McKinley visits Tuskegee

March 20th, 2009

This picture shows a crowd of students, and faculty awaiting the arrival of President William McKinley, Governor Johnston of Alabama, Colonel Foster and Booker T. Washington of the Tuskegee Institute. The picture was taken when the President visited the school on December 16, 1898 during a tour of the south after previously visiting Atlanta, Georgia. The photo was included within the first autobiographical volume of the Booker T. Washington Papers.

The anticipation of the President’s visit illustrated the philosophy behind the founding of the Tuskegee Institute. The speech, as recorded by the New York Times, McKinley then delivered illustrated the enduring legacy of the Institute’s history. The course of education offered at the institute was designed to assist former slaves and their children with their integration into freedom as self reliant contributors to industry and society. McKinley noted the “surprising” progress the Institute had made in sowing the “seeds of good citizenship”. By equipping the young students with “Intelligence and industry” they could expect to avoid “the police court or before the Grand Jury or in the work house or the chain gang.” His appraisal of the Tuskegee Institute defines the terms on which it persevered, as a “unique educational experiment” that “exalted the race for which it was established.”

As it was pioneered by Booker T. Washington the Tuskegee Institute exemplified efforts to make black education a means of stimulating black participation in industry. The political brokering that brought Tuskegee into existence was an exercise in education designed to ensure self reliance for ex slaves across the south. Still this movement was viewed as a experiment as formal education had been completely denied to slaves prior to the civil war and even throughout Reconstruction. McKinley’s decision to visit the campus in 1898 was an earmark of their success. Industrial productivity meant jobs for the black workers who were trained at Tuskegee, and profitable employees for the entrepreneurs who employed them. Before the President spoke the Times article mentions the parade of floats representing each of the different departments at the school “by way of contrast, one representing the old way of doing things, the other the new way.”

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