Born 27 October 1842
Died 30 April 1905 (aged 62)
Tuskegee, Alabama, United States
Lewis Adams (Oct. 27, 1842 – Apr. 30, 1905) was an African-American former slave in Macon County, Alabama, who is best remembered for his work in helping found the normal school which grew to become Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama.
Little is known of his early life. It is known, however, that despite having no formal education, Adams could read, write, and speak several languages. He was an experienced tinsmith, harness-maker, and shoemaker. He was married to "Sallie" Sarah Adams with whom he had sixteen children. He was an acknowledged leader of the county's African-American community.
Adams was especially concerned that, without an education, the recently freed former slaves (and future generations) would not be able to fully support themselves. There were no institutions at that time to teach them essential skills.
In 1880, Adams was approached on behalf of two white candidates seeking election to the Alabama Senate. He was asked what it would take to get the votes of the community's black citizens. Rather than requesting and/or accepting personal gifts, a common practice, he made a deal with the Democratic Party in Montgomery, promising to secure the African-American vote if funding would be provided for a normal school for African Americans at Tuskegee. His skillful political negotiation, leadership and visions for the future proved successful, and funding of US$2,000 annually for a "Negro Normal School in Tuskegee" was made available by the state legislature beginning in 1881. (Normal schools were so named because they taught future teachers educational standards or norms.)
Another former slave, Booker T. Washington, was recruited upon recommendation of Samuel C. Armstrong, the founder and principal of another normal school for blacks in Hampton, Virginia, to become the first principal. From a beginning in borrowed space in a local church on July 4, 1881, the school moved in 1882 to 100 acres (0.40 km2) of plantation farmland, purchased with a $200 personal loan from the treasurer of Washington's former school (which eventually grew to become Hampton University).
Like Lewis Adams, Dr. Washington embraced the concept that former slaves needed practical job skills to support themselves and their families. In addition to building Tuskegee, he became a famous orator and secured major funding from wealthy American philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie, Collis P. Huntington, John D. Rockefeller, and Henry Huttleston Rogers. Despite his travels and widespread work, Dr. Washington remained principal of Tuskegee until his death in 1915, at the age of 59. At the time of his death, Tuskegee's endowment exceeded US$1.5 million.
Another famous African American who taught at the school of Lewis Adams' dreams was Dr. George Washington Carver.