Tuskegee – The Good Old Days

Georgette White Moon

What I remember most about my childhood are the Christian values that were my parents’ guiding principles. That’s what stands out the most but my mind is a treasure trove of other memories. As I write this blog, I am reminded of what Iyanla Vanzant calls “The Value in the Village” and I reflect on our village, which was Auburn Street, Brown Street, Clemet Street, Bethel Street and the connecting streets in that neighborhood. This was a community in Tuskegee that was Kwanzaa long before Kwanzaa was created as an African-American tradition.

When I think about Ujamaa or Cooperative Economics, I recall the community spirit, civic pride and business ownership within the community. We had grocery stores, dry cleaners, banks, churches and an elementary school all within walking distance.

The concept of Umoja or Unity was on full display in homes with two parents working together to train and discipline their children and all the other youngsters who lived nearby. A neighbor I will call Mr. “W” had a station wagon and we would pile in eager to get to Logan Hall for the latest program or movie.  Back then Tuskegee University was the social and cultural hub of the community.

We viewed Kujichagulia or Self-Determination as defining ourselves and controlling our own destiny by fighting for our rights, often winning court cases with national implications.

Ujima or Collective Work and Responsibility was demonstrated through the high number of homeowners in Tuskegee with many families working together to repair older houses and the elders teaching the young men trade skills like plumbing, masonry and carpentry.

Nia or Purpose was everywhere. One good example was the Tuskegee School Community Organization (TSCCO) that developed plans for a recreation center including how to finance it. Our parents sold fish sandwiches and engaged in other fundraising strategies including ticket sales for the crowing of Ms. PTA at Washington Public School. This is seared in my memory because my mother, Mrs. Carrie White holds the distinction of selling the most tickets, which established her as the first Ms. PTA. Those funds that she and others raised went towards the first recreation center in this community. Now called ‘Chisholm Park,” the space is located on Highway 29 and it is still a popular venue for family gatherings and children’s recreational activities.

Kuumba or Creativity also flourished. Though our mother and father had full time jobs, were active in church and community service, they were wonderful parents It makes me wonder how the grownups in my life found time to keep the properties beautifully maintained. My mother and her women friends would gather at the entrance of Auburn Street and plant flowers. Another group would meet at the fence and line the entire area with colorful blooms.

Imani or Faith was the backbone of family life when I was a child growing up in Tuskegee. We believed in God and professed it by going to church.  We conducted ourselves like ladies and gentlemen and we were generally pretty courteous to our neighbors. We respected authority and trusted the system — schools, public officials and law enforcement.

Because we lived by these principles, life was orderly and safe. It also ensured that I had a strong foundation as a child with the resources to mature into a confident woman. But you can multiply my story by the number of friends who grew up with me in Tuskegee during a special time when the community was a functioning society, with “Value in the Village.”