CNN Black History Month

Tuskegee University reflects
faith in self-reliance

From Correspondent Kalin Thomas-Samuel

TUSKEGEE, Alabama (CNN) -- Tuskegee University is the only historically black college that was founded, owned and run by blacks. It's also a major tourist stop -- more than 700,000 visitors visited the campus last year.

The university, about 50 miles east of Montgomery, was founded in 1881 by Booker T. Washington, a former slave who became a college graduate and African-American leader.

"It was Booker T. Washington who found a strategy, a formula for persuading Americans to invest in the higher education of blacks," said Benjamin Payton, president of Tuskegee. "He did it at a time when the views of blacks were very stereotyped and very negative."

The school's goal when it began was to teach newly freed blacks trades and skills so they could get jobs and support their communities.

One of Washington's mottoes stressed self-reliance, and the school is an outward expression of Washington's belief. The campus was self-contained; students constructed the buildings, grew the food, and made their own clothes.

At the George Washington Carver Museum, visitors can see photos of the early days of Tuskegee. Also, there is a display of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first black squadron to fly in the U.S. Air Force. The museum was named for Carver, Tuskegee's science and agriculture professor, who is known as the father of the peanut.

In those days, many black farmers would come to Tuskegee one day a year to learn from Carver.

"Not only did he want to give people the skills to grow enough food to support themselves, but he also wanted to give them an opportunity to make their living environment more pleasant and inhabitable," said Tuskegee's K.G. Jones.

Many blacks graduated from Tuskegee to become leaders. The university has produced more African-American generals than any other college.



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