| Founded in a one room shanty, near Butler Chapel AME Zion Church, thirty adults represented the first class - Dr. Booker T. Washington the first teacher. The founding date was July 4, 1881, authorized by House Bill 165.
We should give credit to George Campbell, a former slave owner, and Lewis Adams, a former slave, tinsmith and community leader, for their roles in the founding of the University. Adams had not had a day of formal education but could read and write. In addition to being a tinsmith, he was also a shoemaker and harness-maker. And he could well have been experienced in other trades. W. F. Foster was a candidate for re-election to the Alabama Senate and approached Lewis Adams about the support of African-Americans in Macon County.
What would Adams want, Foster asked, in exchange for his (Adams) securing the black vote for him (Foster). Adams could well have asked for money, secured the support of blacks voters and life would have gone on as usual. But he didn’t. Instead, Adams told Foster he wanted an educational institution - a school - for his people. Col. Foster carried out his promise and with the assistance of his colleague in the House of Representatives, Arthur L. Brooks, legislation was passed for the establishment of a "Negro Normal School in Tuskegee."
A $2,000 appropriation, for teachers’ salaries, was authorized by the legislation. Lewis Adams, Thomas Dryer, and M. B. Swanson formed the board of commissioners to get the school organized. There was no land, no buildings, no teachers only State legislation authorizing the school. George W. Campbell subsequently replaced Dryer as a commissioner. And it was Campbell, through his nephew, who sent word to Hampton Institute in Virginia looking for a teacher.
Booker T. Washington got the nod and he made the Lewis Adams dream happen. He was principal of the school from July 4, 1881, until his death in 1915. He was not 60 years old when he died. Initial space and building for the school was provided by Butler Chapel AME Zion Church not far from this present site. Not long after the founding, however, the campus was moved to "a 100 acre abandoned plantation" which became the nucleus of the present site.
Tuskegee rose to national prominence under the leadership of its founder, Dr. Washington, who headed the institution from 1881 until his death at age 59 in 1915. During his tenure, institutional independence was gained in 1892, again through legislation, when Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute was granted authority to act independent of the state of Alabama.
Dr. Washington, a highly skilled organizer and fund-raiser, was counsel to American Presidents, a strong advocate of Negro business, and instrumental in the development of educational institutions throughout the South. He maintained a lifelong devotion to his institution and to his home - the South. Dr. Washington is buried on the campus of Tuskegee University near the University Chapel.
Robert R. Moton was president of Tuskegee from 1915 to 1935. Under his leadership, the Tuskegee Veteran’s Administration Hospital was created on land donated by the Institute. The Tuskegee V.A. Hospital , opened in 1923, was the first and only staffed by Black professionals. Dr. Moton was succeeded in 1935 by Dr. Frederick D. Patterson. Dr. Patterson oversaw the establishment of the School of Veterinary Medicine at Tuskegee . Today, nearly 75 percent of Black veterinarians in America are Tuskegee graduates.
Dr. Patterson also brought the Tuskegee Airmen flight training program to the Institute. The all-Black squadrons of Tuskegee Airmen were highly decorated World War II combat veterans and forerunners of the modern day Civil Rights Movement. Dr. Patterson is also credited with founding the United Negro College Fund, which to date has raised more than $1 billion for student aid. Dr. Luther H. Foster became president of Tuskegee Institute in 1953.
Dr. Foster led Tuskegee through the transformational years of the Civil Rights Movement. Student action, symbolized by student martyr and SNCC member Sammy Younge, as well as legal action represented by Gomillion v. Lightfoot (1960), attests to Tuskegee ’s involvement in The Movement.
Current President, Dr. Benjamin F. Payton, began his tenure in 1981. Under his leadership, the Tuskegee University National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care and the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site were launched. The General Daniel " Chappie " James Center for Aerospace Science and Health Education was constructed - the largest athletic arena in the SIAC. The Kellogg Conference Center , one of 12 worldwide, was completed as a renovation and expansion of historic Dorothy Hall.
Tuskegee attained University status in 1985 and has since begun offering its first doctoral programs in integrative biosciences and materials science and engineering. The College of Business and Information Sciences was established and professionally accredited, and the College of Engineering, Architecture and Physical Sciences was expanded to include the only Aerospace Engineering department at an HBCU.
At the time of Washington’s death, there were 1,500 students, a $2 million endowment, 40 trades, (we would call them majors today), 100 fully-equipped buildings, and about 200 faculty. From 30 adult students in a one room shanty, we have today grown to more than 3,000 students on a campus (the main campus, farm and forest land) that includes some 5,000 acres and more than 70 buildings.
Dedicated in 1922, the Booker T. Washington Monument, called "Lifting the Veil," stands at the center of campus. The inscription at its base reads, "He lifted the veil of ignorance from his people and pointed the way to progress through education and industry." For Tuskegee , the process of unveiling is continuous and lifelong.