ROBERT RUSSA MOTON: (1867 – 1940) was an educator and the second president of Tuskegee Institute, perhaps lesser known in comparison to the school’s founder and first principal, Booker T. Washington, or the Institute’s third president, Frederick Douglass Patterson. However, Dr. Moton, as did his predecessor, dedicated his life to educating African Americans and shared Washington’s philosophy towards industrial education as a means of advancement for the recently emancipated population. Dr. Moton, the great-great-great-grandson of an “African slave merchant”, who after selling his fellow countrymen to slavers found himself on a ship chained to an African he recently sold to slave traders. The merchant was purchased and taken to Amelia County, Virginia, by a tobacco planter, where some hundred years later his descendant Robert Russa Moton was born on August 26, 1867. Dr. Moton recounts this story and the events that shaped his life in his1920 autobiography, Finding A Way Out. A graduate of Hampton Institute, Moton also taught at the school and was the administrator for the Native American students attending the Institute. He later served for twenty-five years as Commandant of Cadets, overseeing the discipline of all the students. In 1915, Moton was appointed principal of Tuskegee Institute after the death of Booker T. Washington. To the trustees of Tuskegee, Moton’s ability to get along with both black and white southerners and his potential to solicit funding support from northern philanthropists made him the perfect candidate to further the work of Washington. Moton served as principal of Tuskegee for twenty years. Under his administration, Tuskegee expanded its academic program, added more buildings for the Institute to carry out its training, and strengthen the school’s reputation. Dr. Moton retired in 1935 and died in 1940.
BACKGROUND QUESTION: What was the primary catalyst behind the mass exodus of Blacks from the Republican Party...going to the Democratic Party?
RESPONSE: In 1922, former President and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Howard Taft selected Robert Russa Moton to give the chief address at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial. At the time, many considered Moton to be the most powerful African American in the country. In elite, white political and financial circles, his status was unparalleled. In race relations, Moton advocated accommodation, not confrontation. He firmly believed that the best way to advance the cause of African Americans was to convince white people of black people's worth through their exemplary behavior. Never one to rock the boat, he didn't fight segregation or challenge white authority. A protégé of Booker T. Washington, Moton had succeeded him as principal of Tuskegee Institute. From this position, Moton worked long and hard to win the trust of white politicians and philanthropists and secure donations for Tuskegee and other African American institutions and organizations. His power in the country stemmed from the money he could raise from whites who appreciated his conservative views and methods. In addition to his access to leaders in Washington, Moton sat on the boards of major philanthropic organizations with the likes of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller Jr., and his influence was considerable. When Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Company, provided the funding to build more than 6,000 "Rosenwald" schools for rural Southern African Americans, Moton's skills were clearly in play behind the scenes. Over the years, Moton's words and deeds impressed Herbert Hoover, who invited Moton to visit him anytime he was in Washington. However, during the Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927, it was Hoover who found himself calling on Moton for assistance.
The flood began when heavy rains pounded the central basin of the Mississippi in the summer of 1926. By September the Mississippi's tributaries in Kansas and Iowa were swollen to capacity. On New Year's day of 1927 the Cumberland River at Nashville topped levees at 56.2 feet. The Mississippi River broke out of its levee system in 145 places and flooded 27,000 square miles or about 16,570,627 acres. The area was inundated up to a depth of 30 feet. The flood caused over $400 million in damages and killed 246 people in seven states. The flood affected Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Arkansas was hardest hit, with 14% of its territory covered by floodwaters. By May of 1927 the Mississippi River below Memphis, Tennessee reached a width of 60 miles. As the flood approached New Orleans, Louisiana 30 tons of dynamite were set off on the levee at Caernarvon, Louisiana and sent 250,000 ft³/s of water pouring through. This prevented New Orleans from experiencing serious damage but flooded much of St. Bernard Parish. As it turned out, the destruction of the Caernarvon levee was unnecessary; several major levee breaks well upstream of New Orleans, including one the day after the demolitions, made it impossible for flood waters seriously to threaten the city. See more below about the final report led by Moton.