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
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
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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- We do not have the trades that Gen. Armstrong emphasized,
but we are plowing new ground in engineering, physics,
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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