An August 2008 trip
to Tuskegee by Wildcat Dianne
Quote: On the way home from Georgia, Mom and I stopped in Tuskegee, Alabama for a couple of hours to see the University and other sites.
Mom and I visited Tuskegee, Alabama on the way home from a family visit in Georgia. After suffering through four days of Mom's family that even had Mom glad to be heading home to Pensacola and it's her family, we made a short stop at Tuskegee after researching the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Site and Tuskegee University on the Internet. Intrigued by this historical center of African-American history, we made plans to stop here on the way home from Georgia.
Although it was a short visit to Tuskegee for Mom and me, we came away from the trip with a lot of facts and information and made a new friend who will make it easy for Mom and me to return to Tuskegee in the near future.
Get to know the locals! Mom and I were at one of the local gas stations in Tuskegee filling up the car before leaving town and heading home to Pensacola. When I came out of the gas station after paying for our gas to fill the tank, a local came out of his car at the next pump and noticed our Idaho license plates and asked us what brought us to Tuskegee. After telling him that Mom and moved to Florida from Idaho to be near family, he was glad that Mom and I decided to visit Tuskegee and were interested in the history of the place. Turns out the young man, Jagayde, is the Assistant Director of the Tuskegee University Marching Band, and he gave us an invitation the next time we were in town to see Tuskegee University more in depth along with the Tuskegee Airmen Museum after its completion. Mom and I hope to take Jagayde up on his invitation for the tour along with lunch or dinner at The Coop, which Jagayde says is the "best soul food in town" when we make another trip to Georgia sometime in January 2009.
From I-85 North or South, take Exit 38 (The Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site exit) and take a left off the exit ramp for about two miles. The Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site is on the left hand side and signs will show you to the parking lot.
From the historical site, you can get to downtown Tuskegee fairly easily, but there are not any signs directing you to the University. From the site, take a left onto Daniel "Chappie" James Road and go about three miles to the intersection at James Road and Martin Luther King, Jr. Road, Tuskegee's main drag. Take a right onto MLK, Jr. Road and drive into town. Mom and I stopped at McDonald's for a quick lunch and couldn't get directions from the young man cleaning the playground. I think he was a little slow. So, Mom and I got directions from the clerk at the local CVS where we stopped for a nail file for Mom and hoped for a USA Today to no avail.
To get to Tuskegee University from downtown Tuskegee, take a right at the Taco Bell at Rosa Parks Plaza and go to the end of the road and take a left at the traffic light. Follow this road about a mile and you will hit TU on the right side.
Tuskegee was the home of the first law school in Alabama along with other institutes of higher education for both men and women including The Tuskegee Female College (1856 and later Huntingdon College), the Tuskegee Military Institute, and the world reknown Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), which was founded by Lewis Adams as the Tuskegee Normal School for Colored Teachers in 1881. From the late 19th Century to the present, Tuskegee, Alabama has been the center for many African-American achievements in science, education, and history. George Washington Carver (1864-1943), an African-American scientist and teacher at Tuskegee Institute came up with many improvements for Southern farming and crops including crop rotation and teaching freed slaves how to farm and become self-sufficient. Booker T. Washington, another African-American pioneer taught at Tuskegee University and is buried next to George Washington Carver.
Tuskegee is also the birthplace of Rosa Parks, the civil rights activist who refused to sit in the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama that triggered the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1963. Rosa Parks Plaza on the road to Tuskegee University is named in Rosa Parks Honor.
During World War II, Tuskegee was the home to the Tuskegee Airmen, the African-American Air Force unit that consisted of many students from Tuskegee Univeristy. It was these landmark times in history that put Tuskegee, Alabama on the map and today and in the future will keep making history in the fields education, history, and science.
So on a soon to be hot Friday in August 2008, Mom and I got an early start from my cousin's house in Douglasville in order to make our sightseeing stops in Palmetto and Tuskegee, Alabama and get home to Pensacola at a reasonable hour.
Our first stop was the promised stop at Palmetto, Georgia. Originally established as Johnson's Store on May 8, 1833, the town was renamed Palmetto by a South Carolinian army unit on the way to the Mexican War on December 8, 1847. The South Carolinians said that the town reminded them of their homestate which is nicknamed "The Palmetto State." Palmetto was unincorporated in Campbell County, which was disolved in 1931 and Palmetto became part of Fulton County on January 1, 1932.
In September 1864, the Union Army under General William T. Sherman burned and occupied Atlanta. The Confederate Army of Tennessee had been stationed in Atlanta at the time and fled Atlanta and headed westward and moved to Palmetto on September 19, 1864 and set up temporary headquarters in the town under the command of General John B. Hood. On September 25, 1864, Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy came to Palmetto and made a speech to the Army of Tennessee about three miles north of the town. The 20th Louisiana Band was in town and performed for Davis and his entourage. Jefferson Davis stayed in town for a couple of days before leaving on September 27, and by September 29, General Hood and the Army of Tennessee had left town, too, to head back to Tennessee and the disastrous campaign in their homestate.
Palmetto was also known as a milltown with three cotton gins that were very productive in the late-19th Century, and the Palmetto Cotton Mill was run by a Bostonian named Riley who became a pillar of the community in Palmetto.
Mom and I spent about a half-hour at the railway station taking pictures of the cannons near the Army of Tennessee Monument and the railway station. After its use as a train depot ended, the station had other uses including to fairly recently, a sheriff substation. Willis Menefee is buried near the train depot, and several events commemorating Palmetto's history are held every year.
Our first stop was the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Site. Located on Route 81 in the middle of the huge Tuskegee National Forest, this fascinating piece of African-American history is not to be missed when visiting the State of Alabama.
There was not anyone in the parking lot when Mom and I arrived at Moton Field, the airfield that the Tuskegee Airmen did their training during World War II. It took a minute for Mom and I to find the building where the exhibits were being held, and noticed a temporary building to our left. The American flag in front of the building was at half-mast, and Mom and I were wondering if we missed something in the news about someone famous or a Tuskegee Airmen passing away. Entering the building, we were greeted by a park ranger named John Whitfield who said that due to the extensive reconstruction and remodeling of Moton Field, all of the exhibits were kept in this building, and he would be glad to give us a talk about Moton Field and the Tuskegee Airmen followed by a short film.
The Tuskegee Airmen were formed after pressure to the government grew for African-Americans to have a bigger role in the US Military. During World War I, thousands of African-Americans fought in segregated units in France, and it would be the same during World War II. After World War I, African-Americans also became fascinated with flying airplanes and several African-American flight clubs were formed throughout the USA. The Army Air Corps was first to suggest that there be an African-American air unit, and in 1941, a small number of students from the then-Tuskegee Insitute were selected as part of this "military experiment to train African-American pilots and support staff." The training would occur at nearby Moton Field, which was named after Robert Russa Moton, the principal of Tuskegee Institute, who had passed away in 1940, and this was the beginning of the Tuskegee Airmen.
The Tuskegee Experience would last from 1941-1946 at Moton Field and over 15,000 African-American men and woman would undergo training in Tuskegee, and several of the airmen would see combat in Europe during World War II doing bombing raids on German strategic positions and formations. Daniel "Chappy" James, who was a student of Tuskegee Institute was one of the Tuskegee Airmen's success stories and would go on to become the first African-American four-star general, and the road that the historical site is on that also goes into downtown Tuskegee is named in James's honor.
After World War II ended, Moton Field was shut down and it went into terrible disrepair through the next six decades. One of the hangars along with the officers club were torn down, and some of the original brick gates were buried by construction crews who build new hangars at Moton Field. It looked like the history of the Tuskegee Airmen was going to be buried in time literally, but in 1998, Moton Field became a National Historical Site, and extensive reconstruction was started in order to preserve this valuable part of American history.
After Ranger Whitfield spoke and answered all of our questions, he took us into a small video room to watch the Tuskegee Airmen video that is narrated by actor Dorian Harewood (Roots: The Next Generation). It was a short and nice video showing pictures of the Tuskegee Airmen in training with voiceovers from the airmen talking about their experiences at Moton Field.
After the video, Mom and I were free to wander around the small exhibit in the temporary module, and then Ranger Whitfield let us out on the deck to see Moton Field more clearly. He told us we could go over to the overview area to the right to see Moton Field even better and after we said good-bye to Ranger Whitfield and thanked him for the talk, Mom and I headed over there to look around Moton Field.
During our visit to Moton Field in August 2008, it was in various stages of reconstruction and remodeling. The Officers Mess where the African-American servicemen could relax after a hard day of training (another place for the segregated unit to relax was at Tuskegee Institute), was a shell of its former self but its reconstruction was almost done. One of the hangars at Moton Field was totally razed after 1946, but while we were visiting, the hangar was being returned to its 1940's glory.
Reconstruction of Moton Field will be finished this October and a grand opening ceremony will happen at this time. The hangars will be museums depicting the history of the Tuskegee Airmen and Moton Field and will be a permanent fixture of African-American history. Mom and I hope to return to Moton Field in January when we make another (GAG!) trip to Georgia to visit the family, but our August visit was a big learning experience for Mom and me, and we won't forget it.
To get to Moton Field from I-85 East or West, take Exit 38 (Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Site Exit) and take a left off the exit ramp. Go down the road about a mile before taking a left onto Daniel "Chappy" James Road and Moton Field will be about a 1/2 mile down on the left-hand side. Admission to Moton Field is free, and it's open from 9-5 daily.
Tuskegee Airmen NHS
1616 Chappie James Ave.
Twenty minutes later and no newspaper since the CVS didn't carry USA Today and Mom looking forward to clean nails, we had directions to Tuskegee University and were on our way.
After the Civil War when all of the slaves were freed by Presidential decree, education for the freed slaves was virtually non-existent. when slavery was legal, slaves were not allowed to seek an education in any way or face flogging or death at the hands of their masters. But by the late-19th Century, rumblings were going on in the South demanding education for freed slaves and their families. In Tuskegee, Alabama, George Campbell, a former slave owner, and Lewis Adams, a slave who didn't go to school but knew how to read and write, got together with Campbell and Senator W.F. Foster about setting up a school for the African-Americans in the area.
In exchange for setting up a school for African-Americans, Foster didn't ask for money and only asked for support from the African-American community and Lewis Adams in the upcoming Senate election in which Foster was running for re-election. The Alabama legislation passed for a "Negro Normal School" and kicked in a $2,000 appropriation to pay the teachers of the school, and a commission was formed. In 1881, the first classes of the Tuskegee Institute were held in a shanty under the tutelage of Booker T. Washington (1856-1915), a former slave who would become President and founder of Tuskegee Institute. Only 30 students started out at Tuskegee Institute, but soon enough more students enrolled, and the shanty became too small to hold classes. Tuskegee Institute was moved to a 100-acre abandoned plantation where Tuskegee University is today.
Booker T. Washington ran Tuskegee Institute from 1881 until his death at age 59 in 1915. During Washington's administration, Tuskegee Institute became a prominent African-American college teaching African-American students to become agriculturists, veterinarians, business people, and other professional education for the next 127 years through its many schools established there. In 1985, Tuskegee Institute became Tuskegee University and today educates over 3,000 African-American students in its seven schools. There are over 70 buildings on the campus and more are being built today to accommodate the growing student population.
Due to it being summer vacation at the time of our visit, Mom and I were able to drive around the Tuskegee University campus without much trouble. I believe if we were there when school was in session, we would have had to park somewhere on campus and walk around which would have been no problem. The campus was pretty much deserted except for a handful of students going home from summer school. Most of the 19th and early 20th Century buildings are still standing on the campus and are used as classrooms or dormitories and there was more dorms being constructed on TU's main road. We passed George Washington Carver's museum while Mom read about his life from the brochure. Carver was the son of a slave woman and her white master, Moses Carver. When George was very young, his mother was kidnapped by slave runners and he never saw her again. Moses Carver made sure George got a good education after the Civil War and George took his name when he went to school. Carver became a well-known scientist, philanthropist, and artist and his studies on crop rotation and other agricultural studies improved farming throughout the USA and helped out freed slaves looking to start their own farms.
Mom and I spent about an hour driving around the campus reading our brochures we had gotten at Moton Field and soaking in Tuskegee University's hallowed history. When Mom and I go back to Georgia in January, we are planning on stopping at Tuskegee and the university again and taking up the assistant band director's, JaGayde Colvert, up on his offer to tour the campus of Tuskegee University with him.
To get to Tuskegee University from 1-85, take Exit 38 and take a left off the exit ramp. Take a left onto Daniel "Chappy" James Road and pass Moton Field. Go down James Road about 2 miles until you get to the end and an Exxon Station is on the right. Take a right onto Martin Luther King, Jr. Road and follow it for a mile into downtown Tuskegee. Take a right at the Taco Bell at Rosa Parks Plaza and then a left at the light about a half-mile up the road. Tuskegee University will be about a mile up the road on the right-hand side.