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The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow A Century of Segregation
Jim Crow Stories
A National Struggle
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Jim Crow Stories

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Tuskegee Institute Founded (1881)
Students in class

In 1881, Booker T. Washington, then a young teacher, arrived in the town of Tuskegee, Alabama, where he had been invited by local whites to start a school for blacks. He was favorably impressed with the town but somewhat dismayed with the school itself. "Before going to Tuskegee, I had expected to find there a building and all the necessary apparatus ready for me to begin teaching. I found nothing of the kind. I did find, though, hundreds of hungry, earnest souls who wanted to secure knowledge." The buildings consisted of a shanty that was to be used as a classroom with an assembly room provided by a nearby church. The shanty roof was so leaky that a pupil had to hold an umbrella over Washington's head while he taught. To start a school
When Washington began at Tuskegee, the shanty roof was so leaky that a pupil had to hold an umbrella over Washington's head while he taught. Booker T. Washington
with only a run-down building, a small amount of land, and limited funding was challenge enough. An even greater challenge was winning the confidence of the local white community. But Washington had a genius for reassuring whites that his method of education for blacks would
"not be out of sympathy with agricultural life." On July 4th, 1881 Washington officially opened Tuskegee with what he described as 30 "anxious and earnest students," many of whom were already public school teachers. Washington was the only teacher. As word of the school spread, other teachers and students began to arrive. All were mature men and women. Some were quite elderly. His plan was to train most of his students to be teachers who would return to their rural communities and teach the people how to "put new energy and new life into farming," and also to improve the moral, intellectual, and religious life of the people. With local white support behind him, and his growing ability to secure loans and credit, Washington turned to constructing a new building that would enable him to carry out his goals. Washington began to raise funds from local people as well as from people in the North for his building. He also had plans to have the students construct the buildings, and by so doing learn the industrial skills necessary to build buildings and other necessary things. He envisioned a school that would teach students everything from sewing, cooking, and housekeeping for girls to farming, carpentry, printing, and brickmaking for boys. Washington preached what he called "the gospel of the toothbrush." One student recalled, "If Booker had what the young fellows now call a bug it was keeping clean. Next to a liar, he hated a dirty man
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Tuskegee Institute and the reasons why it began as a normal school.

or woman worse than anything else in the world." Washington's goal was to have Tuskegee train teachers to work in rural areas, teaching children moral values, personal hygiene, self-discipline, and the virtues of work. He was the foremost advocate of industrial education -- vocational training for blacks. He said: "My plan was for them to see not only the utility of labor but its beauty and dignity. They would be taught how to lift labor up from drudgery and toil and would learn to love work for its own sake. We wanted them to return to the plantation districts and show people there how to put new energy and new ideas into farming as well as the intellectual and moral and religious life of the people." The school was a success and is still in operation today as Tuskegee University.

-- Richard Wormser

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Did you Know ...


Booker T. Washington was the first African American to dine at the White House as a guest of the president.
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