Robert Russa Moton

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Robert Russa Moton
Robert Russa Moton, 1916.jpg
Robert Moton in 1916
Born(1867-08-26)August 26, 1867
DiedMay 31, 1940(1940-05-31) (aged 72)
EducationHampton Institute, Tuskegee Institute
OrganizationFellowship of Reconciliation, Congress of Racial Equality, War Resisters League, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Social Democrats, USA (National Chairman), A. Philip Randolph Institute (President), Committee on the Present Danger
MovementCivil Rights Movement, Peace Movement, Socialism
AwardsSpingarn Medal from the NAACP

Robert Russa Moton (August 26, 1867 – May 31, 1940) was an American educator and author.[1] He served as an administrator at Hampton Institute. In 1915 he was named principal of Tuskegee Institute, after the death of founder 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, and was raised in nearby Rice, Prince Edward County, Virginia. He was the grandson of an African chieftain who had grown wealthy by engaging in slave trading. Later this chief was himself sold into slavery, leading to the establishment of Moton's family in the Americas shortly thereafter.

Moton graduated from the Hampton Institute in 1890.

He married Elizabeth Hunt Harris in 1905, but she died in 1906. He married his second wife, Jennie Dee Booth, in 1908. They had three daughters together: Charlotte Moton (Hubbard), who became a deputy assistant secretary of state at the State Department under President Lyndon B. Johnson; Catherine Moton (Patterson); and Jennie Moton (Taylor). All three married and had families.[2]

In 1891, Moton was appointed commandant of the male student cadet corps at Hampton Institute, equivalent to Dean of Men, serving in this position for more than a decade. He was informally known as the "Major".

In 1915, after the death of Booker T. Washington, Moton succeeded Washington as the second principal of the Tuskegee Institute. While supporting the work-study program, he emphasized education, integrating liberal arts into the curriculum, establishing bachelor of science degrees in agriculture and education. He improved courses of study, especially in teacher training, elevated the quality of the faculty and administration, constructed new facilities, and significantly increased the endowment by maintaining his connections to wealthy white benefactors in the North.[1]

During World War I, Moton traveled to Europe on behalf of president Woodrow Wilson. His duty was to investigate the condition of the African-American soldiers. He often witnessed discriminatory practices. For example, during his investigation, Moton was confronted by an American general regarding twenty-six alleged cases of rape by black soldiers. The general told Moton that black soldiers were dangerous to themselves and women. Moton challenged these allegations, suggesting discrimination was motivating factor, and encouraged black soldiers to protest against segregation when they returned to the US.[3][4]

Moton wrote a number of books while he served as principal. He attended the First Pan-African Congress in Paris in 1919, meeting other educators and activists from around the world.

In 1922 he was the keynote speaker at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. but was not allowed to sit with the other speakers.

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.[5]

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.[5]

In 1927 the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 devastated the Delta. With the Mississippi flood waters covering the entire Delta, the Greenville, Mississippi levee was the only high, safe place for thousands of refugees. The vast majority of the people stranded on the levee were African Americans, and they were desperate for food, potable drinking water and shelter. Instead of evacuating them, African Americans were virtually imprisoned on the levee and forced to work at gunpoint. The conditions in the Greenville camp were the worst of any refugee site.[6]

To avoid a scandal that would threaten Herbert Hoover's presidential ambitions, Hoover's friends urged him to get what they called "the big Negroes" in the Republican Party to quiet his critics, and Hoover turned to Robert Moton for the job. Hoover formed the Colored Advisory Commission, led by Moton and staffed by prominent African Americans, to investigate the allegations of abuses in the flood area.

The commission conducted a thorough investigation and reported back to Moton on the deplorable conditions. Moton presented the findings to Hoover, and advocated immediate improvements to aid the flood's neediest victims. But the information was never made public. Hoover had asked Moton to keep a tight lid on his investigation. In return, Hoover implied that if he were successful in his bid for the presidency, Moton and his people would play a role in his administration unprecedented in the nation's history. Hoover also hinted that as president he intended to divide the land of bankrupt planters into small African-American-owned farms.

Motivated by Hoover's promises, Moton saw to it that the Colored Advisory Commission never revealed the full extent of the abuses in the Delta, and Moton championed Hoover's candidacy to the African-American population. However, once elected President in 1928, Hoover ignored Robert Moton and the promises he had made to his black constituency. In the following election of 1932, Moton withdrew his support for Hoover and switched to the Democratic Party.[5]

Moton was a member of the Gamma Sigma graduate chapter of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, along with George Washington Carver.[7]

Moton went on to retire from Tuskegee in 1935 and died at his home Holly Knoll, in Gloucester County, Virginia, in 1940 at the age of 72 where he was buried at the Hampton Institute. Tuskegee Institute named the field where Airmen trained during World War I after Robert Moton, in honor of everything he did for the institute.[8]

Legacy and honors[edit]

Moton Hall, a men's dorm built in the late 1950's at Hampton University, is named for him.

Public service[edit]

Moton played a role in various aspects of public service.


  • — (April 1907). "The Negro's Uphill Climb: The Life-Story of a Ladder of the Colored Race I: Ancestry and Struggle for Education". The World's Work: A History of Our Time. XIII: 8738–8743. Retrieved July 10, 2009.
  • — (May 1907). "A Negro's Uphill Climb II: Student Life at Hampton Institute". The World's Work: A History of Our Time. XIV: 8915–8918. Retrieved July 10, 2009.
  • — (August 1907). "A Negro's Uphill Climb III: Concluded". The World's Work: A History of Our Time. XIV: 9198–9201. Retrieved July 10, 2009.
  • Some Elements Necessary To Race Development, 1913.
  • Racial Good Will Addresses, 1916.
  • Negro of Today: Remarkable Growth Of Fifty Years, 1921.
  • — (September 14, 1921). "An Inter-Racial Commission At Work". The Outlook. 129: 59–61. Retrieved July 30, 2009.
  • The Negro's Debt to Lincoln (8 pp.), 1922.
  • Frissell the Builder: Address at the Dedication of the Frissell Memorial Organ in Ogden Hall, Hampton Institute, 1923.
  • Finding A Way Out (autobiography). Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page & Co, 1920. ISBN 0-8371-1897-2
  • What the Negro Thinks. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1929.


  1. ^ a b Ronald L. Heinemann. "Robert Russa Moton (1867–1940)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Retrieved January 1, 2012.
  2. ^ "C. M. Hubbard, 82, Ex-State Dept. Aide". New York Times. December 21, 1994. Retrieved December 27, 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. ^ Williams, Chad (2010). Torchbearers of Democracy: African American Soldiers in the World War I Era. University of North Carolina Press. p. 199.
  5. ^ a b c "WGBH American Experience . Fatal Flood | PBS". American Experience. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
  6. ^ "WGBH American Experience . Fatal Flood . Will Percy | PBS". American Experience. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
  7. ^ Crystal A. Degregory, "Saluting Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. | HBCU Standouts", HBCU Story, January 9, 2014.
  8. ^
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ "Tuskegee Study - Timeline". NCHHSTP. CDC. June 25, 2008. Retrieved December 4, 2008.
  11. ^ Heller Jean (July 26, 1972). "Syphilis Victims in U.S. Study Went Untreated for 40 Years; Syphilis Victims Got No Therapy". New York Times. Associated Press. Retrieved December 4, 2008.
  12. ^ Cecil McKithan (May 23, 1981). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Holly Knoll-R. R. Moton House" (pdf). National Park Service. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  13. ^ NAACP Spingarn Medal Archived May 5, 2014, at WebCite

Further reading[edit]

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