Historical Remembrance: The founder of Tuskegee University – Lewis Adams

Historical Remembrance: The founder of Tuskegee University – Lewis Adams

This is a history moment to remember the American entrepreneur and educator, who is often overlooked. Lewis Adams is the founder of what is now Tuskegee University, located in the state of Alabama.

Due to the great work of Tuskegee’s founding president Booker T. Washington, Lewis Adams is often overlooked in discussions about one of America’s most important historical centers of higher education. Yet, Booker T. Washington documented, in his writings, his great interactions with Lewis Adams during his tenure as the founding president.

Who is Lewis Adams?
Lewis Adams was born an enslaved African on October 27, 1842. Upon his freedom, Adams would become an entrepreneur in the town of Tuskegee, Alabama, located in the Macon County. He would open a shop in the downtown district of Tuskegee.

Adams had a great reputation with race relations during the era of Reconstruction, post the Civil War.

During the election year of 1880, Wilbur F. Foster and Arthur L. Brooks ran for re-election to be seated in the Alabama House of Representatives. Ten years earlier, on March 30, 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution gained African American men the right to vote in the United States.

Wilbur F. Foster reached out to Lewis Adams with a request that help turnout the African American vote for his re-election and for the re-election of Arthur L. Brooks.

Lewis Adams’ wife and the church they attended had tried, with great efforts, to properly educate formerly enslaved African Americans and did not have the satisfactory resources or individuals to provide normal education. Adams had a great focus to train African Americans in vocational and trades education. There was a specific need for school to train African Americans in teacher education, then referred to as “normal” schools. A few examples of “normal schools” are: Indiana State Normal School Eastern Division (now Ball State University), State Normal College for Colored Students (now Florida A and M University), Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University), California State Normal School (now San José State University), Kent State Normal School (now Kent State University), Central Michigan Normal School and Business Institute/Central State Normal School (now Central Michigan University), Bowling Green State Normal School (now Bowling Green State University), State and Normal School for Women (now James Madison University) and Territorial Normal School at Tempe (now Arizona State University).

Adams bartered a deal with Wilbur F. Foster. Should African Americans turnout the vote to re-elect Foster and Brooks, he (Foster) would have to in turn promise to do all they can to get the Alabama legislature to establish a normal school for African Americans in Tuskegee, Alabama.

The election was won and the promise was kept. The Alabama state legislature established a new normal school in Tuskegee for African Americans and placed Lewis Adams on its first board of commissioners (board of trustees). Lewis Adams along with other board members would hire Booker T. Washington as the first president. Booker T. Washington would build the normal school, from from scratch. Booker T. Washington would later, in 1892, re-charter Tuskegee University into an independent and private elite educational and industrial  center, known as Tuskegee Institute.

Tuskegee would later, in 1943, become a private and state related college in during the tenure of Dr. Frederick D. Patterson.

Tuskegee Institute changed its name in 1985 to Tuskegee University and awards bachelor of science, bachelor of arts, maters, doctoral and professional degrees within: agriculture, veterinary medicine, engineering, architecture, construction science management, computer science, environment & nutrition sciences, business, nursing, elementary & secondary education, history, political science, biology, physics, psychology, chemistry, physical education to fine and performing arts and others.

Below are just a few historical newspaper articles that include accounts of Lewis Adams and a brief history of the expansion of what is now Tuskegee University in its earlier years.

Click images below to enlarge for better viewing. Click your return arrow to return to this topic.











1904 (Lewis Adams was not only a board of trustees member, he was also a professor at Tuskegee)



Booker T. Washington Papers

Video: Lewis Adams



Historical Flashback: Enslavement life in Tuskegee, Alabama before the existence of the famous Tuskegee University

Historical Flashback: The power of Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University)

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