This column appears every other week in Foster’s Daily Democrat and the Tuskegee News. This week, Guy Trammell, an African American man from Tuskegee, Alabama, and Amy Miller, a white woman from South Berwick, Maine, talk about Independence Day.
By Guy Trammell Jr.
In 1852, Frederick Douglass spoke on America’s Independence Day. He said, “The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth (of) July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”
Douglass came to Tuskegee many years later and was a friend and mentor to Booker T. Washington, who after Douglass’ death became the next national leader. Douglass illustrated to his audience a different picture of July 4th by picking the Black person’s view, to make sure they understood his point.
The world is reminded that what Douglass addressed is perpetuated today in the picture of Officer Derek Chauvin as he picked George Floyd for death, a knee to his neck, because he was sure this action was acceptable in American society.
In the early 1900s, the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected monoliths of Confederate soldiers as pictures of how the South would rise again. They picked towns that did not surrender following the Civil War and made sure the soldiers all faced North in defiance of the Union, saying no one would tell them how to treat their Black ex-slaves.
On July 4th this year, the Tuskegee Historic Preservation Commission will feature “A Virtual Celebration of Tuskegee University’s First Day of Class.” A link will be located at MaconProgress.net, a website created by youth from Macon County.
Two Tuskegee business men, Lewis Adams, an ex-slave, and George Washington Campbell, an ex-slave owner, worked together to establish the Normal School for Colored Teachers at Tuskegee. They asked General Samuel C. Armstrong, founder and principal of Hampton Institute, for a white man to lead the school.
Instead, Armstrong sent Booker T. Washington, who arrived at Chehaw Train Station on June 21, 1881, and began walking the roads of Macon County to learn the community. He saw the needs and began to plan.
Booker T. Washington opened the school on July 4, 1881, in 105-degree heat, with 30 students. They met at the Butler Chapel A.M.E. Zion church, in a little shanty. He was the only instructor. About a month later, he purchased an abandoned plantation and created a campus and the Village of Greenwood In less than 15 years, the school was the largest in Alabama with over 1,000 students, and teaching over 40 trades.
Lewis Adams and Booker T. Washington created a town that pictured to the world how these ex-slaves would develop civilization.The teachers graduating from Tuskegee did not just provide classroom instruction, but demonstrated how to take local soil for bricks and lumber from trees to build a community with thriving businesses.
The picture Tuskegee’s Greenwood illustrated was not of French culture, English culture, Italian culture or even American culture. The picture was of Freedom.
By Amy Miller
I just want to understand why, why it took so long.
I write this on Juneteenth, a celebration most Maine and New Hampshire readers did not know about a year ago. Today, because of a horrifying video of George Floyd being killed, most of us know about this anniversary of the day in 1965 when enslaved people in Texas learned that they were no longer owned, the day that many African Americans consider their July 4th or Independence Day.
Today, thanks to a bystander who taped an agonizingly long eight minutes, we are thinking about so many things we didn’t think about a year or two ago.
Drive the 10 miles between South Berwick and Kittery, and you will see small white signs posted in the ground with names handwritten on then. They are not familiar names. Not to most of us who drive that road. Phillip White, John Crawford III, Sean Bell, Richard Perkins… But you might pass Eric Gardner, or Trayvon Martin, George Floyd or Eric Garner and start to get the picture. These are the names of people who have been victims of racial violence.
We as a nation are realizing what it means to be Black in America. No, wait. We who are white in America are learning what it means to be Black in America.
These names are symbols of that reality – not only of housing bias, or police brutality or even of slavery – but of four centuries of suffering by millions of Americans. Why. Why? Why did it take so long to believe what any Black person could tell us?
Better incomprehensibly late than never, as someone posted on facebook.
But why? Why did we have see a tortuous video before believing that things were not going right for Black Americans? Why did we not believe and act on 400 years of stories and reports and horrors? Four hundred years of human beings not being treated as human beings.
This week the South Berwick Town Council passed a Proclamation in Support of Inclusion, Social Justice and Non-discrimination that said many things.
But among the words were these premises:
“Whereas the town of South Berwick is committed to building trust amongst all its residents, along with its Sister City, Tuskegee, Ala, including continued work and collaboration to insure inclusion and welcome diversity and… Whereas the Town of South Berwick recognizes that black lives matter,…”
and these promises:
“….hate and bigotry, overt and subtle, will not be tolerated by the Town of South Berwick
or its officials and employees… and the Town of South Berwick commits to ensuring its employees are trained in both implicit and explicit bias.”
It is a start. It says Black lives matter. And the proclamation will be shared with town managers across the county.
But just as the Emancipation Proclamation only promised freedom, but did not ensure it, a council proclamation is a promise of doing better, of being being part of a national solutions; it does not ensure the changes.
It is, however, a reflection of intention, an articulation of the problem, a step in the right direction.
Amy and Guy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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