Birth of an institution – the Normal School, Tuskegee, Alabama

Dear Friends:

I arrived here four weeks ago. Instead of finding my work in a low marshy country as I expected, I find Tuskegee a beautiful town, with a high and healthy location. It is a town such as one rarely sees in the South. Its quiet shady streets and tasteful and rich dwellings remind one of a New England village. After my arrival I had one week in which to prepare for the opening of the Normal School. I utilized this time in seeing the teachers and others who wished to enter the school, and in getting a general idea of my work and the people. Sunday, I spoke in both churches to the people about the school, and told all who wished to enter to come and see me at my boarding place during the week. About thirty persons called and had their names enrolled, others called whose names, for various reasons, I could not enroll. With the young people many of the parents came. I was particularly impressed with the desire of the parents to educate their children, whatever might be the sacrifice.

On Friday I rode about fourteen miles into the country to visit the closing exercises of one of the teachers. From this trip I got some idea of the people in the country. Never was I more surprised and moved than when I saw at one house, two boys thirteen or fourteen years old, perfectly nude. They seemed not to mind their condition in the least. Passing on from house to house, I saw many other children five or six years old in the same condition. It was very seldom that I saw children anything like decently dressed. If they wore clothing it was only one garment, and that so black and greasy that it did not resemble cloth. As a rule, the colored people all through this section are very poor and ignorant, but the one encouraging thing about it is that they see their weakness and are desirous of improving. The teachers in this part of Alabama have had few advantages, many of them having never attended school themselves. They know nothing of the improved methods of teaching. They hail, with gladness, the Normal School, and most of them will be among its students. If there is any place in the world where a good Normal School is needed, it is right here. What an influence for good, first on the teachers, and from them on the children and parents!

I opened school last week. At present I have over forty students, anxious and earnest young men and women. I expect quite an increase in September and October. The school is taught, at present, in one of — the colored churches, which they kindly let us have for that purpose. This building is not very suited to school purposes, and we hope to be able to move to a more commodious place in a short time. The place referred to is on a beautiful and conveniently located farm of one hundred acres, which we have contracted to buy for $500. The state pays for tuition. The farm I hope to pay for by my own exertions and the help of others here. As a rule, the colored people in the South are not and will not be able for years to board their children in school at ten or twelve dollars per month, hence my object is, as soon as possible, to get the school on a labor basis, so that earnest students can help themselves and at the same time learn the true dignity of labor. An institution for the education of colored youths can be but a partial success without a boarding department. In it they can be taught those correct habits which they fail to get at home. Without this part of the training they go out into the world with untrained intellects and their morals and bodies neglected. After the land is paid for, we hope to get a boarding department on foot as soon as possible.

The good will manifested towards the school by both white and colored is a great encouragement to me to push the work forward. I have had many kind words of encouragement from the whites, and have been well treated by them in every way. The Trustees: seem to be exceptional men. Whether I have met the colored people, in their churches, societies, or homes, I have received their hearty cooperation and a “God bless you.” Even the colored preachers seem to be highly in favor of the work, and one of the pastors here, fifty years old, is one of my students. I fear I am making my letter too long, I will write again soon.

Yours Sincerely,

Booker T. Washington, Normal School for Colored Teachers, Tuskegee, Alabama

This letter was sent to friends at Hampton Institute in Virginia shortly after Booker T. Washington arrived at Tuskegee.

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