January 24, 2012

Tales of Tuskegee

The sun was shining this morning, and we were finally able to leave Montgomery.  Our plan was to drive east toward Tuskegee, Alabama.  The National Park Service administers two historic sites in Tuskegee:  Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site and Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.  We wanted to visit both.

Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site is nestled within the historic campus of Tuskegee University and includes the George Washington Carver Museum and The Oaks, the home of Booker T. Washington who established Tuskegee Institute.  Tim and I had learned about Washington when we visited his boyhood home in December.

George Washington Carver Museum, Tuskegee Institute's Original Laundry
The Oaks, Home of Booker T. Washington
Tuskegee University is a beautiful campus, and many of the buildings constructed while Booker T. Washington was president are still standing.  Many of these buildings were actually constructed by the students from bricks that they had produced.  It was so pleasant to wander through the campus on such a beautiful day.

Thompkins Hall
White Hall
Legacy Walkway
Booker T. Washington Monument
Tim especially enjoyed talking with a volunteer at the museum, an elderly woman who moved to Tuskegee from New Jersey and raised her children there.  We spent quite a bit of time at the museum where we expanded our knowledge of George Washington Carver.  What an incredible man!  Born a slave, Carver developed a passion for knowledge.  Although most people associate Carver with developing new uses for peanuts, how many know that his first love was art?  Several of his paintings and drawings are on exhibit at the museum.

Carver's Painting Yucca Gloriosa Won an Honorable Mention
at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893
But Carver is best known as a scientist who reinvented agriculture in the South.  He encouraged farmers to grow a variety of crops, instead of relying on cotton which was depleting the soil.  In order to convince farmers that there was a market for alternative crops, such as peanuts and sweet potatoes, he researched dozens of ways to utilize these crops.  Carver was the most celebrated professor at Tuskegee Institute and worked tirelessly to educate not only its students, but also farmers throughout the South.

Tuskegee's Movable School Brought Education Directly to Farmers
One facet of Carver’s work that particularly intrigued me was the weight he placed on beauty.  Carver developed a rich array of inexpensive paint colors from local clays and demonstrated to impoverished farmers how pleasing color combinations could improve the looks of their homes.  He also provided farmers with flower seeds to plant near their homes to add a touch of beauty.

Rich Paint Colors for the Poor
It was coincidental that we visited Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site this week, just days after the release of Red Tails, George Lucas’ new movie about the Tuskegee Airmen.  Everyone we spoke with was so excited about the movie, which had been years in the making.

Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site tells the story of the African American men who arrived at Moton Field in 1941 to begin their training as Army Air Corps pilots.  The story of the Tuskegee Airmen is well-known, and it was really cool to walk through Hangar No. 1 where they learned to fly, hear about the obstacles the men had to overcome and listen to their voices through oral histories.  The exhibits here are very engaging.

Hangar No. 1
Biplanes Were Used to Train the Pilots
Another Training Plane
The park has not yet been fully developed, and plans are underway to expand the exhibit space into Hangar No. 2.  Plans are to bring a P-51 Mustang to the new space.  The P-51s were given the nickname Red Tails because of their distinctive red tails.  Now that would be something to see.  A highlight of our visit was speaking with a ranger who was so excited to share the story of these men and to separate fact from fiction. 

Hangar No. 2


  1. Great place to visit. I cannot wait till I get to see that movie. Love A

  2. Amazing! Thanks for sharing. :-) LV

  3. A and LV, Tuskegee is defnitely worth a visit. Since Tim and I are not likely to get to the movies while on this trip, let us know if you are able to see "Red Tails." Sarah