JANUARY 26, 2003

Good morning again,

We are here today to pay tribute to and honor a man whose genius is just as apparent today as it was in 1868. A man whose vision, courage, and determination brought to fruition our beloved Hampton. It is right and good that we respectfully remember and honor this great and unusual man—not just for the fruit of his labor, but for his labor itself.

The Hampton idea, a training ground for the head, heart, and hand of newly freed slaves and Native Americans was an excellent idea. But many excellent ideas fall by the wayside for lack of capable leadership, especially those who seek to serve the underserved and to help the helpless. Nevertheless, this man, our founder, General Samuel Chapman Armstrong raised money, erected buildings, hired teachers, enrolled students, persuaded the favor and support of the endowed, and worked tirelessly to transform the haze of a dream into the concrete reality of an institution that changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of human beings—black, white, Native American, men, women, affluent, poor, invisible—and all of their descendants. When one man’s work has the ability to change the course of the Universe, his labor—not just the fruits of his labor silences us in admiration and rouses in us our innermost feelings of gratitude and respect.

Who was this man? In the words of his Williams College classmate, the Rev. Dr. John N. Dennison, the first thing that one noticed about the young Armstrong was his, “super abundant, physical energy.” “ He carried an air of insolent health. His nervous energy was volcanic. He was a cyclone.” He was, “ a combination of fire and ice, of hot passion and cold intellect. In fact, all kinds of opposites united in him: he was philosophic yet combative, earnest yet trifling, serious yet ridiculous, of the earth, yet of the heavenly spirit directed, restless, yet with the strange depths of rest in his soul.”

Clearly his classmate thought that he was a man for all seasons. “He could manage a boat in a storm, edit a newspaper, help carry on a government, work up a piece of diplomacy, master Greek literature, conduct an advance class in mathematics, and make no end of fun for children: In fact, to children he was a joy forever.” His college compatriot also said some other things that probably helped to understand and shape his life. He said he was courageous and had the “ . . . old missionary impulse toward helping others.” Finally, he said that if Gen. Armstrong had a single habit it was, “he always turned the best in every situation.”

Gen. Armstrong, you have earned our respect. You have earned the respect of those of us who never met you or shook your hand—because you showed us how to work hard for what is right and how to dream bold new dreams. You have allowed us, our children, and our children’s children to see the end result of hard work and the realization of a dream. You made us the benefactors and we use you, even 135 years later, as our example.


Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute

What did one man do that was so awesome that we still celebrate his vision? First of all he established a school for black men and women which was to cater to the head, the heart, and the hand. It was to be a school where one learned by doing. It was to be a school where one was taught an education for living. He started his curriculum with “an English course embracing reading and elocution, geography, mathematics, history, the science of civil government, the natural sciences, and political economy.”

Next, he put in the educational trades of bricklaying and plastering, cabinetmaking, and carpentry so that Hamptonians could build and own homes, warehouses, and stores. He put in blacksmithing so that Hamptonians could shoe their own horses and make a living by shoeing others. He put in plumbing and pipefitting, because he knew that the country was going to grow, and he wanted the black man to aid in that growth. He put in printing and established the Hampton Institute Press so that the work by, for, and about black people could be circulated to the masses. He knew that if the work had to be interpreted through the eyes of Confederate editors and reporters, it would not be interpreted accurately. He put in tailoring because he himself was always impeccably dressed and believed that a first-class appearance helped to make a first-class man or woman.

He completed his philosophic circle with a heavy emphasis on character development. No matter the field of study, he felt that character building was essential. He said that , “character is the best outcome of the labor system. That makes it worth its cost many times over. It is not cheap, but it pays.” Further, he stated that, “ . . . a system is required which shall be at once constructive of mental and moral worth and destructive of the vices characteristic of the slave.” What are those vices? They are “improvidence or carelessness, low ideas of honor and morality, and general lack of directive energy, judgment, and foresight.” “Of all of our work,” he stated, “that upon the heart is the most important.”

Before going further with this story, let your mind wander back to the post-Civil War 1860’s in the South. Think about the hostility Gen. Armstrong must have faced as he dared to start a “Negro college.” I suspect the last thing that defeated white Southerners wanted was a Northern white man providing education to their ex-slaves. Think about the dilemma of merely existing day-to-day without the extra burdens of trying to hire teachers; build dormitories and classrooms; secure food and clothing; and provide safety for the students. As if this were not enough, think about trying to implement a radical plan of education which called for teaching a trade and building character to a people who were just a few years out of slavery.

Against this backdrop, what were Armstrong’s thoughts on the mission for such a school? “The thing to be done was clear”, he said. He thought that the school had, “to train selected Negro youths who should go out and teach and lead their people. First by example, by getting land and homes. To give them not a dollar that they could earn for themselves. To teach respect for labor. To replace stupid drudgery with skilled hands. And in this way, to build up an industrial system for the sake of not only self support and intelligent labor, but also for the sake of character.” With these thoughts as his guide, Gen. Armstrong opened the doors to Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute on April 1,1868 with a matron, a teacher, and 15 students.


Indian Education at Hampton

Despite the hard work, opposition in some quarters, and the difficult toll on him, Armstrong’s Hampton was an overwhelming success. This led him to pursue another major innovation. This innovation was the education of Native Americans at Hampton. This part of the story began at the close of the Indian War in 1875. Seventy-five chiefs and Indians were imprisoned and taken to Fort Marion in St. Augustine’s, Florida. Captain R. H. Pratt was the officer in charge of the Indians at Ft. Marion. Like Gen. Armstrong, he believed in the uplift of people and did all he could to make the Indian stay at Ft. Marion a positive one. It was Capt. Pratt who wrote Gen. Armstrong and asked that they be allowed to receive an education at Hampton.

Gen. Armstrong agreed and in April 1878 some 70 Indians arrived via ship in front of the Mansion House. Most of them were on their way to Washington, DC and on to their homes out West. Fifteen, however, chiefly Kiowas and Cheyennes stayed at Hampton, and thus began Gen. Armstrong’s experiment with Indian education. Two came later, and in November 1878, some 40 boys and 9 girls, chiefly Sioux, came to Hampton as a part of this noble experiment. I should tell you that Gen. Armstrong’s experiment in Indian education was controversial in many quarters. Some questioned whether the Indians could be educated. Others wondered if they would return to their tribal habits and culture once they left Hampton and returned home. Still others criticized the race mixing aspect of Indians and blacks attending the same school. In the Executive Branch, Congress, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and in the society as a whole, these and other questions were constantly being raised. Gen. Armstrong faced them all down and never let an opportunity go by in newspapers, magazines, speeches, and private conversations, to be a staunch advocate for the education of Indian men and women.

In many regards, Hampton’s experiment with Indians paved the way for the United States government to develop a system of Indian education for the entire country. The Carlyle Barracks, Pennsylvania school was an outgrowth of Hampton’s success. William Howard Taft, then the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court stated, “so marked was the success of the experiment at Hampton Institute that a public sentiment in favor of Indian education was created. From this small beginning has grown the present system of government Indian education.” The man who first requested that the Indians come to Hampton, Capt. Pratt, put it this way, “Without the open door at Hampton, none of the advanced conditions in Indian School Affairs today would have been established.” And ladies and gentlemen, none of this would have happened without General Armstrong’s advocacy at every level in this country.


Women’s Rights Advocate

As a matter of fact, the more we know about Gen. Armstrong, the more inspirational he becomes. How many of you alumni and even family members knew that he was one of the early advocates for women’s rights through education. Gen. Armstrong’s first annual report to the Board of Trustees give us a clue into the interworkings of this man’s mind. He said that, “we are trying to solve the problem of an education best suited to the needs of the poor classes of the South, by sending out to them teachers of moral strength as well as of mental culture.” In order to do this, he said that, “the most promising youth are selected.” He did not say the most promising boys, but the most promising youth. This meant boys and girls, and from the very beginning at Hampton, there was a girl’s department.

Armstrong said, “The question of coeducation of the sexes is, to my mind, settled . . .” Remember, he was saying and doing these things at a time when the women’s suffrage movement was just getting started. The prevailing thought of the country was that only boys should receive formal education.

Another example of his advocacy for women can be found with his Indian experiment. On one occasion, Gen. Armstrong talked about a conversation with the Secretary of the Interior, Carl Schurz, to encourage the training of a larger number of Indians. He particularly wanted to get more women. Gen. Armstrong relates that Secretary Schurz called in a Mr. E. A. Hyatt who was the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to get his input on this matter. Commissioner Hyatt felt that, “ . . . the education of Indian girls had been a failure and threw cold water on the plan.” Gen. Armstrong very eloquently argued that , “ . . . there is no civilization without educated women”, and begged the Secretary to allow him to try the experiment. Secretary Schurz, as did practically everyone else, succumbed to Gen. Armstrong’s persuasiveness and gave the approval for Indian girls to come to Hampton. Therefore, in November 1878 some 40 boys and 9 girls, chiefly Sioux joined the other Indians at Hampton.

Just as with blacks, Gen. Armstrong’s experiment with Indians was an overwhelming success. The federal government supported the venture until the turn of the century. At that time, some Southern congressmen were able to stop the effort because they objected to race mixing between the blacks and the Indians.

Racism can stop some things, but it cannot stop genuine progress. Looking back over the accomplishments that the University’s constituent groups have achieved since taking up the torch, we can be confident that Gen. Armstrong would be proud of what has become of his noble initiative. Today, the University proudly stands as a thriving scholarly community, with a compelling learning environment, equally dedicated to education, discovery, and the development of character.

Our future is as bright as our past. Building on the solid legacy that Gen. Armstrong and countless others left us, we see success, prosperity, and continued service to this country and the world. A few of the following examples help to illustrate this point.

  1. Gen. Armstrong talked very proudly about Hampton people girdling the world. We have had programs and people in Indonesia, China, Africa, and other parts of this country. In that same spirit, Hampton is now opening a Virginia Beach branch to train nurses, teachers, pharmacy technicians, and business people. There are shortages of these professionals in Hampton Roads, in Virginia, and throughout the nation. As has been the case since 1868, Hampton is in the business of serving societal needs in the best possible way.
  2. Gen. Armstrong offered science in his first course of study. Today we have gone a step further by using science and 100 million dollars of federal research grants to launch weather satellites, develop cancer detection devices, and prostheses for artificial limbs.
  3. We do not have the trades that Gen. Armstrong emphasized, but we are plowing new ground in engineering, physics, and architecture.
  4. General Armstrong initiated the Hampton Institute Press as a vehicle for communicating, accurately, the successes of the institution. Thus, the Southern Workman and other works published by the press were ambitious attempts to give voice to the voiceless. In tribute to this same aim, and with the concurrence of the Trustees, I established the Hampton University Press. The University press will afford writers opportunities to publish their works, while not sacrificing intellectual and scholarly rigor. The press is an attempt to build on Armstrong’s legacy, by writing a new chapter on the University’s participation in the academic community.
  5. From the beginning, General Armstrong conceptualized Hampton Institute as a place for leadership training. It is not surprising, given these roots, that Hampton University’s production of leaders is, quite simply, outstanding. The Leadership Institute, Executive Leadership Summit, and the Honors College are all reminiscent of the institution’s heritage in this regard. Each of these initiatives has been successful, as evidenced by the grooming of ten of our administrators for the post of chief executive officer at other institutions. Our leadership development programs are the envy of the nation, and many institutions are now scurrying to imitate our example.
  6. Gen. Armstrong was a strong advocate for women. When I became president, there was only one woman on the President’s Council. Today, six of the ten members of the Council are women. Additionally, two women who were Council members have been appointed presidents of other colleges.
  7. In fundraising, it is said that Armstrong seldom asked for money. He likened the request for money to sticking one’s head in a lion’s mouth, and he was skillful enough to insure that his head was never bitten off. Armstrong approached fundraising with two important aspects in mind. First, he presented his cause in such a manner that the need spoke for itself. Second, he developed relationships with those whose support he could inspire. During the past twenty-five years, I have taken a similar approach to fundraising and the continued success of this strategy is evidenced by an increase of 45 new degree- granting programs. SAT’s have increased over 300 points, while the enrollment increased from 2,700 to 6,000. Financially, the budget has been balanced every year and the endowment has increased from $29 million to $175 million. During this same time, over 16 new structures have been built.

These and other examples, clearly point out that Hampton is a special place. For twenty-five years I have been privileged to provide leadership to the Hampton University and wider communities. Each and every day of those twenty-five years, despite any challenges that had to be faced, has been an absolute joy for me.

There are so many persons that I owe thanks to until I won’t try to point out individuals other than my immediate family. To my darling and wonderful wife Norma, I shall be forever grateful for all of your support, encouragement, and love. To our three children, Kelly, Chris, and Leslie, please know how proud we are of you. You have really made fine adults. To the various staff members in the President’s Office over the years, I could not have done it without you. To my administrative colleagues, thank you for your hard work and teamwork. To our talented and caring faculty, please know that your good and scholarly work constantly excites my imagination. And to the thousands of students that have come under my charge during the last twenty-five years, please know that I love you madly. To the Trustees, who hired me and continue to have confidence in my leadership, please know how I appreciate your stewardship and support. And finally, to the wonderful alumni whom I have a special bond, in good times and bad, you have always been there. This was never more evident then at the most recent national alumni meeting in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. There was so much love between us until if we could bottle it and fling it over the rest of the world, no one would have to worry about wars or rumors of wars.

Now, as I am sure all of you know, I plan to take a sabbatical next year to do some writing. Please know, however, that after the sabbatical, if it is the Lord’s willing, I shall return with a vigor to continue the mighty and wonderful progress that Hampton University is making. I look forward to the sabbatical and I look forward to my return. There clearly will be a lot to do. The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. Hamptonians, and all who love Hampton, let’s get on with it.