The name “Tuskegee, Alabama” evokes images of black empowerment in a once-segregated nation.
Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver became legends of education at what is now Tuskegee University, and the nation’s first black fighter pilots were known as the Tuskegee Airmen after training in the town during World War II. Michelle Obama gave an impassioned speech there in 2015 while first lady.
So why is there a Confederate monument in the middle of the nearly all-black city? Birmingham, Ala., correspondent Jay Reeves set out to answer that question, using multiple formats to tell a tale with connections to the 1800s.
Reeves was looking for a photograph in AP Images when he happened upon a picture of a Confederate monument that was vandalized during a demonstration in 1966 in Tuskegee, which has had a majority black population since the days of slavery.
Using information gleaned from old newspaper accounts at the state archive, local government records and interviews, Reeves reported that the United Daughters of the Confederacy raised money for the monument at the same time Tuskegee Institute was celebrating its 25th anniversary in the early 1900s. And the white-controlled county gave the heritage group land at the center of town for a whites-only park. It’s there that the statue still stands 109 years later.
Reeves reported that students tried to topple the monument during the 1966 protest and failed; they instead covered it in spray paint. Vandals have since tagged it with spray paint at least twice, but several efforts to relocate the monument have failed through the years, mainly because the Confederate heritage group still owns the land and refuses to move the statue.
In addition to text, Reeves shot photos and located archival images, as well as shooting and editing video for the package.
For digging in to examine why Confederate monuments are coming down nationwide but not in the historic, majority-black town of Tuskegee, Ala., Reeves wins this week’s Best of the States award.