Originally settled by the Creek People, the area was named after the Muskhogean word for “warrior” and became Tuskegee. Macon was settled for cotton production in 1832 and grew to its current size in 1866. Now encompassing 614 square miles, Macon is situated in the southeastern section of the state and contains the towns of Shorter, Franklin, and Notasulga, as well as the county seat of Tuskegee.
Tuskegee is well-known as both the site of Tuskegee University and Moton Airfield, as well as being the birthplace of several activists, politicians, and history makers. Rosa Parks sparked a revolution, Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver changed history at Tuskegee University, and Robin Roberts was born in Tuskegee. Zora Neale Hurston and Ralph Ellison wrote about their experiences and are successful authors from the area. To learn more, please visit the Tuskegee Human & Civil Rights Multicultural Center or the Tuskegee Tourism Website.
Civil & Human Rights
Macon County's deep history is a powerful example of human and civil rights. Many activists and movements have been born in Tuskegee, including Rosa Parks and Tuskegee University.
The Tuskegee Syphilis study, a historic event for the human rights movement, happened here in 1932. Said to be treating “bad blood” researchers were actually observing the natural progression of syphilis, and thus left it intentionally untreated in 622 men. The unethical medical processes in the study led to major changes in the oversight and regulation of medical studies and clinical trials, including accurate reporting and informed consent laws. In 1974, the government founded the Tuskegee Health Benefit Program to provide medical, and burial services to the participants, and was later expanded to include their families. President Clinton issued a Presidential apology in 1997, and the Tuskegee University National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care was established in 1999.
Even the students and citizens of Tuskegee fought for civil rights and equal citizenship; a section of Tuskegee Tourism focuses on the activities of the students and faculty of the Tuskegee Institute and the changes they helped bring out. They influenced the community, the county, and the nation in significant legal battles, protests, and activism. Visit the Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center for more information.
Tuskegee University was first founded on July 4th, 1881, by a former slave and a former slave owner. The first president was Booker T Washington, and he remained President until his death in 1915. He was the one to purchase a vacant plantation in which to establish the Normal School for colored Teachers at Tuskegee and modeled the system at his new school after his experiences at the Hampton Institute.
He recruited many top academics to teach at the school, including George Washington Carver, H.K. Polk and Josephine Turner Washington. Over the years, several notable people attended the University, including Grammy Award winner Lionel Ritchie, former Guyana Prime Minister Dr. Ptolemy A. Reid, first black female Olympic gold winner Alice Marie Coachman, and Betty Shabazz, wife of Malcom X.
Tuskegee University was the highest-ranked HBCU in Alabama and fourth in America overall in 2017 and offers 40 bachelor’s programs and 17 master’s programs, maintaining academic excellence to this day. The Golden Tigers and Tigrettes are Division II athletes and the football team has won 29 SIAC championships.
In July of 1941, the first aviation cadet class began at the Tuskegee Army Air Field. Five would graduate from that first class, earning their pilot wings. That was the start of the patriotic and heroic Tuskegee Airmen, which soon grew to include not only the pilots, but also the mechanics, crew chiefs, cooks, nurses, and the entire support staff.
Over the next five years, until 1946, the program would produce nine hundred and ninety-two pilots, creating the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group.
The 99th Fighter Squadron was the first black flying squadron and they broke records, flying the vast majority or their bombing runs without losing a single bomber to enemy aircraft. They were the first black flying squadron to deploy overseas and ran 205 escort missions.
The distinctive Red Tails of the 322 Fighter group, with the red propellers and yellow wing stripes, remain an iconic symbol of bravery and patriotism to this day. Stop by the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site for guided tours conducted by the National Park Service. Extensive information is also available at this site on the brave men and women who fought a "Double V" campaign winning victories abroad and at home.