General Armstrong told Booker that he had received a letter from a gentleman in Alabama asking him to recommend someone to take charge of a normal school for colored people in the little town of Tuskegee. At first, the man was expecting the General to send a white man, but when the General endorsed Booker, they accepted him, and he was off to Tuskegee. He liked the town immediately and found that the two races got along pleasantly. Then, the Alabama Legislature awarded the new school a small annual appropriation of $2000, but the money could only be used for teacher’s salaries. There was no provision for land, buildings, or apparatus. As a result, Booker needed to find a place to open the school. The first building he was able to secure was a shanty beside the Methodist Church. The church itself would be used as an assembly room. Once he arrived, Booker observed that the same desire for political office attracted his people here and that none would ever vote for a white person if a colored person were running for the same office. At the time he was writing this book, he felt that his people had begun to recognize that color didn’t automatically make the best candidate.
Not only did Booker spend time looking for accommodations for his school, but he also traveled through Alabama, examining the actual lives of the people. He wasn’t surprised at the poverty that still afflicted his people, nor their diet. However, he worried about their insistence on planting just one crop: cotton. Furthermore, he agonized over their willingness to spend their hard-earned money on such things as sewing machines and clocks and an organ they couldn’t play. He was fascinated by their daily lives and the poor conditions of the schools and the churches they attended. There were exceptions to what he saw and he was encouraged that there was a spirit of change in the community.
Booker T. Washington was a fascinating character. What other teacher would take the time to visit the home of the people whose children would be attending their schools? Booker wanted to understand the kind of lives his pupils lived in order to understand what motivated them and the problems he would have to be aware of when they attended his school.