moved the clock in the salt-furnace forward a half an hour so he could leave work earlier (Washington 32). Eventually the “furnace ‘boss’ discovered that something was wrong, and locked the clock in a case” (Washington 32). Washington made every effort he could to ensure that he received the best education he possibly could, which will also be seen when Washington applies to the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute.

Washington began working in a coal mine after working at the salt-furnace. While working in the mine, Washington heard of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute from other African American workers and set his mind to attending (Washington 42). Washington did not like working in the mine due to being dirty, being in darkness, and getting lost (Washington 38). Washington switched occupations in 1871 and became a houseboy for the wife of General Lewis Ruffner, the owner of the salt-furnace Washington had previously worked in (Thornbrough 26, Washington 43). As a houseboy, Washington was taught the value of cleanliness which was “…as valuable to [him] as any education [he had] gotten since” (Washington 44). The lessons Washington learned from Mrs. Ruffner, as well as her encouragement of Washington’s efforts to receive an education, would help Washington become a student at the Hampton Institute (Washington 45).

In 1872 after working for Mrs. Ruffner, Washington made the five-hundred mile trip from Malden to Hampton in hopes to attend the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute founded by General Samuel C. Armstrong (1839-1893) in 1868 (Thornbrough 4, Washington 47). Washington was accepted into Hampton by the assistant principal after cleaning a room so thoroughly that the assistant principal could not find a single dust particle (Washington 52-53). Washington graduated from Hampton with honors in 1875 and returned to Malden (Thornbrough 26). Washington’s struggle for and attainment of a higher education was what enabled him to progress education for other African Americans.

Once graduated from Hampton, Washington returned to Malden to teach at a colored school until 1878 (Thornbrough 26). After teaching in Malden for two years, Washington moved to Washington D.C. to attend Wayland Seminary for eight months (Thornbrough 26, Washington 87). At Wayland, Washington deduced that the school’s teachings in Greek and Latin left students with less knowledge about living and functioning in society back at their homes (Washington 88). His time spent at Wayland caused Washington to believe that a practical education was more important than studying Greek philosophy or Latin writings.

In the summer of 1879, General Armstrong requested Washington to revisit the Hampton Institute to become a teacher (Washington 106). Washington returned to Hampton and oversaw the Indian boys and the night school (Thornbrough 26, Washington 106). While Washington was working at Hampton, Armstrong informed him of an opportunity to become the principal of a new school for African Americans in Alabama (Washington 107). Washington pursued the opening and moved to Tuskegee, Alabama to found the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute on July 4th, 1881 (Washington 119). Washington’s connection to General Armstrong during his attendance at Hampton was the basis for Washington’s occupation as an institutional teacher and for Washington becoming the founder and principal of the Tuskegee Institute. Once Washington was in his position as the head-master of Tuskegee, he began his mission to provide a higher education for African Americans.

Prior to the examination of the education system at the Tuskegee Institute, the reader must understand two terms used in this essay, regarding higher education, and their origination. Professor Jackson classifies education into two categories: scholastic and dynamic (Jackson). These terms are significant in the analysis of the role of Tuskegee Institute in higher education. Education can be classified as dynamic when a four step process occurs. This process is “the acquisition of new knowledge, the manipulation of that knowledge to discover new truths, the distribution of those new truths to others, and the archiving of those truths in a manner that future thinkers can easily access them” (Jackson). Dissimilar to the dynamic education systems basis on new truths, scholastic education is a system based on past truths with no recognition of the need to obtain new knowledge (Jackson). These definitions of scholasticism and dynamic education will be referred to throughout the remaining part of this essay.

When the Tuskegee Institute first opened, Washington observed that most educated African Americans during the time period had attained their education through reading books. These educated people “…could locate…the capital of China on an artificial globe…” but not find “…the proper place for the knives and forks on an actual dinner table…” (Washington 123). Washington saw the requirement for a more practical education so that African Americans could survive in society. This idea of applicable learning stemmed from Washington’s time spent at Wayland Seminary. Along with agricultural studies, Washington taught students proper hygiene and manners, which he learned from Mrs. Ruffner (Washington 126-127). Washington believed that cleanliness was an essential quality that would help the students of Tuskegee thrive in society because of his own successful admittance to the Hampton Institute based on his cleaning skills. On top of their other studies, students at Tuskegee were also trained to be teachers (Washington 126-127). After graduating from Tuskegee, students usually returned to their homes and taught the people of their hometown the agriculture and practical skills that they learned while attending Tuskegee. This spread of practical education allowed for African Americans who could not afford to pay for a college education or did not have the time to attend college to attain agricultural knowledge to sustain themselves.

The education of African American students at the Tuskegee Institute was based on a practical system that taught hygiene, agriculture, and teaching skills. These subjects were based on previous findings and no new knowledge was sought, thus the educational system at Tuskegee was very scholastic. Washington implemented this practical and scholastic education method at Tuskegee because newly emancipated African Americans did not encompass the essential skills needed to function in society. African Americans who were prior slaves needed to learn scholastically before they could attempt to learn dynamically.

Washington engaged in public speaking and voiced his views on the subject of education for African Americans. In 1895, Washington spoke at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta (Thornbrough 26). In his speech at the Cotton States and International Exposition, Washington verbalized his philosophy of gradualism: African Americans must learn industrial skills to support their families before gradually proceeding to political positions or other learning. Washington declared that “it is at the bottom of life we [the colored race] must begin, not at the top,” thus African Americans should “cast down your bucket where you are” and begin laboring (Washington 220). This mass labor force would additionally benefit whites by solving the issue of the abundance of “undeveloped material resources of the South…” (Thornbrough 42). Washington also stressed that equal societal and political status should not simply be handed to African Americans but rather obtained through hard-work and struggle (Washington 223). This speech won Washington support from both races and soon after, Washington became a national figure and the leader of the African American race (Thornbrough 7).

W. E. Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963) was the first African American man to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard and became the main critic of Washington (Thornbrough 9). In 1903, Du Bois published “Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others” in Souls of Black Folks which publicly criticized Washington’s philosophy of gradualism (Thornbrough 26). Du Bois believed that gradualism was based on Washington’s personal thought that the African American race was inferior and must submit to the white race (Thornbrough 124). He judged Washington’s call for industrial education and labor as the cause of 3 things: “the disfranchisement of the Negro, the legal creation of a distinct status of civil inferiority for the Negro, [and] the steady withdrawal of aid from institutions for the higher training of the Negro” (Thornbrough 124-125). It seemed to Du Bois that Washington’s philosophies assisted in the creation of segregation laws, thus hindering the success of African Americans in society (Thornbrough 9). Du Bois’ ideology behind higher education was that a “Talented Tenth” would lead African Americans to a higher education and that white leadership would not allow the African American race to reach its full potential (Du Bois 236). While, Washington and Du Bois did not directly oppose each other, their philosophies conflicted with one another and the two men competed to gain followers. Washington had the support of powerful white men while Du Bois gained more support from African Americans (Thornbrough 9).

In 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, was founded with Du Bois as the Director of Publications and Research (Thornbrough 9). The NAACP fought for African Americans “politically free from disfranchisement, legally free from caste and socially free from insult” (Du Bois 256). Du Bois and the NCAAP pushed for African Americans to be treated as an equal race by whites, which juxtaposed with Washington’s gradualism. Washington’s power and perception as the leader of the African American race began to wane as the NAACP gained power (Thornbrough 10).

Washington’s critics believed that Washington’s philosophy of gradualism and his teaching methods caused African Americans to be treated inferiorly. However, the scholastic learning and labor that Washington emphasized was not created to cause African Americans to be permanently inferior. The African American race required scholastic learning before moving to dynamic learning, learning that was equal to the white race. Once the educational gap was decreased and African Americans could sufficiently sustain themselves, Washington believed that education for African American could be modified to a more dynamic system. Unfortunately, this shift towards dynamic education did not occur during Washington’s life time. However, one student of Tuskegee, George Washington Carver, proved that Washington did not intend for African Americans to only receive a substandard education.

In 1896, during Tuskegee’s early years, an African American man named George Washington Carver (1860-1943) started teaching agricultural techniques at Tuskegee (Brodie 81). Carver worked to advance the agricultural system of the South and to teach African Americans top agricultural practices (Brodie 81). Carver introduced the peanut crop to the agricultural department of Tuskegee and made more than three-hundred products from peanuts through his study of the peanut (Woodroof 2). The peanut industry became massive during World War II and transformed into a two-hundred million dollar industry by 1938 (Brodie 82). Carver’s research at Tuskegee was not the usual scholastic education but his research still had a practical use. The dynamic process of higher education was prominent in Carver’s research; thus Tuskegee showed traces of dynamic learning throughout its years of strict practical education. This hint of dynamic research proves that Washington did not oppose dynamic learning as long as the research and new knowledge was practically applicable to society. Carver’s peanut crop became a large and successful agricultural industry that students could learn about and apply to their lives to support themselves in society. The education of the students of Tuskegee was very scholastic, yet dynamic learning was supported when it practically aided the closing of the educational gap between the white and African American races. Washington did not intend for African Americans to only receive a scholastic education, he simply believed that African Americans needed a practical and scholastic education before proceeding to dynamic learning.

During his life, Washington married Fannie N. Smith, another graduate of Hampton, in 1882 (Washington 146-147). Fannie birthed a daughter named Portia before dying in 1884 (Thornbrough 6). One year later Washington remarried to Olivia Davidson who was an assistant principal at Tuskegee at the time (Thornbrough 6). Olivia died four years later in 1889 after having two children, Booker Taliaferro and Ernest Davidson (Thornbrough 6). Washington remarried a third time to Margaret Murray while she was the principal of Tuskegee in 1893 (Thornbrough 6). Margaret was involved in multiple organizations related to the bettering of education for African Americans and African American women (Washington 268). All of his wives were devoted to Washington and his goal of developing Tuskegee into a distinguished school. Washington was so engaged in Tuskegee that he was attracted to women who were intertwined with the school as well. Washington continually worked towards improving education for the African American race and remained married to Tuskegee and his third wife Margaret until his death. On November 14, 1915, Washington died due to physical illness caused by the burden of his nonstop work (Mathews 300).

Washington taught the students of Tuskegee a practical education that allowed them to function appropriately in society, to improve agriculture, and to teach essential skills to the uneducated. Eventually, the Tuskegee Institute moved away from its original scholastic educational system that was based entirely on agriculture and Tuskegee grew to include a veterinary hospital and a flight training institute (Tuskegee University). In 1985, the Tuskegee Institute became defined as a university after the implication of dynamic research in biosciences and engineering (Tuskegee University). Today, Tuskegee University’s mission includes a research element that dynamically “furthers the bodies of knowledge already discovered…for the continued growth of individuals and society” and practically applies this knowledge “…to help resolve problems of modern society” (Tuskegee University).

The original purposes of Central Washington University and the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute are comparable to the principles that Washington based Tuskegee University on. Similarly to the establishment of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, Central Washington University was founded by Benjamin Franklin Barge in 1891 as the Washington State Normal School which taught students to be educators (Central Washington University). The Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute was also established, in 1868, to teach African Americans trade and industrial skills (Hampton University). Tuskegee, Hampton, and the Washington State Normal School were created to teach students a specific vocation that they could use practically to function in and improve their communities, not to teach students how to acquire and expand new knowledge. The students of these three schools received their educations based on scholastic educational systems. However, this scholasticism was not permanently maintained and both Hampton and the Washington State Normal School eventually progressed to center student learning around a dynamic educational system. Hampton Institute became Hampton University in 1984 after approximately thirty years of constant dynamic growth (Hampton University). At Hampton University today, “Research and public service are integral parts of Hampton’s mission. In order to enhance scholarship and discovery, the faculty is engaged in writing, research, and grantsmanship” (Hampton University). In 1961, Central became Central Washington State College, a college for more than just a practical education in teaching (Central Washington University). Over time, Central transitioned into a dynamic place of learning and today Central has over 150 degrees (Central Washington University). Now, the mission of the Central Washington University is to “prepare students for responsible citizenship, responsible stewardship of the earth, and enlightened and productive lives” as well as “to encourage lifelong learning, and to enhance the opportunities of its students” (Central Washington University).

An example of a scholastic course at Central Washington University is The University. As previously stated, Central students in The University simply research factors in the formation of higher education and reiterate the information discovered. This research and repetition of old knowledge is this first step in learning and is comparable to the scholastic educational system implemented by Booker T. Washington at the Tuskegee Institute. However, The University is only a two-hundred level course designed for students with a sophomore credit standing who are transitioning from complete scholastic learning to more dynamic upper-level thinking. If there was an additional section following the same curriculum of The University, then that section would be a dynamically based course in which students would use the knowledge learned in the University and expand it to find new knowledge.

The Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute was founded to educate the masses of African Americans who had received no prior education during their time spent in slavery. The educational method at Tuskegee corresponded with Booker T. Washington’s personal ideologies, which arose from Washington’s education and his first-hand experience with slavery. Washington recognized that there was a vast education gap between the white and African American races and that the African American race desperately needed a practical education in order to close this gap. Thus, Washington created an educational method for the students of Tuskegee Institute, which taught them the practical trade of agriculture that students would apply to their newly emancipated lives to be successful in American society. This system was created to teach the already known practices of agriculture and would not explore new knowledge; consequently the early students of Tuskegee were educated scholastically. Washington was not opposed to dynamic learning; he simply thought that a practical and scholastic education was more valuable for the African American race at the time. Washington believed that a practical education would lead to the significant shrinkage of the educational gap and once this occurred, African Americans could return to learning and developing new knowledge that did not necessarily have any specific purpose in society. In time, the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute shifted to a dynamic educational system and became Tuskegee University. Similarly, Hampton University and Central Washington University changed from their original scholastic foundation to universities of dynamic learning.


Brodie, James M. Created Equal: The Lives and Ideas of Black American Innovators. New York: W. Morrow, 1993. Print.

Du, Bois W. E. B. The Autobiography of W. E. B. Dubois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century. New York: International Publishers, 1968. Print.

Jackson, S. (2012). Dynamic Educational Systems. Central Washington University. Lecture series.

Mathews, Basil. Booker T. Washington, Educator and Interracial Interpreter. Cambridge:Harvard Univ. Press, 1948. Print.

Thornbrough, Emma L. Booker T. Washington. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall, 1969. Print.

Washington, Booker T. Up from Slavery: An Autobiography. Williamstown, Mass: CornerHouse Publishers, 1978. Print.

Woodroof, Jasper G. Peanuts: Production, Processing, Products. Westport, Conn: AviPub. Co, 1973. Print.

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