Home > Uncategorized > February 5 – Tuskegee, Alabama

February 5 – Tuskegee, Alabama

Yesterday, we featured Rosa Parks, who was born in Tuskegee, Alabama. Besides being the birthplace of a Civil Rights icon, what else is Tuskegee famous for?…

Tuskegee, which means “Warrior” in the local Muskhogean dialect of the Native American Creek language, is a small city covering only 15.7 sq mi (40.7 sq km) in Macon County, Alabama. However, for a city so small geographically, Tuskegee is overflowing with African American history, including the following three:

Tuskegee University
Lewis Adams was a former slave and a self-educated man who could read, write and speak several languages. He was also a skilled craftsman and an acknowledged leader of Macon County’s African-American community during the late 1800s. When, W.F. Foster, a white candidate for the Alabama Senate asked Adams what it would take to secure black votes in the county, Adams asked for a normal school (teacher’s college) for free men, freed slaves, and their children.

Tuskegee Campus, 1916

Foster was elected and later authorized $2000 for the creation of the Tuskegee Normal School for Colored Teachers. Adams and the Board of Directors asked the Hampton Institute to recommend a new head for their school, and Principal Samuel C. Armstrong (a former Union Army General) immediately thought of 25 year-old Booker T. Washington.

Washington was another former slave who, after working labor jobs as a freedman, pursued a formal education and became a teacher. Under his leadership, the school opened, relocated, and expanded with students providing the majority of the construction, agricultural and domestic work. It was Washington’s wish and mission to teach both academics and, more importantly, self-reliance rooted in labor and nature. One of Washington’s most famous recruits was Professor George Washington Carver, a scientist, botanist, educator and inventor whose name is virtually synonymous with innovative research into Southern farming method and crops.

The school, later known as the Tuskegee Institute, and finally Tuskegee University, is now classified as a historically black college, and the campus is a National Historic Landmark.

1940, Junior class in farm management at Tuskegee Institute

Tuskegee Airmen
During World War II, with Jim Crow laws still in effect, African-American soldiers faced discrimination and adversity from the same military and government they wished to fight for and defend. All branches of the armed forces were racially segregated and subjected to exceptionally restrictive mental, physical, and educational specifications in order to qualify for combat.

Despite these hurdles, an abundance of qualified men enlisted, trained and fought in the Army Air Corps’ all-black combat unit. They were the first African American US military pilots, and they flew with distinction. Their war record was exemplary and they were recognized especially for their success in bomber escort missions over Europe. Because the program officially started with the formation of the 99th Fighter Squadron at the Tuskegee Institute, the group would come be known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

Tuskegee Airmen in front of a P-40

Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment
One of sadder associations with the town of Tuskegee is the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment which was a clinical study conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the U.S. Public Health Service. In the study, investigators recruited 399 impoverished African-American sharecroppers diagnosed with syphilis for research related to the natural progression of the untreated disease, in hopes of justifying treatment programs for blacks. In other words, rather than offering the subjects treatments which were available and effective, the doctors allowed the patients to suffer, untreated, while they observed and documented their condition.

The 40-year study was finally deemed unethical and led to major changes in U.S. law and regulation on the protection of participants in clinical studies. Studies now require informed consent, communication of diagnosis, and accurate reporting of test results. While an important contribution to patients’ rights in medical science, it came at a terrible price.

thanks for reading,


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