Robert Russa Moton, Black Educator Hall of Fame

E’ry day this month, the Center for Black Educator Development, in partnership with, will highlight a Black Educator Hall of Famer.

But, don’t forget, e’ry month is Black History Month. February is just the Blackest.

Today, our featured Black Educator is Robert. R. Moton.

Robert Russa Moton was born on August 26, 1867, in Amelia County, Virginia, the only child of Booker and Emily Brown. Moton shared that one night the plantation owner’s wife, where his family worked, knocked on the Moton family’s door while his mother was teaching him to read, and although his mother scrambled to hide the book, his father’s response was, “We were free and that he would leave the Vaughns if they made any objections.”

This was the philosophy that guided a future educator and leader.

Moton attended the local freedman’s school and eventually went on to college at the Hampton Institute (now called Hampton University). He graduated in 1890 and became Commandant in charge of military discipline, a position he served in for 25 years. While at Hampton, Moton worked with both Black and Indigenous students, engaging them in the liberation work of education. His autobiography shares various instances of how Native students reacted to being on Hampton’s campus and their perceptions of white Americans.

“This was a new experience for a Negro, for while many of us shared this view about the inconsistencies of the white man and how he was from actually practicing his religion, we had nevertheless adapted ourselves to the white man’s ways, and had, consciously or unconsciously, and sometimes anxiously, absorbed the white man’s civilization.”

In 1915, Moton left the Hampton Institute to accept a post at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama as its second president after the death of founder Booker T. Washington. The University speaks of Moton’s accomplishments as President:

“Both the physical plant and academic programs were expanded during the Moton administration… Academic programs were first expanded from eleven to twelve years, followed by a Junior College program, and the four-year college program leading to bachelor’s degrees in Agriculture, Home Economics, Mechanical Industries, and Education.”

Moton also initiated the construction of what became the Tuskegee Veterans Administration Hospital, which treated African American World War I veterans. Moton demanded that the hospital be staffed by Black workers—doctors, nurses, and administration—much to the anger of local whites. However, President Warren Harding approved.

The annual $2,500,000 in salaries going to Black employees, angered local whites to the point of threatening to kill Moton unless he gave white doctors exclusive employment at the hospital. Moton answered:

“You can wipe me out; you can take my life; but you can’t take my character.… So far as I am concerned, gentlemen, I have only one life to give, but I would gladly give a dozen for this cause.”

Moton’s role as educator, political advisor, and trustee of numerous colleges and philanthropic funds reflects a career focused on racial uplift. Moton died at his home in Holly Knoll on May 31, 1940, five years after retirement from Tuskegee, and is buried at Hampton University. 

Robert Russa Moton; a member of the Black Educator Hall of Fame.

For more information on Robert R. Moton, visit the following site.


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