Day 65: Tuskegee

On Tuesday we headed up the highway in the opposite direction from Selma to the town of Tuskegee. Our first destination was the National Historic site of the Tuskegee Airman Museum. It is located at the airfield where the Tuskegee airmen trained and the museum is set up in the two “original” hangars (one burned down in the 80’s and was rebuilt).

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Most of the original buildings are on the grounds so you can walk around and read the descriptions. Inside the hangars are detailed exhibit (and a video) about the history behind the creation of the first African American Air Corp.,  and the support crews, their training, their combat stories and biographies of what they accomplished after the war. There are multiple video displays to watch with first person accounts of their experiences.

The exhibits not only highlight the incredible accomplishments of these pilots and the influence they had on the integration of the military, but also the struggles discrimination, and racism they faced from inside and outside the military. The displays highlighted how their efforts to challenge the separate and not equal conditions they endured contributed to the Civil Rights movement. Because of their accomplishments and experiences as successful pilots within a hostile military environment they felt less intimidated by the racism they encountered on the streets and became leaders in many of the Civil Rights activities. The displays included many biographies about these men and women and their post war accomplishments as African American pioneers and successful leaders in their industries – engineering, nursing, aviation and politics.  There was so much information and it was all so intriguing that we were shocked when we looked at our watch and saw over 2.5 hours had passed.

Next we drove over to the Tuskegee University campus which is also a National Historic site, to visit the George Washington Carver Museum.

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The home of the first president of the University, Booker T. Washington, is a part of the National Historic Site, but it is no longer open for tours. Not sure if it is being renovated.

The museum exhibits provide a detailed history of the life and accomplishments of George Washington Carver and through the displays you learn a bit about the role that the University played in not only providing higher education for African Americans but also helping to improve the lives of the people in the surrounding community. Carver created a moving school, a wagon built by the University students, and took his education out to the neighborhoods to educate farmers on better farming techniques and how to use the resources available to them. (Carver was an expert at creating useful items out of natural resources and discarded material.) On campus he also held yearly, week long conferences, to educate and train farmers on better farming techniques like rotating crops and how to use their crop yields for creating other foods stuff and materials like peanut oil as medicine and sweet potatoes for color dye.

As a dietitian I was particularly interested in his work with food and crops. One of the exhibits explained how Carver’s introduction and use of peanut, soybean and sweet potato crops have influenced current work at the University. The University has received three consecutive 5-year grants to provide research and resources for creating sustainable food options for NASA space exploration. Fascinating!!

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After the museum we walked back toward our car through the campus which is beautiful. It is a private university of 3100 students, 90% are African American, and is known for its engineering and agricultural programs.

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