Color Us Connected… a conversation on race

By Guy Trammell Jr. and Amy Miller

We have created this blog to encourage conversations, conversations based on respect, honesty and a shared desire to progress beyond our nation’s historical and persisting divisions. We invite you to join in this conversation here, and in your own communities.

Guy is from Tuskegee, Ala., and Amy is from South Berwick, Maine, and this column and our friendship grew out of a decision by the people of our hometowns to form Common Ground – the Tuskegee/South Berwick Sister City project. Initially the column was written by Amy and Karin Hopkins, another writer from Tuskegee. Guy began writing with Color Us Connected several months in. We hope you enjoy the blog.

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In honor of fathers

June 2019
By Guy Trammell Jr.

Alabama’s Creek Nation fathers had been the village providers and protectors, and the men of the Village of Greenwood in Tuskegee later adopted that role. My father, Guy Sr., was a teacher, an electrician and a fisherman. We never knew which one he loved the most. He taught 75 percent of the Midwest’s black electricians.

He also taught me fishing, hunting and electric construction. He was the family cook, his legendary Sunday brunch including fried fish, fried chicken and hot biscuits. The father of Motown founder Berry Gordy would show up in a limo with his daughter Esther to get “cat heads” (nickname for biscuits). My father never measured his ingredients, and they were always perfect. During the Black Liberation Movement, my brother came in late one night and my father quietly rose from sleep and emerged from the kitchen with fresh hot biscuits and salmon patties. We passed the cane syrup and went to work!

Guy Sr. attended meetings of the P.T.A., band boosters and my Boy Scout Council. (Greenwood’s Carver District was the nation’s only all-black Scouting district.) He became the first black Alabama- Mississippi Lt. Governor of Optimists International. Tuskegee Optimists (the first all-black chapter) has an annual award honoring him.

Greenwood’s men were vigilant as community protectors. My father would return from a two-month training, pick up his mail, and learn all the news from his absence. No internet, no cell phone — just talking outside the Institute post office with other men.

I remember the night my mother became most disturbed after my father got a phone call and rushed away with all his guns. Captain Wiley had called the men because the Knights of the White Camellia planned to march through Tuskegee’s campus. My father was in charge of walkie-talkies for the officials at football games, and he gave them out to the men being stationed by trees along the route. He and Captain Wiley patrolled the campus by car, calling in to each checkpoint. Just one vehicle rode through, and the march never took place.

The role of community father continues with Hiawatha Hall, Chief Leon Frazier and George Paris. My special father is Dr. Ellis Hall, Sr., former Associate Dean of Tuskegee University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, the first black certified radiologist and an incredible Scouting and community leader. To Dr. Hall and so many others, I send love and wish you all a Happy Father’s Day!

By Amy Miller

After my father died, I saw him differently. With age and distance I realized the man I knew as a strait-laced businessman was actually a bit of an eccentric, perhaps more artistic than I had realized.

1995 with Dad in NYC

Robert Myles Miller wore a suit every weekday, and long pants every day of the year. He left at 8:30 am on weekdays and returned at 7:09 pm, just in time to avoid my mother’s reprimands. He read the “New York Times” all evening, catching up weekends on “Billboard,” “Ad Age,” “The New Yorker” and “Playboy,” which he read for the articles (and I still believe that).

The business man I knew loved his three children, no question, but in a 1960s father kind of way. If I was sad, he put me on his lap and said, “I’m so sorry, sweetie.” And if that didn’t solve the problem, he said, “Maybe you should talk to Mommy. She’s much better at these psychological things.”  He was always proud to introduce me around when I visited his small small advertising and printing firm, which among other things designed record covers for South American and Caribbean musicians.

Looking back, the clues came slowly that Dad had actually been a bit quirky.

In 1963, this man who eschewed the outdoors headed into the little-explored interior of Dutch Guiana, which is now called Suriname. He was motivated by a love of South American art, Folkways’ interest in whatever music he recorded and a desire to shake up his routine. He traveled in a dugout canoe down the Marowijne River to visit what a magazine article on him called “some of the most primitive tribes known to man.” He told “Advertising Age” that honestly, he was “a lazy son of a gun [who] doesn’t go for outdoor sports.” His packing list included a gun, though I don’t think he ever touched a gun before or after, even as a cryptographer in World War II. Dad’s taste in travel typically involved staying in fancy hotels and checking out really, really fancy hotels at cocktail hour.

Another hint to his iconoclasm, in retrospect, was that Dad started riding his bike to work long before adults in the U.S. biked for transportation. Trust me, it wasn’t for exercise. He was 6 feet tall, weighed 135 pounds and ate more chocolate than rest of the family combined. Why spend 45 minutes going a mile by bus to West 57th Street when you could arrive in 10 minutes by bike, he reasoned. Biking on Lexington Ave, without a helmet, was among the most dangerous things this born and bred New Yorker ever did.

Dad loved to talk to anyone who would engage in his interests – the military, architecture, or pre-Columbian Art, for instance. None of those things interested me much as a child. Now, I wish he could come on one of my trips to a school in Haiti. I’d love to eavesdrop as he talks about military planes with my son, or about travel with my daughter. And I’d love to ask him about the large art photographs I found in boxes the week after he died. Because the truth is, I didn’t even know he took pictures.

Flight gives inspiration and fear

June 2019

In this column, Guy provides aviation history and Amy addresses her phobia.

By Guy Trammell Jr.

At four years old, I flew around the world with my family, visiting 11 countries. Leaving from California, we ended in New York, and my mother ended traveling by air. However, I was fascinated by flying and enjoyed exploring the military aircraft brought to Tuskegee Institute’s campus for Armed Forces Day.

Chief C. Alfred Anderson, the “Father of Black Aviation,” taught himself how to pilot a plane and later taught the Tuskegee Airmen how to fly. Chief established the annual Tuskegee Black Airmen’s Fly In, a fun weekend of incredible flying skills and free plane rides.

An original Tuskegee Airman, Col. Herbert E. Carter, was honored by having the newly built terminal at Tuskegee’s Moton Field named for him. I had the privilege of knowing Col. Carter and am very close friends with one of his sons and daughter-in-law, Kurt and Lynn Carter. His story of overcoming obstacles, and being part of the best educated and greatest military flying squadron, is extremely inspiring.

However, a greater little-known story involves Mildred Louise Hemmons, who at 19 graduated from Tuskegee Institute with a B.A. in Business. On Feb. 1, 1941, she became the first black woman pilot in the southern United States. She graduated from Tuskegee’s Civilian Pilot Training program with the Tuskegee Airmen, charting over 100 flying hours, but being a woman was denied entrance into the Tuskegee Airmen program.

So instead, Mildred became the first civilian hired at the Tuskegee Army Air Field, as Chief Clerk, and she bulldozed trees to create the airfield. She was named “Miss Tuskegee Army Flying School,” and in 1942 became the first woman to join the Alabama Civil Air Patrol. She applied to join WASP (Women’s Air Service Program), where women pilots flew planes from factories to military bases. However, being “colored,” she was rejected.

The two young pilots, Mildred Hemmons and Herbert Carter, dated by meeting in the air over Lake Martin, north of Tuskegee. With no radios, they waved, blew kisses and flew side by side. Col. Carter always said she was the better pilot, and Mildred agreed. He nicknamed her “Mike” and painted it on his plane for missions over Italy and Germany.

They married, and she continued flying into her 80’s, encouraging women to fly and out-do their male counterparts. Fellow pilots said she could fly any aircraft she saw. Mildred said if she were born 50 years later, she would have been an astronaut!

By Amy Miller

I am afraid of flying and have been for as long as I can remember. I never revealed that to my children because I absolutely did not want them to inherit this inconvenient curse. One tumultuous plane ride last month, however, and my secret is a secret no more.

I actually love flying. Really. Plane trips have been part of every year of my life and I am an eager traveler. I love looking out the window, seeing that real-life map of every river, mountain and farm below. I like to guess what cities we are going over and sometimes ask flight attendants for the names of the bodies of water we pass over. Back when there was airplane food, I even loved that.

But come turbulence, or a change in the engine, or an unexpected drop in altitude – occurrences that pretty much define air travel – and the love affair quickly ends. I can’t read, or eat, or talk. I must simply keep the plane in the air.

Like many fears, mine makes no sense. Flying is about the safest thing I do. Safer than crossing the street in Cambodia, riding a zip line in Sweden or riding on motorcycles with my kids on the dirt roads of the Dominican Republic. And it is way safer than the 30,000 or so miles I drive every year in the US.

My fear is based on something I must have picked up as a child, and it is hard to get rid of. My body panics regardless of what my head says.

For the 20 years I have been flying as a parent, to Malaysia, Iceland, Haiti, and domestically, I have kept my son and daughter on one side of me and my husband on the other so I could look at him in terror and for comfort without my children seeing me.

But last month, just when I thought I was getting over this affliction, on a choppy 3-hour flight from New Orleans, I found I could no longer hide my anxiety. After struggling unsuccessfully for 15 minutes to gather myself, I spilled the beans to my son, tears and fears uncontained.

Flying over Cap Haitien

I have struggled for decades to conquer my fear of flying. As I wrote this column I thought about the variety of fears people may have: of heights, bugs, and needles, but also of people who are different, often of people with different skin colors. Regardless of where a fear comes from, and even if we reject it intellectually, it seems clear that long-held phobias are stubborn.

I asked my son if he was disappointed in me for not being fearless. No, he said, it was good that I took planes despite being afraid. He was disappointed in himself for never having noticed this nervousness in me.

My 17-year-old son then held my hand and told me all was ok with the flight. At 35,000 feet above sea level, my child became my caretaker.

Guy comes to Maine and expands the ‘lasso of love’

May 2019.

We write about Guy’s week-long visit to the Marshwood School District in South Berwick and Eliot, Maine this month.

By Guy Trammell Jr.

The mission was to present African-American history to five South Berwick schools in five days, and with an incredible out-pouring of effort, planning and resources, it actually took place. I can only say, Wow!

This was my second time in Maine, and the only familiar territory was the wonderful Great Works School. I was able to surf through the week on wave after wave of support from wonderful and enthusiastic Marshwood teachers and staff. We waded kindergarten to 12th grade children through a variety of history.

They heard about the Mvskoke Creek Nation’s negotiations with the newly established Continental U.S. government. They learned of Polly Coppinger’s trek to Florida from Tuskegee to raise her son Osceola, the great Seminole War Chief. They learned of Lewis Adams, a former slave, who brought Booker T. Washington to Tuskegee with help from a former slave owner, George Washington Campbell. They learned how Booker T. Washington started building the Village of Greenwood within two months of his arrival, and how Tuskegee’s Greenwood became the Black Capitol of the United States.
   
Students heard about Sammy Leamon Younge, Jr.’s fight against Jim Crow, and acted out how the Tuskegee Institute Advancement League integrated the Tuskegee City Pool. They showed how student protests were conducted with strategy and detailed planning. They had fun demonstrating how the Tuskegee Airmen protected the American bombers and were able to never lose a bomber under their care. They learned of Benjamin O. Davis, Mildred Hemmings, Chappie James, Halle Dillon Tanner and more.

The students seemed to actually pay attention and their responses supported this conclusion. They had a background in some of the subject matter and made connections between what they heard and what they already knew. I had great discussions with the teachers and school staff and gleaned many good ideas for relating history and for possible future Sister City projects.

This visit yielded many more people to love and treasure. And so to all the wonderful Marshwood children, the incredible teachers and staff, the great parents and grandparents, the people I met, and the deeply loved and cherished Common Ground Sister City crew, for all the handshakes, warm hugs, high fives, “thank you’s,” gracious gifts, great discussions, mouth-watering meals and snacks, history tours, overnight stays, and so many other expressions of love, I want to say a tremendous “terima kasi” (Bahasa Indonesian for Thank You)! I miss you all already!

By Amy Miller

I used to think it was political talk, or sentimental schmaltz, when people spoke of wanting to leave a better world for their children. Now that I have children on the threshold of adulthood, I understand more deeply that sentiment. I desperately want them to live out their lives with fewer, not more, obstacles than I have faced.

My community has decided we want the world to be more comfortable and accepting of difference by the time our children grow up. So that is why South Berwick initiated the Tuskegee-South Berwick sister city relationship and why Guy Trammell came here from Tuskegee this month. It is why the Marshwood Education Foundation funded Mr. Trammell’s five-day trip to the five schools in the district, and why teachers and principals for children from pre-school through high school put time and energy into making the week so meaningful.

I saw only one hour of Mr. Trammell’s presentation. I did not get to see him reading books about Washington Carver or Booker T. Washington to first and second graders. I did not get to hear him describe to older students the achievements of Halle Dillon, the African American woman who was Alabama’s first female doctor. Nor did I participate in the rich discussions he had with teachers during lunch breaks.

What I did see, during a presentation about the Tuskegee Airmen of World War 2, was a six-foot eight-inch African American man standing in a room with dozens of white fourth graders and a handful of white teachers and administrators giving a history that is so personal to him, but not always front and center – and often far from it – in our communities.  

And more importantly, I watched from afar as hundreds of children and dozens of adults interacted with a man with a gentle soul, limitless curiosity, a rich knowledge of African American history and a deep well of love for humanity. Who also happens to be black.

People in our town and in Tuskegee, including both municipal governments, have decided we will do what we can to make this country a better place, for black people, for white people, for all of us who live in this nation of largely immigrants.

About a dozen South Berwick residents have traveled to Tuskegee since the first visit by the sister city committee in 2017. As Mr. Trammell told adults at a community meeting mid-week, there has been a lot of love shared between our two communities. Now our goal is to enlarge what he called “the lasso of love.” His week with our students and educators was by all accounts a good next step.

Spring: a time for poke salads and fiddleheads

May 2019

What are spring tonics, and how do we prepare for the warming season?

By Guy Trammell Jr.

As a child, I enjoyed visiting my grandparents. Grandpa King and Grandma Daisy lived in Tuskegee’s Greenfork neighborhood. Upon arrival, I greeted Grandpa and went looking for Grandma Daisy. She might be tending her garden, shelling peas or breaking snap beans?

She gave a big hug, a juicy kiss on the cheek, and asked “Is my baby hungry?” I smiled in expectation and always said, “Yes!” She went to work, heating up fish and homemade corn bread in the oven. In a black iron skillet, she fried up cabbage greens. She put half a lemon in an empty jelly jar, poured in sugar, mashed it with a spoon, and added water and ice cubes. At this point her grandson was quite happy and satisfied with the banquet set before him.

Grandma Daisy was an outdoors person. As quick as you could blink, she was on the creek fishing, then gathering manure for her garden from the nearby cow pastures. She would wring a chicken’s neck in the yard for dinner. She did the same for any snake in the yard, snapping its head off. She didn’t need an axe, hoe or knife for that.

She did something unique each year. She had a spring tonic. I grew up confused by the name, thinking a tonic was a mixed medicine that you drank. This was different. From the yard or any nearby field and she picked “poke salad.” It looked like dandelion leaves. She cooked it in an iron skillet and ate it in the spring to cleanse the body from a winter diet, to prepare for hot weather activities. Grandpa never joined her in this practice.

Grandma Daisy told us of being raised as a little girl on a plantation after Emancipation. Each day she took her bowl to the wooden trough where they emptied buckets of slop from scrap food mixed with cornmeal at the “Big House,” and everyone scooped some out to eat for dinner. If someone ahead of you was sick over the food, that didn’t stop you. She learned a lot from those days and taught her family.

I always wondered if her use of spring tonic came from the Native Americans, some general practices on the plantation, or was it passed through the generations from Africa. Grandma Daisy lived a full, strong life. She was tough as nails, so maybe we all should be using a spring tonic.

By Amy Miller

Yesterday I wore a snow jacket and a sweater and I was cold. Even though the crocuses have come and gone and branches are dappled in red in anticipation of the greens to come, the cold still threatens around every corner, sending us rushing from vehicles to shelter.

Welcome to Spring in Maine. Actually, welcome to Mud Season. We rake, we watch for the tips of tulip leaves and we keep the wood stoves burning. The forsythia have adorned our roadways in yellow, and daffodils line the pathways, but warm weather is still elusive.

Nonetheless we must prepare for the beach/gardening/grilling months ahead. With the promise of warmer days, we review the facts for survival Maine-style: the best routes and times to travel to the beach to avoid the tourist-ridden highways; the hours when rates for beach parking go down so we don’t have to spend $30 to walk in the sand or dunk in the ocean.

At the same time, we must buy our seeds and plant our slower specimens indoors to compensate for our fleeting growing season. In recent years, a changing climate has given York County gardeners a few more days for growing and winters that are not quite so cold. A change in the planting map created by the federal government moved our corner of Maine from zone 5b to zone 6a, an increase of about 5 degrees.

I personally have never heard anyone talk about “spring tonics” up this way. I have read that spring tonics refer to plants that strengthen our bodies after winter’s more limited nutritional options. In the days when people ate mostly what we grew, these plants were thought to be good for a digestive system that had existed for months on winter fare.

For the foragers among us, this season offers a few new plants for eating, even in Maine. Fiddleheads, which are young ferns still furled, and ramps, which are wild onions that became trendy over the last decade, both grow wild in secret, haphazard locations that are zealously guarded by those in the know. Eating food that grows fresh nearby is naturally a balm after winter’s retreat from local produce.But up this way, the biggest part of our recovery comes from at last being able to open our windows and doors, reunite with neighbors out on their lawns and catch a few more hours of sunshine and its precious vitamin D.

-30-

PS – A note sent in from reader Arthur Stansfield, a native of South Berwick now living in Kentucky:

“I am a native Mainer, or Maniac if you prefer, and I have never had fiddleheads. My family and other acquaintances considered rhubarb in pie or sauce as our spring tonic. It came early in the spring and supposedly flushed you out. Don’t know about the last, but it sure tasted good. The other spring veggie was parsnips that had been left in the garden all winter, froze naturally, and dug up when the frost came out of the ground in the spring. This made them very sweet. I tried it here by putting fresh parsnips from the fall in the freezer for the winter. They were too mushy when I took them out. I think they froze too fast. Now Guy, I can relate to your “poke salad”. My late wife’s grandparents (both sides) came from Greece. That exposed me to a whole new cuisine. One of the side dishes was called “horta”. Translated it means greens, in particular dandelion greens. According to Maria’s grandmother the dandelion greens had to be picked before they blossomed because after they would be too bitter. Horta was either prepared by boiling slightly or wilted in a skillet with olive oil and garlic. In both cases it was served cold drizzled with olive oil and lemon wedges for squeezing the juice over the top. Excellent

Should we really be colorblind?

April 2019: We address the notion of trying to be “color blind.”

By Amy Miller

If we say we don’t notice that someone is black, we are not telling the truth.

We are also — perhaps unwittingly — ignoring the reality of the very people we hope to treat fairly.

Five years ago I was chatting with my hairdresser while she snipped away at my runaway locks. I don’t know how we got on the subject of race, but as she was blow-drying she said how little it mattered to her if people are black or white, or any other color.

OK. So far so good.

Then she told me about a man whose hair she had cut and it hadn’t even occurred to her he was black until he started talking about an experience he had had as a black man. So little does color matter to her that she insisted she didn’t even notice.

She admirably believes all people are equal and equally deserving. But in her desire to be all-embracing, I saw the trap that is so easy for a white person to fall into.

Forget the fact that a hairdresser might need to distinguish between hair textures. There are bigger issues here. Why do we pretend not to notice something so obvious. Rarely does a white person think they have to “not even notice” that someone is Asian, for instance. For that matter, we never don’t notice that people are blond, female, tall, young, old.  These are distinguishing features that are neither bad nor good, they just are.

Perhaps more important, I believe if you say you don’t see a person’s color, you are not recognizing the full person. Living as a black person in America means having experiences that are different from mine.

As white people in America, we have considered ourselves the norm, and every one else the “other.” Especially in Maine, we do not think about color every time we see another white person, in the store or on T-V.  But we notice – especially in Maine – when someone is not white. To pretend we don’t is not only disingenuous but denies the experience and realities of a person.

Pro basketball player Kyle Korver, who is among the 25 percent of NBA players who are white, in a recent blog post gave a a candid description of his evolving understanding about how different our perspectives can be. (https://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/kyle-korver-utah-jazz-nba.)

Race or color blindness is an ideal, though often not a reality, when it comes to the way we are treated by police or judges. It is a goal in pursuing jobs, mortgages, real estate and respect. It is what we look for in the expectations of teachers.

But as psychologist Monnica T. Williams explained in “Psychology Today” magazine, African Americans do not necessarily look so kindly upon the notion that someone is colorblind.

“Colorblindness,” she wrote, “creates a society that denies their negative racial experiences, rejects their cultural heritage, and invalidates their unique perspectives.”

As white people, we can hold onto this ideal of race not mattering. As black people, we might know better.

Since I cannot speak as an African American, I look forward to reading Guy’s take on this.

By Guy Trammell Jr.

One perk of rural town life is a clear sky for star gazing. “Twinkle twinkle little star” is a guide to know stars twinkle, and planets do not. Searching the eastern sky we find Venus, keep looking and find the larger Jupiter. Search a little more and find the reddish orange planet of Mars.

Our eyes are amazingly sophisticated gifts, with photo receptor retinas. We have 120 million receptor rods that distinguish light and movement, along with 7 million receptor cones that distinguish color. We distinguish Mars with eyes designed and constructed to see color.

In racial discrimination discussions, “color blindness” is sometimes suggested as the solution. A comment might include, “creating a color blind society.” Even if this is well-intentioned, it lacks logic simply because color is seen. To be blind is not to see. Therefore, to not see what is before you is to intentionally ignore it. Maybe it should be called “ignoring color.”

Our society clearly sees color, valuing one color over another. When future scientist George W. Carver crafted his essay to attend Highland Presbyterian College in Kansas, Highland was so impressed that he was offered a full scholarship. However, upon his arrival they saw he was colored and rejected him on the spot. Tuskegee’s Ora Washington won the national all black American Tennis Association championship eight years in a row, and with Lula Ballard was undefeated in tennis doubles for 12 years. However, when she challenged the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association’s white champion, Helen Wills Moody, her being colored closed that door, and they were never allowed to compete. These and many more examples graphically illustrate that our society is not color blind.

By third grade at Chambliss Children’s House, I began to recognize the various colors of my classmates, and by seventh grade I met my first white classmate. By then I had a white aunt from Germany and my cousin’s new wife was white. The love, respect and admiration I developed with them was never out of the ordinary; it was a normal part of life. Seeing their differences did not change them from being human, and worthy of appreciation.

Life includes an enormous amount of variation and difference, which makes it both interesting and enjoyable. The pictures of the moon show little color and minimal variation. I am happy and satisfied to be on an earth where I see and appreciate rainbows, forests, animals and oceans, and people of all colors!

Guy and Amy can be reached at colorusconnected@gmail.com

What does it mean to be “cultured,” and who decides?


April 2019. We each explore the meaning of being “cultured.”

By Amy Miller

What does it mean to be “cultured?” Guy suggests we write about this, perhaps thinking we would have different takes on the question. This is not something I have considered before, nor a conversation I have had with friends.

Before I resort to googling the word, my thoughts run to visions of people well-versed in the arts, theater, music. Not any art or theater or music, but artists like Rembrandt and playwrights like Ibsen. Cultured people no doubt know about musicians like Beethoven, Schubert and probably some I’ve never heard of.

I google the definition of “cultured” and on my first look get: “characterized by refined taste and manners and good education.”

The words “refined taste” throw me for a loop. This definition doesn’t dispel my notion that the word is tinged with elitism. Taste is up for argument. And refined? By whom or what?

Next thing I know I’m reading an article about rich celebrities buying their way into elite colleges. These colleges apparently are among the refineries.

I look up the verb “refine.” After a definition about minerals, it says, “to free from moral imperfection: elevate.” And “to improve or perfect by pruning or polishing.”

I am fairly ignorant when it comes to Shakespeare beyond “Romeo and Juliet,” thin on classical music after the Brandenburg Concertos and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, lost when it’s time for intelligent museum chat. As for Dickens, I shamefully admit that I barely got through “Great Expectations.”

I conclude I am not very cultured. I have credentials that might allow me to pass to pass – I have been to the Met, MoMA and Broadway. I have traveled to more than one continent that is not my own. I have degrees from schools you would have heard of. But these credentials are only skin deep.

A friend said she thinks of “cultured” as meaning something like “classy.”  She said it depends on how one operates in the world, not on education.

I look it up again.

“A cultured person usually enjoys art, music, expensive restaurants, and other things considered fancy or educated,” says some no-name website that captures a populist notion of “cultured.”

“Cultured” is beginning to sound to me like a buzz word, code for being on the inside of something. I don’t like it.

“Cultured people have good manners and etiquette,” it continues. I like that better, but the question lingers, good manners according to whom?

By Guy Trammell Jr.

Setting the table for company is something that goes back as far as I remember. This included silverware with different forks for salad, dessert, the main course, and fish. The butter knife and regular knife had their places, along with the spoons, not to mention the fine china of glasses, plates and bowls.

By age 7, I could consume a chicken breast, from the bone, with just fork and knife, no hands. We also learned proper etiquette at the dining table, and how to address people. In grade school, we learned to distinguish between the composers Bach, Beethoven and Hayden, by listening.

I also remember my mother explaining the use of formal gloves that stopped at the wrist and those that reached the elbow. My father explained why sometimes a white jacket was the appropriate attire for a dinner, versus another color. These customs signified a person being cultured, educated, refined or knowledgeable. Their origins were Great Britain and France.

When our family had dinner or interacted with local families in Indonesia, customs were different. Even when we waved goodbye, we learned we were actually requesting them to come closer.

I remember the sumptuous dinner prepared by Tuskegee students for my mother and me, featuring their homemade Iranian dishes. My first taste of authentic Ethiopian cuisine was in a Washington, D.C. restaurant, enjoying their incredible injera. My co-worker’s invitation to a family meal of fufu was a fun and delicious taste of Nigerian culture.

However, each of these featured a different culture, so maybe “cultured” should be viewed with a broader focus. The meaning of culture could include all nations and peoples, wherein learning Mvskoke Creek and Aboriginal music and customs are respected as a truly cultured education.
-30-Amy and Guy can be reached at Colorusconnected@gmail.com. Past columns can be read at https://colorusconnected.wordpress.com/.

Fundraisers are about more than dollars and cents

April 2019

By Guy Trammell Jr.

On Aug. 25, 1881, Olivia America Davison arrived at Tuskegee’s Chehaw train station. Immediately she went to work, holding fundraising suppers to pay off the $500 debt from the recently purchased plantation that was being transformed into the Normal School for Colored Teachers at Tuskegee. The food was donated by the community, and the suppers featured student entertainment. By December that year the debt was paid in full, and a surplus of money was raised to help operate the school.

As with most communities, Tuskegee has a history of fundraising. In 1901, when the Tuskegee Female College conducted fundraising for a library and laboratory building, Booker T. Washington contributed $300 toward the $2,000 goal. Most of us know of the St. Andrew’s Pancake Suppers, Girl Scout Cookies and St. Joseph’s Fall Festivals. But who remembers St. Andrews’ fruit cake sales and the little cards children took home to collect for the March of Dimes.

Some remember the famous Tuskegee Institute High School Talent Shows, attracting talent from far and wide. I also enjoyed the Tuskegee High School’s Spaghetti Suppers with cake auctions for the marching band. I especially remember the caramel cake Rep.Thomas Reed, Sr. obtained with a bid of $300.

However, on a different note, I remember the shock of learning the background of a major fundraiser after years of enjoying that event as a teen. The annual Easter carnival, packed with fun rides and games, was held on the Tuskegee High School football field. No need for advertisement because school buses passed as they were setting up. But we later learned in dismay that the sponsor was the segregated all-white Macon Academy, established during school integration by Gov. George C. Wallace.

On the other hand, one of our community queens led a group of mothers to address the problem of Tuskegee’s segregated City Park and public swimming pool. Mrs. Rhetonia Perry Chisholm created the Macon County Church and Community Organization and sponsored hot dog and fish sales at local events, including on Election Day. As a result, all children can now enjoy playing in Chisholm Park, down Highway 29 East. Olivia Davison’s fundraising work blessed the world, and Mrs. Chisholm’s fundraising will continue to bless generations with the park that overcame Jim Crow racism, and was built by love.

By Amy Miller

When my children were in elementary school, they came home year after year with brochures for wrapping paper, popcorn, or boxes of chocolate they were directed to sell for fundraisers. The idea was to ask neighbors and grandparents to buy $15 boxes of over-priced chocolates to fund their basketball team, chorus or class trip.

I thought our loved ones might rather give us $2 straight-up than buy a $15 box of so-so chocolates. A friend convinced me, though, that we all buy from each others’ kids and this is part of being a community.

The grown-ups in our town are also on a constant push to raise money, for children, the hungry, the landscape. We hold auctions, dinners and dances that draw from the same limited pool of people.

This spring my fellow columnist, Guy, will be coming to Maine for a week to teach children in Marshwood schools about civil rights and how the civil rights movement touched his own life and played out for Tuskegee residents.This will happen care of the Marshwood Education Foundation, which invites us to dance and dine each year at a fundraiser that enhances our children’s education.

At the Great Works Land Trust auction, we bid on everything from boat rides and and condo weekends to piles of manure so we can preserve another parcel of land that may remain forever wild.

The Old Berwick Historical Society, which keeps our town’s history alive, convinced a few stoic residents – myself included – to embarrass ourselves by playing the roles of 18th and 19th century characters to entertain, teach history and raise a few more dollars.

At times I wonder if it might be more efficient if we all just sent in several hundred dollars a year to support the groups we value. But then I think about the Soup Supper and realize these events are about more than dollars and cents.

The day after Election Day each year we come together at the Soup Supper, regardless of red and blue, to raise money for fuel so neighbors won’t go cold in winter. Dozens of residents and local restaurants donate crock pots of home-made soup and batches of brownies. Volunteers ladle the chowders and chilis to folks who leave a donation at the door. No speeches, no heavy sales pitch. It runs 5 to 7 p.m. and we are in bed by a reasonable hour. We leave feeling lucky to have been there.

These local fundraisers typically bring in from $5,000 to $15,000, but you really can’t measure them in cash flow. They pay for fuel, education and land, but they generate devotion for the place where we live, and give us the intangible gift of working for a common cause.