Forever in the Path: Tuskegee and the Origins of the Movement for Civil Rights.
My late Mother grew up in the Depression, but it never really touched her simply because my grandfather had a legal education and was the Registrar of Tuskegee Institute.
At the age of ten, she knew Franklin Roosevelt had closed the banks, but in that small and unusual enclave, it amounted to an historic inconvenience — not a crushing catastrophe.
She was enclosed in an enclave of talent and the nurturing of talent. William Dawson, the great choir director and arranger of spirituals, was there. President Robert Moton, successor to Booker Washington, would later be succeeded by Dr. Frederick Patterson, who founded the United Negro College Fund.
Tuskegee also was the research home of George Washington Carver. Her piano teacher’s grandson would later become a famous pop singer and writer.
Tuskegee was sheltered from the economic uncertainties of the Depression simply because the wealthiest Americans had committed their early philanthropic efforts in these schools: Fisk, Morehouse, Spelman, and Tuskegee all benefited from these fortunes.
By gifting small slivers of their massive fortunes to southern Black colleges, America’s richest men — and they were all men — could memorialize their good deeds in brick and stone and in living beings.
But these fortunes while stabilizing the schools financially through a Depression could not change the racial geography of the South.
Indeed, I doubt that the Northern philanthropists had that goal — at least not directly. Their goal was likely far more complicated and indirect; but in an age of legalized segregation, opportunity was a terrible thing to waste.
So when as a young girl my mother traveled to Montgomery to buy clothes, the stores still refused to let Blacks even try them on in the dressing rooms. American apartheid was the road every southerner walked upon no matter their talent or standing.
So by the time my late mother left Tuskegee for Ann Arbor at the age of sixteen, she entered a world that still sought to treat her as a second-class citizen. Indeed, she was once taken off a train for refusing to change to the “colored car.”
And therefore, by the time she arrived at Ann Arbor, Michigan. the die was cast. She likely could never see the South with the same eyes.
And once she returned at age twenty-one with her Master’s degree, the Second World War had begun and she, Tuskegee, and America would never be the same again.
-Albert Turner Goins, Sr.
(to be continued)