On February 25, the U.S. General Services Administration in partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Department of Homeland Security welcomed Sarah Washington O’Neal Rush to give the keynote address at an African American Heritage Celebration in San Francisco. O’Neal Rush is Booker T. Washington’s great granddaughter and founder of the Booker T. Washington Empowerment Network; a nonprofit carrying on his legacy by empowering inner city youth to create positive change in their communities.
O’Neal Rush reflected on her great grandfather’s early life as a slave and his rise to one of the most influential African Americans of the late 19th century. She attributed his success to an early interest in education and commitment to four guiding principles. These principles were: instill character education which combined book knowledge, trade skills, and self-love; practice positive thinking; take personal responsibility; and stay focused.
Washington used these principles along with the knowledge gained through formal education to build and operate the Tuskegee Institute until his death in 1915. His students were taught skills in building construction, brick making, woodworking, handicraft, agriculture, and the blacksmith trade in addition to their academic subjects. These students constructed many of the school’s original buildings using bricks they crafted using clay from the local area.
In speaking about the fourth principle, O’Neal Rush said, "Stay in your lane. Stay focused. That’s what Booker T. Washington did. He never lost hope. He was determined Tuskegee Institute was going to succeed."
Over 135 years later, the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) still stands today with thousands of students graduating and serving as role models and leaders for the next generation. The campus was designated as the Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site by the National Park Service in 1965.
Preserving our nation’s history is an important part of GSA’s mission. GSA is the property manager of historic sites that have played an important role in our nation’s history like the African Burial Ground and the Montgomery Greyhound Bus Station. We were proud to be a part of this year’s National African American History Month celebrations.