Edwin Hamilton's years growing up in Tuskegee, Ala., were not unlike those of many black children in the 1940s when segregation was pervasive.
What was unusual for his upbringing was the town itself, a place where African Americans had made strides in the previous six decades to form a community that emphasized education as a means to achieve self-sufficiency. At the heart of that effort was the Tuskegee Institute, founded as a training school by Booker T. Washington in 1881. Its campus, built by Tuskegee students, lay in clear view from the front windows of Dr. Hamilton's childhood home above his mother's dry cleaning business on a two-lane highway.
More important than the lush green lawns of the campus were Tuskegee's rich traditions in community action and education as tools to build a foundation for success and prosperity, not only for oneself, but for each successive generation. They were guiding principles Dr. Hamilton carried with him to Howard University, where he taught for 26 years until he was seriously injured in a car accident in 2000.
From childhood, it was a message imbued in his consciousness and always on the tip of his tongue whenever anyone questioned the value of education.
He held out his own story as an example. The second of three children born to a single mother, Dr. Hamilton served in the Army before graduating from what is now Tuskegee University with a degree in industrial education and a master's degree in education guidance and counseling. He taught at an elementary school in Macon, Ala., directed a federally sponsored youth program and, in 1974, received a doctorate in adult and continuing education from Ohio State University.
He had a round youthful face that would begin to contort when he heard students describe obstacles to their educational goals, said his wife of 42 years, Alberta Hamilton. "He would get on his soapbox and go on and on about education," Mrs. Hamilton said. "That was his passion. He encouraged as many people as he could reach."
In 1997, Dr. Hamilton, who possessed a courtly demeanor as well as a dry sense of humor, traveled to Detroit with his wife, the Rev. Edwin James of First Baptist Church of North Brentwood and other parishioners to attend a national conference on the African American family.
"Ed paid his own way and did his own thing, while the rest of us went about the business of the conference," James recounted at a memorial service for Dr. Hamilton on Dec. 27 at First Baptist Church. "But Ed was insistent that we make a stop at the African American museum in Detroit. He was always educating us.
"He told me to get a Ph.D.," James said. "I said, 'Ed, I don't have one D yet, how am I going to get a Ph.D.?' 'If I can do it, you can do it too,' was his response."
Before his accident, Dr. Hamilton challenged children in his Mitchellville neighborhood to get better grades and promised new cars to his own children if they graduated from college. He played the piano, traveled across the globe in the summer months and at home listened to jazz and relaxed on his favorite love seat watching animal shows on the Discovery Channel.
At Howard, where he served as chairman of the Department of Educational Administration and Policy, he helped secure research grants and arranged for students to earn academic credits for work with D.C. government agencies. In 1982, he won a scholarship to teach adult education at the University of Benin in Nigeria.
There, he found the university's mission statement about producing educated professionals to help its immediate community matched his own educational philosophy. Part of his course work at Howard included classes on community action development, a step-by-step process that identifies problems in neighborhoods, involves local leaders and generates statistics and demographics to support proposed solutions.
Back at Howard, he served on the editorial and advisory board of the Journal of Negro Education. He wrote a textbook on adult education for community development.
On the day of his accident, he was at his office. As he headed home to Mitchellville, his car was struck by a vehicle at an intersection in Prince George's County.
He suffered a traumatic brain injury that left him in a coma for about a month. He emerged from the coma and, after three months of rehabilitation at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, got around with the help of a walker. He required constant care because he suffered from memory lapses and seizures.
Dr. Hamilton died Dec. 21 at Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham of complications from those injuries. He was 66.