Grey Room

Self-Suggestion in the Tuskegee Machine: Technical Drawing under Jim Crow

Maura Lucking

Diagram of the correlation between theory and shop work at Tuskegee Institute. From J.L. Whiting, Shop and Classes at Tuskegee (1941).


For an orator, reformer, and race relations advocate of international renown, Tuskegee principal Booker T. Washington spent an inordinate amount of time corresponding with architects. Letters inquiring as to the status of building projects, the late delivery of plans, and instructions for paint colors abound in his private correspondence, as likely to come from his office on the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute campus in Alabama as from hotel rooms in Manhattan or Washington, where he traveled frequently for public speaking engagements and advisory meetings with politicians and industrialists. Whenever possible, he preferred to weigh in personally—whether on design decisions for school buildings or the day-to-day management of classroom activities. For architectural instructors Robert Robinson Taylor, Wallace Rayfield, and William Sidney Pittman, these two were often the same thing. Both manual and mental labor were integral to achieve Washington’s favorite material substantiation of the school’s mission and achievements: that students collaborate to design and build their own campus.