This column appears every other Tuesday in Foster’s Daily Democrat and every other Thursday in the Tuskegee News in Alabama. This week Guy Trammell, an African American man from Tuskegee, and Amy Miller, a white woman from South Berwick, Maine, explore a bit about the meaning and history of the Fourth of July.

By Guy Trammell Jr.

July 4th is Independence Day in the truest sense because in 1881, less than 20 years after the Civil War, black people gained independence on a phenomenal level! This began in Tuskegee with a former slave, Lewis Adams. As a boy he taught himself to read and write, learned French, Spanish, German, and later married Sallie from the Green plantation and had 16 children. He was a tinsmith, cobbler (shoemaker) and harness maker, and taught these skills to colored men. Sallie taught the colored women homemaking.

Adams had a longing to develop a school for his people. He befriended one of the richest white men in central Alabama, George Washington Campbell. Campbell had worked in business since he was 14, and by 20 had created the firm Campbell and Wright with his brother-in-law, William Wright. This became the prominent business in Alabama. They also formed the Macon County Bank. Before the Civil War, Campbell had been a plantation owner, but after the war he moved to Tuskegee. He and Adams began working together to establish a school for colored people in 1880.

During that year, Tuskegee’s Col. Wilbur F. Foster, a Confederate officer, and Arthur L. Brooks were running for the State Legislature. They asked Adams for his support in the election, and he agreed. They asked what he wanted in exchange for his support, and he responded that he wanted nothing for himself, but his people needed a school. They agreed to help him, and were elected that fall. They introduced a bill on Nov. 16, 1880, and on Feb. 12, 1881, House Bill No. 165 was passed to establish the “Normal School for Colored Teachers at Tuskegee”.

A principal was needed so Adams and Campbell contacted Gen. Samuel Chapman Armstrong, a former Union commander of colored troops and the founder of Virginia’s Hampton Institute, requesting a white candidate to fill the position. His response was that he knew of no suitable white person, but that Booker Taliafero Washington, a mulatto, was qualified and available. Their telegraphed response: “Booker T. Washington will do.”

On June 21, 1881, 25-year-old Booker Washington arrived at the Chehaw train station and began assessing the area for the school. He traveled the county on foot and learned the people.

Then on Monday, July 4, 1881, in 105-degree heat, Tuskegee University held its first day of classes on the grounds of Butler Chapel A.M.E. Zion church. The school would teach 27 trades.

The students would build its buildings and roads, make their own shoes and uniforms, grow their food, and generate their own electricity. In nine years they would have Alabama’s largest student population, over 1,000, and would create the Black Capital of the United States, the Village of Greenwood, a self-sustaining community completely owned and operated by blacks. This is the Independence Day we celebrate. Happy July 4th, everyone!

By Amy Miller

As Independence Day approaches, I happen to be reading "Dreams of Africa in Alabama," a book about the last ship to forcibly bring Africans to America.

“Contrary to people who had been enslaved from birth, they had been deprived of their freedom on a specific day. There was a before and after and the chain of events could be retraced starting with a traumatic episode,” author Sylviane A. Diouf wrote in describing the Africans after they reached Mobile, Ala.

The Clotilda, owned by a Maine-born plantation owner, brought about 100 West Africans to Alabama in 1860, more than five decades after it became illegal to take human beings from their homes and turn them into property in the United States.

The frightened Africans arrived 84 years after this nation was founded on the premise of all men being created equal and with unalienable rights. This boatload of hidden people arrived about 94 years before I was born. That, I have come to see, is not a long time ago.

I didn’t realize how short a century is until I passed my own half century mark. I didn’t grasp what a short time ago it was that human beings were enslaved on U.S. soil until I listened online to men and women who had been emancipated telling stories in their own voices during the early part of this century. You can listen to a real person who had a beating heart, dreams, ideas, and feelings telling of their enslavement on a plantation (

Sometimes we recognize a freedom only if we know what it’s like not have it. And similarly, we feel the loss of freedom differently when we have had it.

I like being an adult, if nothing else, so I can have ice cream for dinner. I like being American for many reasons, which I can celebrate on July 4 - the ideals of our democracy like freedom of speech, the vote, and welcoming immigrants, including several of my great grandparents.

Freedom of movement and freedom from fear are freedoms it took me a while to appreciate. I came to these appreciations after having my bag grabbed out of my hands one sunny day in a beautiful but violent Latin American country that was caught in the cross hairs of the drug war in the 1980s. A kid nearby shouted at me, “Don't yell or he'll kill you.”

After that I didn’t feel safe in that city, not walking the streets, browsing in stores, or riding in a car. When I came home, I understood what I had at home, where I feel safe and rarely afraid out in the world. That freedom is a right of every American.

What gives me some hope amid the ongoing struggles is understanding how young we are as a nation in the larger global arena. We are only just starting on our path to what we can be as a nation.