Tuskegee University celebrated the life and work of its founder, Booker T. Washington, during a graveside ceremony that marked its 131st anniversary. For the second year, university and community members gathered and a wreath was laid at Washington’s gravesite on campus in Tuskegee, Ala., officials said in a news release.
Robin Washington-Banks, the great granddaughter of Tuskegee’s founder, attended the event and said it helped to raise awareness of the university’s July 4, 1881 opening. The ceremony also helped to increase support for a statewide holiday honoring Washington and the school’s founding, officials said. The event was sponsored by Sodexo and Friends of Booker T. Washington Day in Alabama.
“Nobody here needs a reminder of what Booker has done for this community, what he has done for the state, the country and for the world,” Washington-Banks said to the crowd, according to a news release.
Washington-Banks began the program by reading a passage from Up from Slavery, where Washington expresses doubt about establishing the university: “The work that must be done to lift these people up seemed beyond accomplishing. I was only one person. … I wondered if I could accomplish anything and if it was worth it for me to try. ”
Tamara Lee, Tuskegee University interim chief of staff, seized the moment to reflect on the history of the university’s beginnings and the importance of continuing Washington’s work.
“Many years ago, we started in a one-room shanty at Butler Chapel, it is truly amazing that we are standing here on a 5,000-acre with over 100 buildings,” Lee said in the release. “So, we stand now on the shoulders of all those who have come before us with the leadership of [President ] Dr. Gilbert L. Rochon. His vision continues the vision of Booker T. Washington.”
Tuskegee rose to national prominence under Washington, who headed the institution from 1881 until his death at age 59 in 1915, according to the school’s web site. 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. He is buried on the campus of near the University Chapel.