If you ask someone to name a famous person with ties to Tuskegee, chances are names like William Mitchell, Sammy Younge, Charles Gomillion or Julius Rosenwald won’t top the list of replies.
They should, though, and a newly established civil rights and historical trail in the City of Tuskegee to be dedicated on Friday, Sept. 20 will help to preserve the contributions of many storied figures whose names are in danger of being lost to history.
In all, 13 newly erected Tuskegee Civil Rights and Historical Trail markers located throughout the city and the Tuskegee University campus honor the memories of and contributions by individuals, groups and sites of notable significance during the civil rights era.
“Each of the subjects of our trail markers were chosen for their individual and unique aspects, which provide us and generations to follow the opportunity to learn and cherish the unforgettable role they — and the Tuskegee community — played in the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s,” said Tuskegee University Archivist Dana Chandler, who along with Archives staff and volunteers identified the subjects of and locations for the markers.
The Sept. 20 dedication program — scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. in the Tuskegee Municipal Complex at 101 Fonville Rd. — will feature representatives of the community, university and state historical organizations. The event will also recognize the many partners who have made the historic and civil rights trail possible. Chief among those, and funding the production of the 13 trail markers, is the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation.
“My father, who was liberated from the Buchenwald concentration camp, said ‘Silence at your neighbor’s oppression will mean silence at yours,’” said Jerry Klinger, the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation’s president and founder, of the organization’s motivation to support this endeavor and the need to document the struggle for civil rights recorded through the trail’s markers.
Other partners include the Tuskegee University Libraries, Museums and Archives, Macon County Bicentennial Committee, the Alabama Bicentennial Commission, the National Park Service, the City of Tuskegee, and the Macon County Commission.
Following the dedication ceremony, guests can take a bus tour that will visit the 13 markers comprising the Tuskegee Civil Rights and Historical Trail. A reception at the Tuskegee Municipal Complex will follow the conclusion of the bus tour.
The Tuskegee Civil Rights and Historical Marker Trail will join other local campus and community historical destinations. It also joins six other Alabama trail sites that comprise the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.
In addition to the new trail markers, existing markers celebrating the contributions of Butler Chapel AME Zion Church, the Central Alabama Veterans Administration Hospital, the City of Tuskegee, and Tuskegee attorney Fred Gray will be included as part of the Tuskegee Historical and Civil Rights Trail. The newest markers include:
- Charles C. Gomillion, a Tuskegee University professor and principal in the pivotal civil rights U.S. Supreme Court gerrymandering case C.G. Gomillion, et al. v. Phil M. Lightfoot.
- Jessie Guzman, the first black citizen to seek political office in Alabama since Reconstruction.
- William P. Mitchell, who sued the Board of Registrars for a Certificate of Registration. His attempt — and ultimate success — to vote was illustrative of voting rights struggles.
- Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church, home to many important Tuskegee civil rights icons.
- Tuskegee native Rosa Louise McCauley Parks, who challenged Alabama’s segregation laws through passive civil disobedience.
- Amelia Boynton Robinson, a civil rights pioneer who championed voting rights for African Americans.
- Jewish multimillionaire merchant, part-owner of Sears, Roebuck & Co., and Tuskegee University trustee Julius Rosenwald, who collaborated with Booker T. Washington to provide public education for rural Southern blacks.
- “Trade with Your Friends” — a boycott of white-owned businesses by the Tuskegee Civic Association and its members.
- Tuskegee Churches, which hosted important civil rights meetings like those of the Tuskegee Civic Association.
- The Tuskegee Civic Association, founded with a focus on civic education, voter registration, political education, community welfare and economic education.
- Tuskegee High School, the subject of the 1963 court case Anthony Lee et al. v. Macon County Board of Education, which first sought integration of the all-white Macon County school.
- The student-based Tuskegee Institute Advancement League civil rights initiative.
- Sammy Younge Jr., who became the first African American university student killed in the U.S. during the Civil Rights Movement.