Tuskegee Institute was founded on July 4,1881 but the idea for a school for African Americans in the city of Tuskegee actually began two years prior. In 1879, Lewis Adams( link here to Adams page) was approached by W.F. Foster a Democrat running in the Alabama Senate race for his help in getting the black vote. Foster and Brooks both won their races and in return they upheld their end of the bargain by working to draft House Bill 165. The bill allocated $2,000 to fund the salaries of teachers and free tuition for students so long as they agreed to teach in Alabama’s public schools for at least two years. The bill also required that the school have at least 25 pupils and stay in session for at least nine months per year. The bill also created a board of commissioners to oversee the management of the school among the first three members: George W. Campbell and Lewis Adams.
When Booker T. Washington first arrived in Tuskegee, Alabama during the summer of 1881 Tuskegee State Normal School was a school in name only. Although the house bill allocated funding for teachers’ salaries it did not provide any land for the school. The earlier classes for Tuskegee State Normal School were held inside an old building owned by Butler Chapel AME Zion Church. The building or “shanty” as Washington described it would often leak when it rained. In his book Up From Slavery Washington wrote that he “ recalled that during the first months of school that he taught in this building it was in such poor repair that, whenever it rained, one of the older students would very kindly leave his lessons and hold an umbrella over [him].”
In September of 1881 Washington would purchase an abandoned farm known as The Old Burnt Place. The farm which was once a cotton plantation owned by William Banks Bowen got its nickname as a result of a portion of the farm being burned during the Civil War. The only buildings that remained were a cabin, old kitchen, stable and a hen house. The farm was purchased for $500 with a $200 down payment; Hampton Institute’s treasurer James Marshall loaned Washington the money for the down payment from his personal account.
Within four months Washington would write Marshall a letter stating that “ four months and a half ago, without a dollar of our own, we contracted to buy a farm of a hundred acres, at a cost of five hundred dollars, on which to permanently locate our school. Today the last dollar has been paid.”
Last updated: February 7, 2020