Tuskegee Remembers its Fifth President: Benjamin F. Payton

On September 28, 2016 Tuskegee University lost its longest standing president—President Benjamin Franklin Payton. Payton, a South Carolinian native, graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor of Divinity in Physical Theology and later from Yale University with a Ph. D in Ethics. After an extensive academic teaching career; his presidency at Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina; and his term of program officer of Education and Public Policy for the Ford Foundation in New York City, Payton was named President of Tuskegee University in 1981. 

Throughout his 29 year presidency Payton accomplished some revolutionary feats and cultural changes for Tuskegee University.  He was most notably known for erecting the gates, reorganizing the academic programs, initiating Tuskegee Institutes development in to Tuskegee University, establishing the Kellogg Conference Center and a multitude of fundraising initiatives.  

Beyond those accomplishments Payton, left his legacy in other regards—of those was a distinct level of refinement and social engagement.  Payton was responsible for the many university appearances of highly acclaimed and revered individuals such as John H. Franklin, Tavis Smiley, Lerone Bennett, Hazel O’leary, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush.  In fact, as a favor to the University, the Bush family hosted a reception at the white house to raise money for Tuskegee’s $150 million capital fund campaign. 

There are many different perceptions of Payton and vision. Amidst the wide array of views, One of the most common thoughts about him according to Dr. Charlotte Morris, current interim Dean of the Brimmer College and former chief of staff for 23 years under Payton, was, “…that whatever he did, he had Tuskegee’s best interest at heart.”   

“He had a vision… he always had a vision… he was a visionary leader,” according to Morris and that vision will forever be stitched in the fabric of the great legacy that is Tuskegee.