Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Travel: An Overlooked Gem in Alabama

Travel: A Gem in Alabama

I have previously suggested trips to distant lands in Asia and Africa in this series. You may recoil at the time, effort, and expense needed to reach those places. You have no such excuse with respect to today’s posting. It surprises me that so few of my acquaintances have ever been to what I regard as the second best travel destination in Alabama, Tuskegee University.

Booker T. Washington was an amazing man. He was employed in the late Nineteenth Century to run an impoverished school for Negroes in an unlikely locale in Southeast Alabama. When he completed his work, Tuskegee Institute was one of the finest educational institutions for African American in the United States and remains so today. He had a remarkable ability to raise funds from rich Yankees and Southern white politicians. He also became the primary spokesman for African Americans during the first two decades of the Twentieth Century.

Tuskegee University campus remains a reflection of the man, Booker T. Washington. He believed that true liberation to the black man would come from education, particularly education that qualified his graduates to have the skills necessary to be gainfully employed. His students constructed the early buildings on the campus out of materials that they had manufactured themselves. These buildings remain today. They are simply designed but an eloquent statement of the history of the school

Monty and I visited Tuskegee primarily to see the “Singing Windows,” portraying various Negro Spirituals. It is probably the best known window in the state. The window was nice enough, but I was stunned by the chapel itself. The old chapel had burned down and the new one was designed by the famous architect and Auburn graduate, Paul Rudulph. It is the most impressive contemporary building I have seen in Alabama, and there are few that can match it anywhere.

Other sites well worth the trip are the Booker T. Washington-George Washington Carver museum. We saw the movie on Booker T. Washington, and it is well worth the twenty minutes or so. Washington’s home is now on display on the campus. The airport where the Tuskegee Airmen were trained during World War is a few miles out of town. One of those flyers, Chappie Hayes, a Tuskegee graduate, became the first African American General in the Air Force. I had the privilege of hearing him speak at the Birmingham Rotary Club in the early seventies, where he received a rarely bestowed standing ovation.

Spend a day at Tuskegee and you will not regret it.

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