Envision a large wall, 12 feet high, 18 inches thick, and 97 miles wide surrounding Tuskegee
University’s campus. This doesn’t sound very welcoming does it? The whole idea of a wall is to protect –
to keep what is enclosed by the wall from coming into contact with what is on the outside of the wall.
Ironic as it may seem, the gates surrounding Tuskegee University seem to have that same effect. The
only thing differentiating a gate from a wall is visibility. The external force can be seen through a gate
but protection is still enforced; however, a wall blocks both the physical and visible. And although the
Lincoln Gates are not standing 12 feet high 18 inches thick and running 97 miles, the Berlin Wall that
once stood as a barrier to German emigrants and the spread of fascist ideals can be compared to the
Lincoln Gates. This is a pretty intense comparison, but, ironically, the gates to our prestigious university
are reminiscent of that same restricting wall. No, the gates of Tuskegee aren’t oppressing the students
or holding them captive from opportunities presented by the outside world, but it seems as if they stand
as protection from the people in the community.
Immediately upon getting involved in community service events at Tuskegee, students often
times develop a “passion” for revitalizing the community. This is wonderful, because it is much needed;
however, the inspiration to this passion is peculiar. It is not that their passion is based upon pretense or
vainglory, but it is a passion that is derived from a misguided perception.
Why is it that we refer to the people of the community as the “locals?” Why does community
service in the Tuskegee community seem like a mission trip to a third world country? It all comes from
the separation of the community and the university. Take a look at the neighboring universities
(Auburn, Troy University, etc.) and how they are thriving from the integration of their school and their
respective city. They are essentially working hand in hand – as the university progresses, the city
progresses. Why is that not the case with us? Although Tuskegee is technically a private institution, this
does not mean that our students should be private or secluded from their own community.
Yes, these gates are a treasure to the university and serve as a constant reminder to the
resilience of the great Booker T. Washington to secure a tangible means of refuge for the enrichment of
black people, but from the eyes of a local Tuskegeean, the university is a trophy exclusive to the
enjoyment of only a select few – students. The students, in their own right, view the gates as a safe
haven from the danger of the poverty stricken community: “Yes we have had our fun off campus, but
let’s go back where it’s safe,” we may think.
Envision the gates removed at this very moment. Imagine how the bold and brash Margaret
Murray would look alongside the miniscule hair salon across the street. Sad isn’t it? Well, knowing that a
building like the hair salon may simply be perceived to be associated with our campus would provoke
the university to act. Why? Because, this is our beloved, prestigious campus, and we wouldn’t have it
looking any kind of way.
In reality, the only things people truly put the most care towards are their own personal
possessions. We, as a university, need to see the city of Tuskegee – the Tuskegee Swifty Lube, The Coop,
Piggly Wiggly, The Tuskegee Welcome Center – as a representation of us.
For Tuskegee to truly change, it will require more from you than your four year tenure at the
university – a lifetime of your investment into the institution that developed and prepared you for the
world. I understand the gates may never be taken down for historical reasons, government regulation
and traditions alike, but we can take down the gates from our minds that constantly restrict us from
truly investing into the city of Tuskegee. It is imperative that the wall is destroyed with urgency before
that mental gate transforms into a wall that will forever forget the city of Tuskegee long after we have
graduated. So, we must continue to remember that these are our buildings, these are our businesses,
these are our people, this is our university, this is our city, and this is our Tuskegee, so let’s invest in the
success of it all.