This Day in History: Booker T. Washington Founds Tuskegee University in 1881, Paving the Way for Future Black Leaders

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An 1894 photo of Booker T. Washington. (Library of Congress via AP)
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On July 4, 1881, educator and activist Booker T. Washington established the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, now known as Tuskegee University.

Washington took on the role of the institution’s first principal, overseeing the inaugural class held in a modest one-room church. It wasn’t until a year later that the school’s first official building was constructed.

Robert C. Ogden, William Howard Taft, Booker T. Washington and Andrew Carnegie, left to right, stand on the steps of a building in April 1906 during the 25h anniversary celebration of what is now Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Ala. Taft would later become president. The event was held at the same time a Southern heritage group, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, was raising money to erect a Confederate monument that was dedicated in 1909 and still stands at the center of the mostly black city. (Frances Benjamin Johnston/Library of Congress via AP)

Determined to build a lasting legacy, Washington sought out the most qualified Black educators to join the faculty, among them the renowned scientist George Washington Carver, who joined the school in 1896.

While only 30 men and women made up the school’s inaugural class, Tuskegee University’s influence and legacy has since flourished. Today, the university is the largest producer of African Americans with degrees in math, science, and engineering in Alabama, according to the school’s website.


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