Tuskegee University was founded on July 4, 1881, as the Tuskegee Normal School for Colored Teachers (later called the Tuskegee Institute). The school first held classes in a one-room building, but later relocated to a 100-acre abandoned plantation, which “became the nucleus of the present 5,000 acre site,” according to Tuskegee University.
The Tuskegee Institute was approved as a National Historic Site in 1974. It is the only university campus in the country with a National Historic Site designation by the National Park Service (NPS).
Brief history of the Tuskegee Institute
In 1880, former Confederate Col. W.F. Foster sought a position in the Alabama Senate and needed Macon County’s African-American vote to help him secure the election. Foster approached Lewis Adams, a former slave and successful tradesman, to assist him in gaining their support.
In return for the African-American vote, Adams requested that the “Alabama Legislature pass a bill to establish a Normal School for colored teachers at Tuskegee,” said the NPS. Following his election to the Senate, Foster and his colleague in the Alabama House of Representatives, Arthur Brooks, pushed the Legislature to approve the bill, which authorized an appropriation of $2,000 for the teachers’ salaries.
A board of commissioners, including Adams, was formed to organize the school. “The initial space for the school was provided by Butler Chapel AME Zion Church, not far from the present site” before it was moved to the site of a former plantation, said Tuskegee University.
Utilizing his contacts, board commissioner George W. Campbell contacted the Hampton Institute, a Virginia school for African-Americans, to request a teacher for the new Alabama institute. Booker T. Washington was named principal of the school in 1881.
Washington utilized his training from the Hampton Institute to “implement a program of industrial and vocational education to teach former slaves how ‘to live on the farm, off the farm.’ He believed that by teaching students practical jobs, and training those who worked on farms to master agricultural skills, the economic conditions for African-Americans would improve,” said the NPS.
During his tenure, “Tuskegee gained institutional independence from the state of Alabama in 1892, and rose to national prominence,” said Tuskegee University.
In 1906, Washington and Carver initiated the Moveable School, a Jesup wagon with machinery and supplies to reach out to farmers who were unable to attend classes at the school.Washington recruited a number of distinguished faculty, including George W. Carver, who joined Tuskegee in 1896, serving as head of the Agriculture Department. “Carver taught farmers and their wives to master skills in agriculture and also about nutrition, home construction, food preservation and hygiene,” said Tuskegee University.
While the first graduating class contained only 30 students, by 1915, when Washington died, there were over “1,500 students, a $2 million endowment, 40 trades, 100 fully equipped buildings and about 200 faculty,” said the NPS.
Today, there are over 3,000 students enrolled in undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs at Tuskegee University. According to the university, “Tuskegee has one of the oldest baccalaureate nursing programs in the country and is the only historically black college and university (HBCU) in the nation designated as the location for National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care.”
In addition, “Tuskegee is the top producer of African-American aerospace science engineers in the nation, a leading national producer of African-American engineering graduates in chemical, electrical and mechanical engineering, and the only HBCU with a fully accredited College of Veterinary Medicine that offers a doctoral degree, and produces over 75 percent of the African-American veterinarians in the world.” This year, U.S. News and World Report ranked Tuskegee 4thamong HBCUs.