Robert Russa Moton

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Moton in 1916.

Robert Russa Moton (August 26, 1867 – May 31, 1940) was an African-American educator and author.[1] He served as an administrator at Hampton Institute and was named principal of Tuskegee Institute in 1915 after the death of Dr. Booker T. Washington, a position he held for 20 years until retirement in 1935.


Robert Russa Moton was born in Amelia County, Virginia on August 26, 1867. He graduated from the Hampton Institute in 1890. He married Elizabeth Hunt Harris in 1905, but she died in 1906. He then married his second wife, Jennie Dee Booth in 1908. He had three daughters, Charlotte Moton Hubbard, a State Department aide; Catherine Moton Patterson; and Jennie Moton Taylor.[2]

In 1891, he was appointed commandant of the male student cadet corps at Hampton Institute. In 1915, after the death of Dr. Booker T. Washington, he succeeded Washington as the principal of the Tuskegee Institute, a position he held until retirement in 1935. He also wrote a number of books. He attended the First Pan African Congress in Paris in 1919.

Moton was a member of the Gamma Sigma graduate chapter of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, along with George Washington Carver.[3]

Robert R. Moton died in Capahosic, in Gloucester County, Virginia in 1940 at age 73.


Tuskegee Airmen[edit]

Moton Field, the initial training base for the Tuskegee Airmen, was named after him. Moton had died the year before the Army commenced formal training of African-American military pilots at Tuskegee Institute. But under his leadership, the school had established a commitment to aeronautical training with facilities and engineering and technical instructors. These resources were a factor in Tuskegee Institute's participation in the Civilian Pilot Training Program, a nationwide endeavor which eventually led to the training of African-American pilots at Tuskegee.

Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment[edit]

The Tuskegee syphilis experiment biomedical research study in U.S. history,"[4] commenced while Moton headed Tuskegee Institute. The program was an infamous clinical study conducted between 1932 and 1972 in Macon County, Alabama by the U.S. Public Health Service to study the natural progression of untreated syphilis in poor, rural black men who thought they were receiving free health care from the U.S. government.[5]

There is no evidence that Moton, or any African-Americans, had any knowledge of the unethical issues relating to the experiment during its implementation. Moton endorsed the study and provided institutional resources, including medical personnel. The study was shut down in 1972 amid ethical controversies. The victims of the study included numerous men who died of syphilis, wives who contracted the disease, and children born with congenital syphilis.[6]

Holly Knoll[edit]

Holly Knoll, the retirement home in which he lived in Gloucester County, was named a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1981, termed the Robert R. Moton House.[7]

R. R. Moton High School, Museum in Farmville, Virginia[edit]

Near his birthplace in adjacent Amelia County, the all-black R. R. Moton High School, named for him, was located in the town of Farmville in Prince Edward County. This became a dubious distinction as the conditions there deteriorated due to inequities in funding for the segregated schools by the County School Board and the County Board of Supervisors.

The school did not have a gymnasium, cafeteria, or teachers' restrooms. Due to overcrowding, three plywood buildings had been erected and some students had to take classes in an immobile school bus parked outside. Teachers and students did not have desks or blackboards, The school's requests for additional funds were denied by the all-white school board. In 1951, students staged a walkout protesting the conditions. The NAACP took up their case, however, only when the students—by a one vote margin—agreed to seek an integrated school rather than improved conditions at their black school. Then, Howard University-trained attorneys Spotswood W. Robinson and Oliver Hill filed suit.

In Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, a state court rejected the suit, agreeing with defense attorney T. Justin Moore that Virginia was vigorously equalizing black and white schools. The verdict was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Subsequently, it was one of five incorporated into Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case which overturned school segregation in the United States.

As a result of the Brown decision, in 1959 the Board of Supervisors for Prince Edward County refused to appropriate any funds for the County School Board at all, effectively closing all public schools rather than integrate them. Prince Edward County Public Schools remained closed for five years.

A new entity, the Prince Edward Foundation, created a series of private schools to educate the county's white children. These schools were supported by tuition grants from the state and tax credits from the county. Prince Edward Academy, the all-white private, was one of the first such schools in Virginia which came to be called segregation academies.

Black students had to go to school elsewhere or forgo their education altogether. Some got schooling with relatives in nearby communities or at makeshift schools in church basements. Others were educated out of state by groups such as the Society of Friends. In 1963–64, the NAACP-sponsored Prince Edward Free School picked up some of the slack. But some pupils missed part or all of their education for five years.

When the public schools finally reopened in 1964, they were fully integrated. Historians mark that event as the end of Massive Resistance in Virginia.

In modern times, Prince Edward County Public Schools now operates single elementary, middle, and high schools for all students, regardless of race. They are:

Many of the segregation academies eventually closed; others changed their mission, and eliminated discriminatory policies. Prince Edward Academy was one of these, and was renamed the Fuqua School.

The former R. R. Moton High School building is now a community landmark. In 1998, it was named a National Historic Site, and it now houses the Robert Russa Moton Museum, a center for the study of civil rights in education.

Public service[edit]

Moton became involved in various aspects of public service.

  • 1918, Traveled to France at the request of President Woodrow Wilson to inspect black troops stationed there by the United States.
  • 1923, Played a leading role in the establishment of the Veterans Administration Hospital for Negroes, Tuskegee, Alabama.
  • 1927, Chairman of the American National Red Cross, Colored Advisory Commission on the Great Mississippi Flood.
  • 1932, Chairman of the United States Commission on Education in Haiti.

There is an elementary school named Robert R. Moton in Hampton, VA; also in Miami FL, Westminster, Md and New Orleans, LA.

In 1932, he was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP.[8]



  1. ^ Ronald L. Heinemann. "Robert Russa Moton (1867–1940)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Retrieved 2012-01-01. 
  2. ^ "C. M. Hubbard, 82, Ex-State Dept. Aide". New York Times. December 21, 1994. Retrieved 27 December 2011. Charlotte Moton Hubbard, who was deputy assistant secretary of state for public affairs from 1964 to 1970, making her the top-ranking black woman in the Johnson Administration at the time, died on Sunday at her home in Chevy Chase, Maryland. She was 82. ... 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Katz RV, Kegeles SS, Kressin NR, et al. (November 2006). "The Tuskegee Legacy smart mans to participate in biomedical research". J Health Care Poor Underserved 17 (4): 698–715. doi:10.1353/hpu.2006.0126. PMC 1780164. PMID 17242525. 
  5. ^ "Tuskegee Study - Timeline". NCHHSTP. CDC. 2008-06-25. Retrieved 2008-12-04. 
  6. ^ Heller J (1972-07-26). "Syphilis Victims in U.S. Study Went Untreated for 40 Years; Syphilis Victims Got No Therapy". New York Times. Associated Press. Retrieved 2008-12-04. 
  7. ^ Cecil McKithan (May 23, 1981). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Holly Knoll-R. R. Moton House" (pdf). National Park Service. 
  8. ^ NAACP Spingarn Medal

Further reading[edit]

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