Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Road Less Traveled Part II

Whenever we travel, I try to find places to visit related to Ambleside Online books. We have been in Caddie Woodlawn's actual house and a replica of Laura's cabin in the Big Woods, at Lake Itasca where Minn of the Mississippi hatched, and Fort Harrod where Stephanie Venable bought supplies and no copies of Tree of Freedom were to be had (shocking!). We even spent two years in an Alaskan fishing village very much like the setting of Gentle Ben. Tuskegee was on the way to Louisiana so we wanted to supplement our sense of place for Unshakable Faith (our George Washington Carver biography). Steve, a stamp collector, was excited to learn more about two historical figures immortalized by the postal service (Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver).

Since both David and Steve are airplane fanatics, we first stopped at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic site. We were all fascinated to learn more about the story of these pioneering men. Steve and I are both Navy veterans decades after African-Americans became an integral part of our military. We learned many fascinating things like the fact that the government conceived of this idea before the United States entered the war (in 1939). The training program involved over 10,000 men and women because they trained as pilots, navigators, ordinancemen, mechanics, etc. between 1942 and 1946. They trained over 1,000 aviators for the war. No one knows why they choose the color red for the tail of their planes, but rumor has it was the only color in plentiful supply. (As the daughter of a Navy supply officer, I would not be surprised.) They distinguished themselves in combat in North Africa, Sicily, and the Mediterranean, and the military proclaimed the "experiment" a success, integrating the armed forces starting in 1948.

The most shocking aspect is the rest of the story. After the government disbanded the training program in 1946, they closed off Moton Airfield and let it sit for forty-four years--untouched! All the important buildings still stand today, except for Hangar 2, which burned down in the 1970s. Nothing was done about it until after 1998 when it became a national historic site. Right now, a crew is restoring these historic buildings, most of which will be ready for visitors in October 2008. Here are photographs of Moton Field, including a Navy plane that we suspect is a T-2 Buckeye training jet that once belonged to VT-10 (a training squadron out of Pensacola, Florida).

Our next stop was the Tuskegee Institute, founded by former slave Booker T. Washington in 1881 with the backing of a former slave and a former slave owner. He was only twenty-four years old when he accepted the position. We explored the George Carver Museum, which houses historical artifacts and knowledge about Tuskegee Institute, Booker T. Washington, and George Washington Carver. What fascinated me the most was how Booker T. Washington started with $2,000 per year for teachers' salaries: he had no money for books, supplies, buildings, etc. By securing financial backers from the North and through the hard work of teachers and students, they worked as a team to make that campus. The teachers and students cleared the land, grew vegetable gardens, made their own bricks, and built the buildings! His vision was for the school to be useful to the students and the community. The school developed a wagon with teaching materials that they took into the towns in the area to teach men and women important skills to better themselves (such as growing their own vegetable gardens to save on the cost of food) and to enrich themselves (such as products they could market: baskets, furniture, needlework, etc.). He deemphasized the liberal education so cherished by Charlotte Mason, and I was disappointed about that aspect of his philosophy. But, he clearly had a vision for his school and, like Charlotte, he changed the lives of so many people for the better. One interesting thing about a film we watched about his life--they were very balanced in bringing out controversial aspects of his life.

George Washington Carver
was the kind of life-long learner Charlotte admired. Everyone knows he was a botanist and scientist who taught at Tuskegee. He also drew the most wonderful sketches and painted well. He crocheted, knitted, and did needlework, dying his own materials with natural pigments! He even extracted pigments from local clay to invent paint products for local farmers to beautify their homes. He recited poetry and one display has an audio recording of him reciting his favorite poem, "Equipment" by Edgar Guest. Like Charlotte, he devoted his life to education, wrote about a variety of topics, found a creative way to teach those who could not attend Tuskegee Institute, and never married. He took long walks in the countryside and saw Mr. Creator speak to him through nature. He encouraged his students to figure things out for themselves ala masterly inactivity and led the way through his own research. He possessed a living mind we hope all of our students have!

What did we do in the car? Steve drove, I crocheted, David read, and Pamela played her Gameboy. We managed to find a Starbucks in Jackson, Mississippi! We listened to more eclectic music: Mozart, Jesus Christ Superstar, and The Very Best of Cat Stevens plus all the stuff from yesterday.

1 comment:

Christine said...

Oh, your car trip sounds fantastic. What an amazing way to share pieces of history with your children! I can't wait until my kids are old enough for road trips!!!