Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Home

Where: The Oaks (Tuskegee, AL)

Who: The Whole Clan

When: February 15, 2014

For my money, there are few individuals in American history more impressive than Booker T. Washington.

Born into slavery in Virginia in 1856, he worked in the coal mines in West Virginia after emancipation. He managed to acquire a formal education at Wayland Seminary and the future Hampton University. In 1881 Hampton’s president recommended him to head the new Tuskegee Institute, established for the training of teachers. He moved to Tuskegee and remained there until his death in 1915.

At Tuskegee, Washington became one of the foremost black leaders in the United States. He urged a program of education and economic development for his people and helped prepare hundreds of them to be teachers. His autobiography, Up from Slavery (1901), is an inspiring read.

Today, Washington’s home in Tuskegee, called The Oaks, is owned by the National Parks Service. It stands on the edge of the Tuskegee University campus and is open to the public for free tours. We took it in as part of a day trip to Tuskegee from Montgomery.

Sons #1-5 outside The Oaks in Tuskegee

Sons #1-5 outside The Oaks in Tuskegee

This National Historic Site apparently is in a rough patch. In addition to The Oaks, it includes the George Washington Carver Museum, which we were very interested in seeing. In fact, we had sat the kids down the previous evening and showed them a documentary about Carver to get them interested in the place we were about to visit. I had known that the museum had been closed for renovations in 2013, but I was told by the staff when I called in October that the museum would reopen on November 15. I foolishly neglected to call back to confirm the reopening, and wouldn’t you know it, when we showed up it was still closed.

It was pretty cold that morning, as you can see from the kids’ attire. We arrived at The Oaks just before 9:00 a.m., the scheduled time for the day’s first tour. Minutes passed, but the doors did not open, and no one arrived to start the tour. I called the phone number posted on the sign outside the house and reached someone in the NPS office a couple of blocks away. She sounded surprised that someone was standing outside the house waiting for a tour! (We later learned that there was a major event across town that day that was attracting the usual tourists, but that’s a subject for another post.)

We had to wait a few more minutes for the guide to walk over from her office, but she finally let us into the house. It was built in the late 1890s in a Victorian style. The downstairs included rooms for entertaining guests, and the tour guide told us that the Washingtons frequently hosted dinner parties for Tuskegee faculty and students alike. Upstairs were the bedrooms for the Washingtons and children (Washington had three children by his first two wives, both of whom predeceased him. By the time The Oaks was built, he had married a third time.) The second floor also had a splendid office where I took at least four or five pictures.

Washington's second-floor corner office at The Oaks

Washington’s second-floor corner office at The Oaks

All in all, we probably spent about twenty or thirty minutes in the house. I came away with a greater appreciation for the man who dedicated his life to helping his people and who eventually won respect from the nation for his hard work on their behalf.

Did I mention that visiting The Oaks is free? You should definitely pay a visit if you ever find yourself in southeast Alabama.

One Response to “Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Home”

  1. […] struck out in our effort to visit the George Washington Carver Museum during our recent trip to Tuskegee, but an unexpected ceremony at the Tuskegee Airmen National […]

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