When Booker T. Washington arrived in Tuskegee in 1881 to head a school to train African American teachers, he learned he’d have to build the school first. Thus was born Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University and part of the Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site. Visit the site on a weekend for guided tours of Washington’s home, The Oaks, made of bricks built by institute faculty and students. Tours are free, as is self-guided exploration of the site’s George Washington Carver Museum (the agricultural pioneer served on the institute’s faculty) and the campus itself, a designated historic district. Inquire at the Carver Museum into periodic campus tours. At the least, make your way to the university chapel, where 11 Negro spirituals are depicted in stained glass known as “the Singing Windows.”
At the time of World War II, when U.S. majority attitudes doubted that African Americans could pilot planes, Tuskegee’s Moton Field hosted an experimental program that trained African Americans as military pilots who were later war-tested and decorated. The Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site tells their story through a hangar museum, wayside exhibits and regular events, including fly-ins.
For a broader civil rights story in Tuskegee, visit the Tuskegee Human & Civil Rights Multicultural Center before you leave town. Drawing a parallel to the U.S. civil rights conflict of the mid-20th century, the center details another conflict that occurred here – that of European explorers and native tribes.