Apart from celebrating the 248th birthday of our nation’s founding, July 4 also marked the birthday of Alabama’s Tuskegee University.

Founded in 1881 by former slave, tradesman and community leader Lewis Adams and former slave owner George Campbell, with assistance from State Sen. W.F. Foster, Tuskegee holds the distinction of being one of a few universities that is also a national historical monument.

There is a power and a richness not only in Tuskegee’s beginnings, but in the leaders and cultural icons forged by the university who went on to help forge the United States of America. These leaders include the first Black four-star general, Daniel “Chappie” James Jr.; composer and pianist Zenobia Powell Perry; business majors William King, Thomas McClary and Lionel Richie, otherwise known as “The Commodores”; and Olympian Alice Coachman.

The National Park Service site discusses the unique founding of Tuskegee University:

Adams would encourage African American voters in Mason County to support Foster’s re-election. In return, the State senator would influence the Alabama legislature to push a bill to institute in Tuskegee, a ‘Normal School for Colored Teachers.’ When the former slave secured the senator’s seat the following year, Foster delivered on his promise, and with the help of member of the House of Representatives, Arthur L. Brooks, the legislature authorized the establishment of a teaching school for African Americans in Alabama.

But the guiding vision, which anchors the educational institution to this day, is the work of former slave and renowned educator Booker T. Washington, Tuskegee’s first principal who directed the education of students until his death in 1915. For 34 years, Washington poured into the lives of young men and women, not only to improve their lives and the fortunes of Black Americans, but to meet the needs of the nation that Washington believed in, despite having been formerly enslaved by it. In his autobiography, “Up From Slavery,” Washington said:

I have long since ceased to cherish any spirit of bitterness against the Southern white people on account of the enslavement of my race. No one section of our country was wholly responsible for its introduction, and, besides, it was recognized and protected for years by the General Government.

Despite condemning the acknowledged evils of slavery, Washington understood that “Providence so often uses men and institutions to accomplish a purpose.”

When persons ask me in these days how, in the midst of what sometimes seem hopelessly discouraging conditions, I can have such faith in the future of my race in this country, I remind them of the wilderness through which and out of which, a good Providence has already led us.

Focusing on unveiling ignorance and equipping the future undergirds all of Tuskegee’s tenets. One student noted that industry, service and knowledge are the three legs supporting the educational experience at Tuskegee. Washington’s holistic approach was that advancement for Blacks was more than just protests. “[P]olitical agitation alone would not save [Blacks],” Washington said. “[T]o back the ballot, he must have property, industry, skill, economy, intelligence, and character, and that no race without these elements could permanently succeed.”

This shines a glaring light on the many universities, particularly Ivy League institutions, that are far removed from their founding purpose. The hatred, unrest and entitlement in the pro-Palestine protests on certain college campuses show that the values currently instilled are not the values these universities began with, and definitely not the values of our nation.

Throughout its 143-year history, with the permutations and changes that have altered the face of Blacks in America and America in general, Tuskegee University has maintained this standard of industry, service and knowledge, and the students instilled with these principles were launched to better their communities and better the U.S.

Tuskegee’s newly installed president and CEO is Dr. Mark Brown. He holds the distinction of being the first alumnus (Class of ’86) to serve in this role. Introducing himself via video, he stands proudly in front of the sculpture of Booker T. Washington, the university’s first president, removing the veil of ignorance from one who was enslaved. Brown’s words reflect this act and Tuskegee’s history of “providing ingenuity, intelligence, and brilliance to the United States of America since its inception.” He concluded, “Tuskegee has always answered the nation’s call.”

As we celebrate our nation’s founding, we can also celebrate the founding of Tuskegee University. Just as our nation can only stand by adherence to its founding principles, so Tuskegee’s adherence to its founding principles are what will continue to shape America and make it stronger.

Jennifer Oliver O'Connell, As the Girl Turns, is an investigative journalist, author, opinion analyst, and contributor to 1819 News, Redstate, and other publications. Jennifer writes on Politics and Pop Culture, with occasional detours into Reinvention, Yoga, and Food. You can read more about Jennifer's world at her As the Girl Turns website. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Telegram.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com

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