Tuskegee Stories and Tips

Tuskegee University

Old House in Tuskegee Photo, Tuskegee, Alabama

After Mom and I toured Moton Field and the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Site, we made our way towards downtown Tuskegee and Tuskegee University. We didn't realize how spread out Tuskegee was and we didn't see any signs telling us where the University was and decided to stop at the local McDonald's for a quick bite to eat and ask for directions. I asked a young man sweeping the playground outside, but he didn't know where Tuskegee University was, and I realized that he was mentally challenged. Jonesing for a USA Today, and Mom needing a nail file to clean her nails, we decided to stop at the nearby CVS to ask for directions.

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.

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