October 25, 2012
I hope this column presents an absorbing, yet a disturbing and timely glimpse into the history of African Americans in and around Tuskegee, Alabama.
Tuskegee was the name of a tribal town of the Creek Indians. It was also the name of at least two Indian tribes, one living in central Alabama and the other in Tennessee.
In the early part of the past century, Tuskegee was a city where whites passed laws that segregated, divested and disfranchised African-Americans. Laws that were enforced with violence and terror.
Nevertheless the city produced and established a momentous measure of pioneering achievement in American history, and a defining role in the growth of the country.
Our African American ancestors have suffered many unfortunate events such as The Tuskegee Experiment, where between 1932 and 1972, the U.S. Public Health Service conducted an experiment on 399 black men in the late stages of syphilis. These men, for the most part uneducated sharecroppers from one of the poorest counties in Alabama, were never told what disease they were suffering from or of its seriousness. They were told that they were being treated for “bad blood.”
By the end of the experiment, 28 of the men had died directly of syphilis, 100 were dead of related complications, 40 of their wives had been infected, and 19 of their children had been born with congenital syphilis. The Tuskegee Experiment shows the impact of government propaganda and lies. Its impact lingers on society in general, and its influence on African American culture both in years past and today creating doubt as to who can be trusted.
Despite the discovery of penicillin in the 1940s and the civil rights movement that engulfed the Tuskegee area, and in the face of debates over questions of morality of this research raised in the 1950s, the study continued until 1972.
Tuskegee has been an important site in various stages of African American history. It is where, in 1881, Dr. Booker T. Washington, one of the foremost African-American leaders of the late 19th and early 20th centuries founded what is now Tuskegee University.
As a young man in 1872, Booker T. left home and walked 500 miles to Hampton Normal Agricultural Institute in Virginia. Along the way he took odd jobs to support himself. He convinced administrators to let him attend the school and took a job as a janitor to help pay his tuition.
In 1896 Dr. Washington invited Dr. George Washington Carver to head its Agriculture Department. Carver taught there for 47 years.
Dr. George Washington Carver, developed techniques to improve soils depleted by repeated plantings of cotton, and became legendary for researching and experimenting with new uses for peanuts, sweet potatoes, soybeans, pecans, and other crops.
Carver headed Tuskegee’s agriculture department, and conducted most of his research at Tuskegee from 1896 until his death in 1943.
He once said “how far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong because someday in your life you will have been all of these."
Many contributions of Black Americans from in and around Tuskegee have influenced our culture, enriched our society with their achievements, and shaped the history of the United States, such as, The Tuskegee Airmen.
Tuskegee is where nearly 1,000 Black military aviators were trained at a remote compound near the city of Tuskegee, and at Tuskegee Institute. As a result of this “Tuskegee Experiment” 450 Black fighter pilots were trained under the command of Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.
Their squadrons flew more than 15,000 raids on 1,500 missions and shot down 112 German aircrafts. Together, they earned one Legion of Merit, one Silver Star, several Distinguished Unit Citations, 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses, many Purple Heart medals, 14 Bronze Stars and 744 Air Medals. They fought for a country that classified them as second class citizens, or at times, denied they were citizens. They fought to prepare a new generation to live in a diverse, free world.
In 2007, as a group they received a Congressional Gold Medal for their service during World War II. Like many all-black units, their excellence was not officially recognized until years later.
We often hear that we are all equal, but action speaks louder than words, particularly when a white person’s death is referred to as a tragedy, while the death of a black person is a statistic.
From the book The History of Black Achievement in America, it states ‘against all odds, American blacks have created great art and science. They have fought heroically in every American war. Against all odds, black men and women have worked endlessly to secure their own freedom and equality. The untold Story of blacks in America is a 350-year saga of incredible achievements. This is that story.’
Dr. Carver gave us another quote saying “since new developments are the products of a creative mind, we must therefore stimulate and encourage that type of mind in every way possible’.
Please listen the Bernie Hayes radio program Monday through Friday at 7am and 4 pm on WGNU-920 AM, or live on the Web @ www.wgnu920am.com.
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I can be reached by fax at (314) 837-3369 or e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be Ever Wonderful!