Lily D. McNair has been named the eighth president of Tuskegee University. She is the first woman to hold that position. (Courtesy of Tuskegee University)
Lily D. McNair has been named the eighth president of Tuskegee University. She is the first woman to hold that position. (Courtesy of Tuskegee University)

As the United States celebrates another Independence Day, the date also holds significance for Black Americans, as it marks the founding of the historically Black institution Tuskegee University.

On July 4, 1881, former slaves Booker T. Washington and Lewis Adams, along with former slave owner George Campbell, established the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute — now known as Tuskegee University — in Alabama to create an opportunity of higher and learning and trade for Black people in the South.

According to the university’s website, the House of Representatives “passed legislation for the establishment” of the school and a “$2,000 appropriation for teachers’ salaries was authorized” by law.

Washington became the university’s president and remained so until his death in 1915.

“Initial space and building for the school was provided by Butler Chapel AME Zion Church not far from its present site,” the university website says. “However, the campus was moved to a 100-acre abandoned plantation which became the nucleus of the present site.”

The university’s mission is “rooted in a history of successfully educating African Americans to understand themselves and their society against the background of their total cultural heritage and the promise of their individual and collective future. The most important of the people we serve are our students. Our overall purpose is to nurture and challenge them to grow to their fullest potential.”

While Washington began the school’s development, university officials explained that “over the past century, various social and historical changes have transformed this institution into a comprehensive and diverse place of learning whose fundamental purpose is to develop leadership, knowledge, and service for a global society.”

The added growth of the university is also an extension of notable alumni that have contributed to the school’s efforts.

Notable alumni include scientist and inventor George Washington Carver, famed musician Lionel Richie, Olympic medalist Alice Coachman and television and radio personality Tom Joyner.

Joyner, a generous HBCU donor, established the Tom Joyner Foundation to support not just his alma mater but HBCUs around the country as well.

“The Foundation has provided necessary support to every HBCU in its 20-year history to help sustain and preserve the legacies of these valuable institutions,” the foundation said on its website. “Through fundraising and donor development initiatives, $65 million has been raised to support more than 29,000 students attending HBCUs.”

As an Alabama native, Joyner is also an advocate for the growing economic impact of the 15 HBCUs throughout the state.

According to the United Negro College Fund, the schools have a $1.5 billion impact on the state economy and employ over 15,000 residents.

Tuskegee’s first female president, Lily McNair, plans to advance the university’s mission through intellectual merit and strong leadership with the support of the Macon community.

“I was impressed with Dr. McNair’s ability to reach out to alumni and successfully engage them to contribute financially to their alma maters,” said Solomon Banks, chair of the Eminent Presidential Associates and member of the Presidential Search Committee. “She further developed a program for freshman to help ensure retention and developed international programs for students. Additionally, I was pleased with her listening tours of academic departments where faculty shared their concerns, priorities and recommendations to improve the academic enterprise.”

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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