Chuck's History Lesson: Tuskegee, AL

By Chuck Leonard  - bio | email | Twitter

TUSKEGEE, AL (WTVM) -  Believe it or not, the first law school in Alabama opened in, of all places, Tuskegee.

That's a morsel of information Jimmy Johnson carries around in his head. Johnson is a historian and tour guide in the east Alabama city, and he is passionate about its past.

In fact, the Macon County native claims to have 150 different legends from which to choose when conducting tours. Want to know when the city and county were created?

Tuskegee, was 1833 by a gentleman named Colonel Thomas Woodward", Johnson is quick to point out. "Macon County was founded by a gentleman named General Nathaniel Macon. Both were from Georgia, both had been in the Indian rebellion."

The original version of the community no longer exists. That's because tragedy struck less than two decades in.

"It burned down in the 1850s, this just burned down, the whole town. They rebuilt in a different manner than today."

Some pretty famous people have come from the region. Sequoyah, the native American who created the Cherokee alphabet, was born not far from present-day Tuskegee, long before White settlers arrived.

Rosa Parks was a Tuskegee native. A street on the town square is named in her honor. Then there's the Virginian, born into slavery, who came to the area in 1881.

Booker T. Washington was the man who started what would become Tuskegee University, but according to Jimmy Johnson, he was more than just an educator.  He was also a brick mason, a carpenter and an astute businessman.    

Johnson says, "Because he made bricks, he was selling 1.2 million bricks per year out of the community. Because he made furniture, he made wood, he had all these industries up there. He was constantly sending things out of the community for sale."

Speaking of industry, what would this country be without the contributions of the scientist and educator George Washington Carver? He was called the Wizard of Tuskegee for his work with peanuts and sweet potatoes.

Booker T. Washington, on the other hand, was known as the Genius of Tuskegee. Johnson knows why.

"Booker used to say 'Don't just grow up to get a job, BE the job. Let 'em beat a path to to your door,' and there was many a path beat to the door of Tuskegee."

Of course, it's a door that's always open.

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