Color Us Connected

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. …. Guy Trammell Jr. and Amy Miller

We see our past in a police officer (April 2021)

By Guy Trammell Jr.

In the 1960s my brother, Ernest, and George Ware, the Tuskegee Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee’s (SNCC) field director, crashed during a police chase while distributing voter registration fliers. Both had broken ribs and glass in their eyes. After another police chase, they rushed to the ever-present car with tinted windows following them and beat on the car. The window was slightly rolled down to reveal FBI suits and sun glasses. They angrily yelled, “Why didn’t you protect us?” The answer: “We only observe and record.” Later, arrested in Nashville, they were unharmed while news cameras flashed, but in a closed elevator minutes later the beating began. My mother said their Afros were to cushion the police blows. 

A 1960s National Commission found police to be a source of U.S. social tension. More Americans entered prison in the 17 years from 1965 to 1982 than the century from 1865 to 1964. U.S. policing had been created as slave (catcher) patrols to support Southern plantations, beginning in the Carolinas (1704). Northern police supported the mercantile trade, factories, and business districts, first in Boston (1838), then New York City (1845). Police maintained “law and order” by controlling and denigrating people who were poor, immigrants, Native Americans and Black people, labeling them “bad people” by nature. “Law” was for the mainly white economic powers, while all the “order” was for these lower classes, without regard for their social or economic conditions. 

Early police were white males, notoriously corrupt, flagrantly brutal, strike breakers and “delegated vigilantes” controlled by local politicians/business owners. By the mid 1800s they carried firearms because such “organizations intervened between the propertied elites and propertyless masses who were regarded as politically dangerous as a class” (Bordua and Reiss 1967). The Texas Rangers were organized in 1823 as a quasi-official vigilante group to suppress Mexican communities and drive the Comanche off their lands. In 1973, law officers fired over half a million rounds of ammunition at Native protesters at Wounded Knee. 

Black lives don’t matter to racist police cultures. Deadly force is the tool of choice for Black bodies: George Floyd (counterfeit money) choked; Daunte Wright (traffic violation) shot; Adam Toledo (complying with police) shot; Ma’Khia Bryant (fighting) shot; and Tuskegee’s Jamarion Robinson (mistaken identity) shot 76 times. Finland police fired a total of six bullets in 2013. In just the first 24 days of 2015, U.S. police killed more people than police in England and Wales did in 24 years. Between 2015 and 2020, U.S. police killed more than 1,000 people each year. 

At a 2017 protest in St. Louis, undercover Detective Luther Hall was beaten by white colleagues while his white partner, Louis Naes, was arrested by Black officers in text book fashion. Hall’s attackers had texted, “It’s still a blast beating people who deserve it.” They put a hole in his lip, ruptured his gall bladder and damaged two discs in his neck, requiring multiple surgeries. In 2006 a Black officer in Buffalo NY, Cariol Horne, was terminated for preventing a white fellow officer from fatally choking a Black suspect, Neal Mack. Her case was recently overturned, restoring her pension and benefits. 

For solutions, Police Commissions are ineffective because they simply report, recommend and dissolve. Effective change comes when officers lose pensions and face criminal punishment for inappropriate use of deadly force. Let’s “Hold Police Accountable!” Teach them mental health and social work skills. America must decide between slave patrols or true public servants.

By Amy Miller

My first memory of being stopped by police was in college. We were pulled over and my friend promptly ate a joint to hide the evidence. We simply had a tail light out.

Since then I have been stopped, oh, perhaps a dozen, or more realistically two dozen times. Who can count. I speed, I make illegal u-turns, and I roll through stop signs. I often forget to register my car. I even forgot to register my car when my daughter was due for her driver’s test. And then again before my son’s test. Suffice to say my children were not happy with me, although to be fair my husband could have registered it as well.

When I see the lights of a police car flashing behind me, or even when I just pass a cop car on the road, my heart beats a little faster. It is not because I am worried I will be treated in a violent manner. That never even crosses my mind.

As a 20-something I was stopped and threatened with jail time in Exeter, NH, because I hadn’t paid a speeding ticket and didn’t have cash for bail. After telling me to “act like a lady” or he would handcuff me, the police officer learned I was a reporter and accepted a check for bail. Another time I was stopped for driving over the middle line in the college town of Durham, NH, and the officer again told me- after I no doubt lacked appropriate verbal deference – to “act like a lady.” I told him to go right right ahead and arrest me. Granted, I was young. I am older now and neither as cute nor as feisty, but my fear of police is simply around tickets and insurance fees, sometimes around being late for an appointment.

When Guy and I agreed to write about police officers in the wake of the Chauvin verdict, I imagined he would have horror stories of his own.

So I asked him and learned that no, in fact, Guy has only a few tales of mistreatment to tell. In fact, Guy has had far fewer run-ins with police than I have. He said he grew up in Greenwood, the town created around Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, and basically there were no police officers – just the security force hired privately by the school.

He told of two encounters, both while in college. First was when he was at Tuskegee and with a group of kids hanging out, reading under the lights in the center of town, what was called the White Park. The police kept circling the park and watching them. Guy said this was the first time he recalls being aware of police around him.

A year later, as a college student in Ohio, he took an internship in North Carolina that had him driving country roads. After grabbing onion rings at a local eatery, he noticed a man standing by a pickup staring at him. Guy was followed home by the deputy sheriff as well as the sheriff who had been with the pickup truck. After questioning Guy and trying to decipher why he had ID from three different states, they let him go. Turns out they were looking for a drug dealer expected in the area.

When I think about my confident hubris responding to police, often to authority in general, I cringe. Not because of my behavior per se but because I imagine what the consequences would be if someone with darker skin responded as I often have.


Amy and Guy can be reached at

In democracy, we all have a right to vote (April 2021)

By Guy Trammell Jr.

While in grade school, I remember sneaking quiet bites of sugary cereal in the back seat while returning at night from Roses in Auburn’s Midway Plaza, about 30 minutes from home. My parents, along with the Black families of the Village of Greenwood and Tuskegee, had decided to shop only in Greenwood and other nearby towns instead of at the white-owned businesses in Tuskegee after Mayor Philip Lightfoot’s gerrymander; it redrew the town’s boundaries to exclude all but a handful of the 5,000 Black voters, while including all of the 1,000 white voters.

Organizing with Dr. Charles G. Gomillion and the Tuskegee Civic Association, they decided that if Black votes weren’t wanted, then Black dollars weren’t wanted either. The famous Montgomery Bus Boycott led by Rosa Parks lasted about a year. The Tuskegee boycott lasted more than four years. After the U.S. Supreme Court in 1960 ruled the Tuskegee gerrymander invalid, voters across the state of Alabama decided our Macon County should be abolished rather than allowing Tuskegee Blacks to vote unobstructed. We remain the only Alabama county set for abolition.

In the 2020 national election, the country saw the largest voter participation in history. There were many charges of voter fraud but the judicial system found no basis for them. Given these facts, it is difficult to find the logic for action by state legislators across the country who have, as of March 24, 2021, introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions for voters in 47 states, including Alabama.

Voter suppression is not at all new to Alabama, and right now, in the midst of a global health pandemic, our State Legislature, instead of prioritizing the devastation of health, safety, education and the economy, has introduced a bevy of bills to further suppress Alabama voters. The following are examples now pending approval. Senate Bill 235 and House Bill 285 both prohibit curbside voting, a direct obstacle for voters with disabilities and the many seniors who have limited mobility. Voting from a vehicle is less taxing on those voters as well as on the election official having to assist them from the vehicle into the polling place. Curbside voting also could help in rural districts that have not met the disabled accessibility standards for public facilities, and it would eliminate the hazard to voters with health conditions who need to avoid large crowds.

House Bill 351 prohibits the governor from changing election procedures due to a state of emergency. The logic against this bill is in full display during the current global pandemic. Logic tells us that in an emergency, procedures must change to accommodate that emergency. House Bill 399 is similar to House Bill 351; it prohibits the secretary of state, in a state of emergency, from waiving absentee ballot requirements. This includes the requirement of providing a copy of your photo ID and having your ballot witnessed or notarized. Finding a copy machine or a notary in a rural area during a pandemic can be problematic for most people.

The one question I have regarding all these bills and others not listed here: Where is the data to support them? I see no applicable logic for them, unless the purpose is to reduce voter turnout.

By Amy Miller

I stayed home during the pandemic. My job became 100 percent remote and I didn’t lose any income. As a result, I was better able to avoid exposing myself to Covid.

So what does this have to do with voting? A lot.

When it came time to vote in November, I chose to go in person. I did not have to ask permission from my boss, take a vacation day or file for an absentee ballot. Because I live in a small town, the lines were short and the whole process took less than 10 minutes. Because I live in a state with some of the nation’s most flexible voting laws, many people were able to vote ahead, which helped with both lines and turnout.

My story is very different from many other Americans, though. In some states it is harder to vote ahead, to find a drop box, or to get an absentee ballot. In many places, people wait on line for hours to vote and have to take off time from work to do so.

More than a year ago, a few of us from both Tuskegee and South Berwick decided to interview people in each of our towns about whether they had ever faced an obstacle to voting. We guessed that Black folks in Tuskegee would have some different stories than white folks in South Berwick.

We never predicted, though, how powerfully different these stories would be, especially when we talked to the older citizens who had the longer view. From Tuskegee, we heard about poll taxes and being asked to count jelly beans in a jar. We heard about people being turned away from the polls for no reason and being threatened when they tried to register other voters. Compiled in a book called Together We Vote, these interviews told a shameful story of the ways Black citizens of the United States have in the past been discouraged, sometimes prevented, from voting.

Today, more than 350 pieces of legislation introduced in 47 states would restrict citizen access to voting, according to the Washington Post. Among the most insidious of the changes being considered are bills that would take power from local election officials to conduct their own elections. Georgia’s controversial new law gives the State Election Board the authority to intervene in county election offices and to remove and replace local election officials. This means a white state government can take power away from a majority Black county. This centralization of election powers means that whatever party is in charge at the state level can control the local level as well.

When we started the Together We Vote project, I imagined we were creating a kind of oral history book, a book that looked back at how hard many Americans have had to fight to get equal access to the democratic process.

Now, as one state after another attempts to pass laws that make it more complicated to vote, I see that this is a fight that continues today.

Guy and Amy can be reached at

Vaccines are critical, but arrive amidst confusion (March 2021)

This column, which typically appears every other week in Foster’s Daily Democrat and the Tuskegee News newspapers, did not run in Fosters because of editors’ concerns over confusion around vaccines and the risk of confusing people further with differing ideas. We respect that decision. Below you can see how even the two of us do not interpret the information and facts available in the same way. We urge you to consider our columns and do your own research. Neither of us is a scientist or public heath specialist. The one thing we agree on is that getting a vaccine is the moral and healthy thing to do.

By Guy Trammell Jr.

I am not a pro-vaccine crusader, trying to recruit everyone to get the Covid-19 vaccine. However, I am also not an anti-vaxxer. I don’t have “vaccine hesitancy.” I am one who looks at and believes in the science, not proponents of politics or those who utilize opinion over facts and data.

I have a history of getting vaccines from the age of 4, so vaccine trust is not an issue for me. I also know vaccine history. I know of the good (1956 Salk/Tuskegee polio vaccine), the bad (1976 swine flu vaccine) and the ugly (April 1955 Cutter Labs polio vaccine disaster). We must learn from science whether we succeed or fail; a lesson learned can only propel us further in our quest for good health and community well-being.

A vaccine is made from very small amounts of weak or dead germs that can cause diseases – for example, viruses, bacteria or toxins. It prepares your body to fight the disease faster and more effectively so you won’t get sick. The term “vaccine” is from the Latin vaccinus, from vacca “cow,” because the first vaccine was for smallpox, using cowpox virus.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines don’t fit this definition because instead of being dead germs they operate by modifying cellular coding. They stimulate the outer portion of our cells (RNA) to produce the immune response. Because this is something brand new, every recipient’s reaction to the vaccine is monitored afterward.

The current pandemic is about the SARS Covid 2 (severe acute respirator syndrome coronavirus 2) virus. SARS has been with us for a very long time. One of its versions causes the common cold, and as with the common cold, we must fight it with a variety of means. If we do only one thing to fight it, such as just taking the vaccine, we will both fail and risk infecting others around us.

Let’s get this straight: A vaccine: a) is not guaranteed to prevent you from getting the virus; b) will not keep you from spreading the virus to others; and c) will not keep you from becoming reinfected by virus mutations. If you do become infected, a vaccine will almost certainly keep you from going to the ICU and dying from the specific virus for which the vaccine was manufactured. Once a virus variant enters the picture, the vaccine can be less effective or not effective at all.

Like taking vitamin C to combat a common cold, vitamin D (including sunlight), zinc (meats, nuts, shellfish) and rest can be effective in fighting and preventing infection of SARS 2, according to studies of NPIs (non-pharmaceutical interventions) conducted in Spain and England.

And for those anti-vaxxers who don’t trust science and see SARS 2 as some conspiracy that can be ignored, or as just something that restricts their freedom to do what they want and go where they choose, I say this: People are dying around the globe. It’s not worth refusing to take this seriously until you or your loved one is gasping for their last breath.

Again, whether you take the vaccine or not, we still must wear our masks (maybe double masks in stores), socially distance, stay safe/work safer at home, and wash our hands (and masks) so we can stop this virus. The “new normal” is all of us being better informed and behaving smarter.

By Amy Miller

Getting vaccinated is a gift we give ourselves and each other. But it is also incredibly and unexpectedly confusing.

I got my first vaccine this month and will get my second before April. As of this writing, more than half of us over 60 in Maine have gotten shot #1. In fact about 27 percent of Maine adults had gotten their first vaccine and 14 percent both vaccines. (The national numbers are 22 percent and 12 percent)

Though I would never pass on the chance – the obligation – to get vaccinated, I have found the process personally, morally and scientifically confusing.

Let’s start with the personal.

Personally, I am not completely prepared to leave this prison, its boundaries limiting who I could see, where I could go, and what I could do. I woke, I exercised, I worked. Sometimes I had simple fireside gatherings. Yes, I am eager and relieved but also surprisingly anxious about a future that allows for a more complicated life. It’s time to see my mother after a year with only a one-night visit. It’s time to think about travel, to consider dinners in restaurants, to invite friends over. Eventually it will be time for parties and commuting to work.

Getting vaccinated was also morally confusing. I am in good health, I have a job that is easily remote and I have family, friends and and forests nearby. Other people face greater challenges. I know that we all need to get inoculated as soon as our number is called, but I feel a survivor’s guilt. More people will die waiting for a vaccine while I am nearly certain I could have carried on a few more months. And around the world, people in other less powerful countries have a fraction of the access to vaccine we have.

And finally, the rules and results of the vaccine have been scientifically confounding. The experts tell us to keep wearing masks and to stay distant in public — whether or not we have been vaccinated. Little by little they are hinting at what I have suspected: At least for the time being, the inoculated are unlikely to pass on the infection. That’s why the CDC announced last week that vaccinated grandparents may host their unvaccinated children and grandchildren, in the house, even without masks. But even Guy and I are reading different studies and interpreting guidance differently, it seems.

Herd immunity depends on breaking the chain of transmission. If enough of us (somewhere over 70 percent) are vaccinated, the fraction of the population that cannot – as opposed to will not – get vaccinated is fairly protected. When enough of us are vaccinated, the infection is stopped in its tracks: it cannot find a willing host to carry it to the next person and the next until it reaches the person who cannot be vaccinated.

Experts haven’t figured out how long the vaccine’s protection will last. And no one can say what variants of COVID-19 will rear their ugly heads or how they will behave. But the one thing we do know is that the more of us who are vaccinated, the better off we all are. And the faster this happens, the better the odds are that we can find our way back to the complicated, but welcome world outside COVID’s walls.

Thanks to the people who bring us our history (March 2021)

By Guy Trammell Jr.

African history was passed from generation to generation by storytelling, as dramatized in the television series “Roots.” The same is true for Indigenous Americans. Much of the world’s history has been overlooked, or covered with Correction Fluid, to highlight and emphasize only a European perspective of events. Preservation of history determines who we are. If we don’t know where we came from, we don’t truly know who we are.

Vester Marable with Karen Eger of South Berwick

Booker T. Washington realized this need to accurately record history, and employed sociologist Monroe Nathan Work in 1908 to establish the nation’s second oldest archives at Tuskegee University. Tuskegee’s Lynching Record, created by Monroe Work, was used by the white Associated Press during the Jim Crow era because it was the most complete collection of lynching information on the planet. Every picture of lynching now on the internet came from the Tuskegee University Archives.

On April 27, 1989, a historian by the name of Vester Marable was born in the Tuskegee community so rich in history and historic people. This son of Tony and Clara Marable, and brother to older sister Nnena, was a prolific learner with a strong interest in history at an early age. By 2002, Vester was an outstanding volunteer with the Tuskegee Airmen’s National Historic Site at Tuskegee’s Moton Field, where he started the site’s first ever Junior Ranger program. In 2006, President George W. Bush personally presented 16-year-old Vester with the Presidential Volunteer Service Award for the hundreds of volunteer hours he had accumulated, and he was featured in “Jet” magazine.

While attending Booker T. Washington High School, Vester started the Tuskegee Student Betterment Council to encourage academic excellence and community engagement. Its motto was “Culture for Service and Service for Humanity.” Vester loved telling the stories of local history and became a self-appointed ambassador for Tuskegee. He also was named the first ever Youth Mayor of Tuskegee.

Before graduating from Tuskegee University, he began working for the National Park Service. He advanced from being a Park Guide to Park Ranger and finally an Administrative Officer, providing services to all Alabama National Parks. His contagious smile and personality only added to the engagement of hearing him sharing stories from history.

Vester was doing well and pursuing his Ph.D. in Integrated Public Policy and Development when tragedy struck: he was the victim of an aneurysm. However, through a community-wide prayer effort and diligent medical care, he recovered and returned to the Park Service, assigned first to Alabama’s Horse Shoe Bend Park and finally back to the Tuskegee Airmen’s site.

On December 28, 2019, after 30 years of bringing joy to others, Vester was called to his heavenly home. He was celebrated by representatives from local, state and federal governments. In tribute to Vester, the Tuskegee Historic Preservation Commission has established the Vester Marable History Competition to highlight a Tuskegee historic person or event. School children can compete and the awards will be presented on his birthday. Hopefully, this will encourage others to keep active Vester’s work, which informs and inspires future generations!

By Amy Miller

John Demos makes no bones about the fact that he is in no way a professional historian. In fact, Demos was an environmental activist for 30 years before he retired in 2017 and found himself increasingly interested in local history, particularly the history of those often ignored in Maine’s recorded history.

He admits that his passion for research, which led him to the archives of our local history museum, has helped keep him sane during a year – well he would say four years – with an extreme set of challenges.

He started by researching his own house and land in rural South Berwick, which led him to the Scottish prisoners who came to the area as indentured servants to work in the mills and timber industry. He learned that James Gray, a descendant of Scottish prisoner George Gray, bought this land in 1749.

As he researched his own space, Demos began diving into the archives of the Counting House Museum, run by the Old Berwick Historical Society. There he also became interested in the people who originally occupied this area, and he found that Native American stories are difficult to research as little has been written down.

Then three years ago, a museum exhibit on the 17th Century inhabitants of this area piqued his interest in the history of Maine’s African American residents. The exhibit featured Will Black, an enslaved person in the late 1600s who bought his freedom from his owner in what is now Eliot. Demos learned from Counting House heavyweight Wendy Pirsig about the Jones and Williams families, and about Tom Tinker, who apparently had a swamp in South Berwick named after him that is mentioned in 1700s deeds. And then there was Black Sarah, a person enslaved by the Lord family and whose burial is marked in Berwick.

Demos believes that many of Maine’s Black residents were driven out by the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in Maine in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Will Black Jr. had moved the family to the midcoast Maine, creating a community of African Americans north of here, first on Bailey’s Island and then on Orr’s Island.

Demos and others in the Old Berwick Historical Society have been feeding information they uncover to the Maine Preservation’s new interactive storymap, which brings virtual visitors to the places these Mainers lived and worked and is meant to bring to life many untold histories.

Demos spends about three hours a day researching local history. He has learned about researching in archives, and he is planning to dig on his land in search of the original cabin. But one of his main goals is to find more and younger volunteers interested in archive work.

He is training people to take “deep dives in the archives” and has run workshops to teach people to record information and become familiar with the collection.

Mostly important, he tells interested volunteers, is to find their own projects. From experience, he knows this is the way to start.

“I did with John Gray and the history of Scots prisoners,” he said. “Just find a project and run with it.”

Our first joint column: what Color Us Connected means to us (Feb. 2020)

By Guy Trammell Jr. and Amy Miller

For more than two years we have been writing this column, each of us giving our own perspective on a chosen topic. We are a white woman and a Black man who first met in late 2017. We are of different geographies, religious beliefs, genders.

Color Us Connected, though, was born out of an effort to talk across our racial divide. Our conversations – over phone, text and in our – have been central to sharing our perspectives. Here, and in our growing friendship, we have painted pictures that celebrate colors, both our differences and our similarities.

Today, for the first time we offer a column – our mural – with a joint byline, rather than two separate columns. Usually we pick a topic and with little discussion are off and running. Still, the two of us have spent enough hours writing, talking and planning events together to now feel comfortable presenting in one voice what Color Us Connected means to us and what we hope it brings to you. We have worked together enough that we have built a trust that takes us past the divides and into our common humanity.

That is also what we hope Color Us Connected can begin to do for others, our two communities. In fact, this is what we hope can happen across our nation. People can begin to talk across the divide.

While one of us grew up needing a Green Book to travel safely on vacations in the South and saw his town’s swimming pool filled with acid when it was first desegregated, the other of us vacationed in the Caribbean, locked our car doors when driving through Harlem and spent childhood summers at a country club pool. But we also share a passion for traveling, an interest in new foods, a love of our own communities and so much more.

We talk about all these things in our columns, and sometimes we talk directly about race, with columns on George Floyd or Black Face. Other times we talk about favorite fruit or movies or holidays with family. Either way, we hope our readers will enjoy the journey. We could write a column about George Floyd which cuts so deep it will send readers into despair, or skipping to the next page of the paper. Or we could write about George Floyd in ways that skim the surface so lightly as to be meaningless. Instead we tried to strike a middle ground, to bring stories and ideas worth listening to, paragraphs that make you want to read more, a journalistic meal that is both spicy and pleasurable, that intrigues and stimulates our understanding of different perspectives.

You can’t truly appreciate a piece of sculpture if you view it only from one side, so one of us may relay more of our personal experiences while the other relays more about little-known history. We know that white history is well-documented and African-American history less so. A more complete history of our country, which includes better context, is key to understanding both our past and present.

We both want to speak to our readers in a way that they can gain new perspectives. Sometimes we may write with readers in Tuskegee and Macon County picking up the “Tuskegee News” in mind. Other times we may think about the readers in Maine and New Hampshire who find our column in “Foster’s Daily Democrat.” But we aim to reach both communities, in fact bring our communities together, while seeking common ground and celebrating our differences.

This column, Color Us Connected, began in 2018 as one of the first offspring of the Common Ground South Berwick- Tuskegee Sister City project. The friendship and respect that has grown between the two of us as columnists is among dozens of connections that have grown between our towns since South Berwick and Tuskegee became sister cities in 2017. None of this happened without effort. We had to decide that these relationships mattered. We did this because we believe relationships that intentionally bridge the divide are key to changing our nation’s racial future. These initial efforts opened a path for other areas of growth and learning.

As the connection between Tuskegee and South Berwick continues, we see more of these offspring. Among them is a relationship between school children in Tuskegee and in the Marshwood district in Maine, with teens regularly meeting virtually, sharing stories, and becoming friends while also discussing being Black or white in America.

The significance of these friendships cannot be underestimated. They lay the foundation for trust. They turn fear into caring, indifference into empathy. We believe these relationships are the first steps to honest, transformative conversations and ultimately a more just and peaceful nation.

We hope this column gives you something meaningful to consider, something you can relate to from one or both of us. We know that folks in Butte or Boston won’t be able to create the same relationships we have. But we believe our efforts to reach across the divide, our success in creating trust and building friendships might inspire others to seek a similar path, no matter what the divide.

We are, after all, sharing a planet.

Booker T’s letter bonded our towns long ago (Feb. 2020)

By Guy Trammell Jr.

On Sept. 3, 1849, Theodora Sarah Orne Jewett was born in South Berwick, Maine. A few years later, on April 5, 1856, Booker Taliaferro Washington was born into slavery near Hale’s Ford, Virginia. Sarah was educated at Miss Olive Rayne’s school and graduated from Berwick Academy in 1866. Booker was educated at the William Davis School and graduated from Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in 1875.

Sarah was 19 when she published her first major story for the Atlantic Monthly, and writing became her life’s work. Booker was 25 when he answered the call to start a colored school at Tuskegee, and this became his life’s work.

Sarah Orne Jewett established the art of American literary regionalism by extensively authoring works reflecting Maine’s southeastern people, landscapes and culture. Booker T. Washington redefined industrial education and created, from an abandoned plantation, Tuskegee Institute and the Village of Greenwood, a Black owned and operated, self-sufficient, self-sustaining model city within a small rural Alabama town, surrounded by the laws of Jim Crow.

The Beckers holding the letter from Booker T. Washington

Sarah became a good friend of George and Emily Tyson, wealthy philanthropists from Boston, and years later convinced the widowed Mrs. Tyson to purchase South Berwick’s historic Hamilton House, now a tourist site and museum. Booker T. Washington maintained support for Tuskegee Institute via speaking tours and generous donations from many northern philanthropists. It was in 1898 that South Berwick and Tuskegee would have their first link via Emily Tyson.

Booker T. Washington held the first day of class for Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, on July 4, 1881, with 30 students. By 1890, the East Alabama Men’s College, which became Auburn University, had about 200 students, and the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa had 500 students. However, Tuskegee Institute by then enrolled more than 1,000 students and was the largest school in Alabama.

Booker T. Washington was soliciting support far and wide, and he wrote Mrs. George Tyson for a contribution to support the expensive tuition of $50 per year. We don’t know if she sent a donation, but more than 100 years later, in 2020, South Berwick antique collector Rick Becker came into possession of that letter and has made it a memorial gift to the Sister City Tuskegee.

The letter is one early link between the Sister Cities; however, we have discovered another. On Feb. 12, 1814, South Berwick became the first township to separate from Maine’s town of Berwick, which is now three townships (Berwick and North Berwick the others). It was also on Feb. 12, in 1881, that Alabama Gov. Wilbur Cobb signed into law Bill 165 creating the Normal School for Colored Teachers at Tuskegee, which is now Tuskegee University.

From two individuals, one white and one Black, and from two towns, one predominantly white and one predominantly Black, a link has been made down through the ages that we will celebrate this Feb. 12, 2021, as we unite and build Common Ground together.

By Amy Miller
Most of us know the significance of Feb. 12 as Lincoln’s birthday. But for South Berwick and Tuskegee, sister cities since 2017, the date has a whole new meaning. In fact, we are set to call Feb. 12 Common Ground Sister City Day, or Tuskegee-South Berwick Day.

In South Berwick, Feb. 12 marks the day when, 207 years ago, our town separated from Berwick and become its own municipality.

In Tuskegee, Feb. 12 marks the day when, 140 years ago, Gov. Rufus Willis Cobb signed the law establishing the Tuskegee Normal School for the training of Black teachers.

The 1898 Letter

Because of this date’s prominence in the history of both of our communities, co-columnist Guy Trammell, who is also an historian, chose this date for a special ceremony that deepens the connection between our communities and reflects what the more superstitious among us see as a relationship that was meant to be.

The National Park Service will officially receive a letter written in 1898 by Tuskegee University founder Booker T. Washington to Emily Tyson, who owned the Hamilton House in South Berwick. In the letter, Washington requested a donation to help pay the tuition of students entering the Tuskegee Normal School.

The National Park Service will hold the original document in its archives and hang a replica in Tuskegee’s Butler Chapel AME Zion Church, which hosted the extensive organizing in 1957 that led to the national Voting Rights Act.

Many leaders of import will comment on the letter, the sister city relationship and the need for racial healing at the Feb. 12 event, which is open to the public on Facebook live and Zoom. Among them are Tuskegee Mayor Lawrence “Tony” Haygood; Dr. Charlotte Morris, Tuskegee University’s interim president; and Marshall Cabiness III, a descendant of Booker T. Washington.

But the most important spokespeople will be two young students – one from Marshwood Middle School and one from Tuskegee Public School – who will read excerpts from the letter. These students are among several dozen students from the two towns who have been meeting regularly for many months now, forming friendships over the internet as they learn about what it means to be Black in Tuskegee or White in Maine.

Those of us involved with the Sister City program have discussed ways we might work toward healing, and avenues for realizing the goals of Common Ground. We have come up with ideas like honest dialogue, education, new laws. But we agree that the biggest change rests with our children.

The young people do not have ideas and prejudices already set in stone. Children can make their way to a different future. The bridges our children are building in school can help pave the way for a nation that finally finds common ground in the search for justice.

Let’s just call Feb. 12 Common Ground Day.

To heal, we must listen and teach, learn and talk (Jan. 2020)

By Guy Trammell Jr.

In grade school, I challenged fear one Saturday, biking down a steep hill and dramatically embracing the pavement, my knee losing a layer of skin. Kiddie band-aids being too small, I covered the situation with gauze. By Sunday morning the bleeding stopped but the ooze began, and continued, despite applying more gauze, until my mother noticed and I submitted to cleaning, disinfecting and healing. Covering the problem with a bandage alone did not work.

George Washington learned land surveying from his father. Land represented power, and that is what he and the founding fathers valued. The liberty, justice and freedom written into our founding documents were not made available to those who prepared their food, nursed their children, and operated their farms and plantations. They were only for large white land owners, not small white land owners, and white women were not invited to the party. Power and control were to be maintained, no matter the cost.

The Native American nations, with foreign policy and diplomats ready to negotiate with this new Republic, were simply wiped out; white supremacy didn’t share power. This disease also ruled some white people. Irish and Scots were welcomed on western frontiers, like Ohio, to settle the land and fight Indians and the French, but they then were kicked off the land so Washington and other “rightful” owners could move in. This disease was pervasive throughout society, especially in the South, and by the time of the Civil War, when the “Northern Aggression” won, President Ulysses Grant had to create the Justice Department to handle the Klu Klux Klan threat, another form of white supremacy.

In May 1921, the Booker T. Washington-inspired “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa was destroyed and hundreds of Blacks murdered by white supremacists to curtail Black economic power. On July 3, 1923, hundreds of white supremacists burned a 40-foot cross on Tuskegee’s City Square and marched to destroy Tuskegee University. However, thousands of Blacks, whites and Jewish supporters of the school met them and changed their plans. In the 1960s, I saw fear on my mother’s face as my father gathered his hunting rifles and left one night to join other Black men in preventing white supremacists from marching through Tuskegee University.

But surely all that is in the past. It’s all over…right?

In 2002, Oregon barely passed a bill overturning a state Amendment preventing Blacks from owning land. The Center for Strategic and International Studies found that white supremacists perpetrated almost 60% of 893 U.S. terrorist acts from 1994 to 2020 in 42 states. In 2011, after Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords voted for Obamacare, she and 18 others, including a federal judge, were shot. In 2017, a terrorist shot a Congressman and three others at a baseball practice. In 2018, 11 worshipers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue were killed for opposing U.S. anti-immigration policies. In 2019, 23 Walmart shoppers in El Paso were killed by a white supremacist who posted a “Hispanic Invasion” warning on social media.

The Southern Poverty Law Center lists far right militias, Proud Boys, Boogaloos, neo-Confederates, and other insurrectionists as major domestic threats to the nation, but this is not new, and a band-aid doesn’t work. True healing means we must treat the disease by teaching children acceptance and respect for others. Our “new normal” means our relationships must be inclusive, and we practice liberty, justice, freedom and acceptance with all people. Let the Healing begin!

By Amy Miller

There is work to be done. Healing will not be easy and I must – white people must – determine what parts we can and will contribute.

The Common Ground Sister City project between mostly white South Berwick and mostly Black Tuskegee was formed in hopes of creating one path for healing. Start small and hope for ripples. Common Ground was and remains focused on black-white tensions, but the lessons are perhaps far-reaching.

So what is my job as a white person? For starters, I believe that we must listen, just listen.

Two years agowhen nine people from Tuskegee came to South Berwick, we held a structured dialogue involving folks from both towns. Our visitors, including Tuskegee’s mayor, told us of race-related experiences they had suffered – being stopped by police, being followed in stores, being disrespected at work… They wanted us to know what it is like to be Black in America.

It’s true that most of us from Maine who are involved in the sister city project were already aware of this kind of treatment of Black people. That was, in fact, a large part of why we chose to be involved. But that didn’t take away from the importance of their reports. Our job was to listen. Hearing from a friend the hurt they have suffered is different from hearing from the television.

It may be uncomfortable, and we may be hearing stories we could read in the newspaper. But my job, our job, is to listen without being defensive or withdrawing, even if we feel uneasy or apprehensive, even if we think we already knew about the injustices.

A few weeks ago, after mobs staged a violent takeover of the Capitol with little in the way of resistance from law enforcement, several friends from Tuskegee called me to say “Do you see how differently BLM protesters were treated? Do you get it?”

These callers, friends, know me fairly well by now. They know I am committed to issues of racial justice. But still, they wanted to talk to me about the blatant disparity that was on display in Washington.

That my facebook page was filled with (white) friends making the same comment, posting pictures of the army of National Guardsmen ready to take on the mostly peaceful protesters speaking out for Black lives, did not negate the importance of the calls from Tuskegee.

Again, the point was to listen, to listen to friends telling me directly what it is like to be Black in America.

Whether in group dialogues or through personal phone calls, listening – just listening – means taking part in a critical aspect of the healing process.

Rosenwald of Sears Roebuck educated so many of us (Jan. 2020)

By Guy Trammell Jr.

On June 21, 1881, Booker T. Washington, a former Black slave, arrived at Chehaw Train Station in Tuskegee, Alabama, where his world would be forever changed; he became the first principal of Tuskegee University. Years later, on August 13, 1895, Julius Rosenwald, a young Jewish clothing merchant, signed a formal agreement to become a partner of Sears Roebuck & Co., the catalog merchandise giant in Chicago, Illinois.

Richard Sears, a marketing genius, had started the Sears company but had problems getting products to customers. Customers received things they didn’t order, or got nothing at all. In November 1908, JR, as Rosenwald was known, became company president and increased its profits by way of high quality customer service and quality merchandise.

Because of U.S. national prejudice, JR could not let the public know the Sears president was Jewish, but he made sure both his customers and his employees were treated with respect. A retail laboratory was set up to guarantee quality products and to ensure customers were satisfied with their orders, and the company called in nurses if employees were injured or sick.

JR became a philanthropist, using his wealth to support both Jewish and Black causes. One primary support for the Black community was the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association). In addition to its sports activities, the Y, as it was known, was a place to get a bath and spend the night. When Blacks traveled north to Chicago and other cities, they often had no place to stay until they were employed. The Y was where they could stay to get started.

L. Wilbur Messer, general secretary for the Chicago branch of the YMCA, met Booker T. Washington on a train, and Washington inquired about a person from Chicago to fill a vacancy on his Board of Trustees. Messer suggested JR, and invited Washington to speak at the YMCA’s 53rd Anniversary dinner, where the two met on May 18, 1911. When Washington asked him to join the Tuskegee Board or give a donation, JR said he was not interested. JR wrote to his wife, in the custom of the day, of the “two darkies” he met with.

Undeterred. Washington arranged a two-day tour of Tuskegee for JR, who came by train in October 1911 with a group of Chicago dignitaries. After the two days JR remarked (in contrast to his earlier thoughts), “I was astonished at the progressiveness in the schools. I don’t believe there is a white industrial school in America or anywhere that compares to Mr. Washington’s at Tuskegee.”

JR and Washington became close personal friends and JR became a Trustee, serving for most of his life. He supported Tuskegee University financially, but also worked with Washington to build over 5,000 Black elementary schools; he provided one-third of the financing, with the balance raised by the communities and the local Boards of Education. Locally these included Chehaw School, Shiloh School, Brownville No. 1, and South Macon.

Tuskegee University’s architect, Robert R. Taylor, designed the schools; Tuskegee’s outreach director, Clinton J. Calloway, organized the communities and supervised the project; and George W. Carver designed the curriculum and landscaping for the schools. The Rosenwald Fund also supported Notasulga’s Zora Neale Hurston and Tuskegee University’s Ralph Ellison, and the fund built Robert Russa Moton Airfield.

By Amy Miller

Julius Rosenwald, who helped fund more than 5,000 schools for African Americans in the Jim Crow south, also helped educate me and my siblings. Our story, though, is a white story, profoundly different from the story of more than 600,000 Black children who went to Rosenwald schools, children who might have been working the fields had they not been in schools created by Rosenwald in partnership with Booker T. Washington.

Last month, co-columnist Guy Trammell invited me to watch a film about Rosenwald online and then join a virtual group discussion. Producer Aviva Kempner attended the discussion, along with Tuskegee historians and many alumni of Rosenwald schools. A few of us were from South Berwick, invited because our town is Tuskegee’s sister city.

I didn’t say much during the discussion, didn’t mention the indirect role Rosenwald played in my life. It pales in comparison to his role creating schools for Black children, including writer Toni Morrison and the late Rep. John Lewis, but reveals deep-seated truths about the country awaiting European Americans compared to the world African Americans were living in at the time, not to mention the world awaiting their ancestors when they arrived centuries earlier against their will.

My great-grandfather Samuel Arnstein, born in New York in 1862, was the first generation to be born in America. HIs father, Alexander, came from Germany and was likely a peddler, like so many other German Jews, including Rosenwald’s own father Samuel, who arrived in 1854 with $20 in his pocket.

Samuel Arnstein, my mother’s mother’s father, and his four brothers had a jewelry business at 37 Maiden Lane in lower Manhattan. As it happened, Arnstein Bros. opened in 1886, the same year Sears Roebuck opened. Sears apparently bought jewelry from Arnstein Bros. and, lacking the funds, the new retail company paid the Arnsteins in Sears stock instead.

Long after Samuel Arnstein died and the Arnsteins left or closed their business, that stock paid for my college.

So Rosenwald indirectly provided an education to me and my siblings, as well as some of my Tuskegee brothers and sisters. Unlike African Americans, who have faced centuries of exclusions and injustice, my ancestors were able to start companies, buy properties, and build enough wealth to pass some down.

The 50th anniversary pamphlet put out by the Arnstein Brothers in 1936 opens with the company’s motto: “To Have Good Neighbors, You Must Be A Good Neighbor.” I have no idea if my great-grandfather was a good neighbor. But what I do know is that yes, he worked hard, and yes, his privilege as a white American laid a foundation for the life of a great-granddaughter he never met.

We will remember 2020, for this and more (Dec. 2020)

By Guy Trammell Jr.

In 1920, 100 years ago, U.S. Navy Captain Hugh Mulzac was given the opportunity to command an all Black ship’s crew, but he refused to have a “Jim Crow” segregated ship. However, 22 years later he gladly accepted a similar assignment, becoming commander of the SS Booker T. Washington’s all Black crew, the first U.S. Liberty ship to honor an African American. On February 11, 1920, Daniel “Chappie” James was born in Pensacola, Florida, and later became the first Black 4-Star General in the U.S. military. On June 1, 1920, Dr. Frank Toland was born in Helena, South Carolina, and became chairman of Tuskegee University’s History Department and Tuskegee’s first Black mayor pro-tem. It was also around 1920 that a Tuskegee men’s group started meeting, later becoming the Tuskegee Civic Association that won the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Jim Crow” gerrymander case, Gomillion v. Lightfoot.

Fast forward to 2020, and the number one event of the year was the coronavirus pandemic, reaching every nation on the globe and painfully revealing all the truth of our inadequacies as a society — our lack of digital infrastructure, our lack of a strong distribution system, our lack of facilities to handle pandemic-level medical crises, our lack of governmental leadership and cooperation, and our lack of self-discipline to abide by healthy physical and mental health practices in addressing a global public health threat to our lives.

However, one of the top issues the Covid 19 pandemic revealed was the racial divide, with the blatant murder in the U.S. of George Floyd, and so many other Black people, by law enforcement officers, demonstrating dramatically that Black lives don’t matter.

It was heartwarming to see law enforcement leaders join protest marches, along with crowds of people around the world, against the murder of George Floyd. The most touching display of support locally was the Tuskegee News ad placed by residents of South Berwick, Maine, saying they stand in solidarity with Tuskegee against the blatant murder of Black people at the hands of a few racist law enforcement officers. That is a true memorial for our Sister City relationship.

The other top theme of 2020 has been the endless elections and election processes. (Is it even over yet??) South Berwick and Tuskegee joined forces to celebrate their respective state’s 200th birthdays by conducting the “Together We Vote!” project. With a video of people speaking on the importance of voting, to a book documenting 100 people from each town speaking on voting, to a Zoom gathering on the topic of voting, this was a tremendous accomplishment. It was encouraging to see the participation and the excitement generated by coming together.

Locally, the Macon County Coronavirus Task Force — community working with the University, working with government and county agencies — has been a great accomplishment, beyond anything I have ever seen in our county. We have been through a global threat and learned to gather virtually and make our social habits a little safer. Maybe God has shown us how to appreciate each other a little more, and not take so many things for granted. Let’s unite to make love and healing the theme of 2021!

By Amy Miller

This is the fourth year of the friendship between South Berwick and Tuskegee and it is the first year we have not had a visit between the towns.

This year has been filled with stories of loss and sacrifice, but for my final column of the year I will instead look back at lessons learned and silver linings uncovered, for our world, our nation, our sister city relationship and our families.

As a planet, we have learned that during just a few weeks last spring we were able to slow down the climate changes that are causing flooding, fires and animal extinctions. We have learned that our world is small and humanity undeniably interwoven.

As a nation, we have seen a light shined on shameful and costly inequalities and learned that many, many of us want a future where people are no longer hurt by the color of their skin, by a lack of heath care, or for that matter by the unfair burden of climate change.

As Sister Cities, we learned that we could build and deepen friendships even without in-person visits. Children in our South Berwick and Tuskegee schools came together online to share stories of living in largely homogeneous communities, while learning of differences as well as similarities. Meanwhile, adults in our two communities interviewed hundreds of people in both towns about voting, and then joined online to celebrate the “Together We Vote” project with music, videos and readings.

In my family we learned we can continue to socialize even in winter, enjoying fires and walks, and virtual visits with grandmas. We learned we are sufficiently resilient – yes, a word we had to use too much this year – to get through long days of isolation without travel, parties, dinners out, nights at the pub.

A chimney fire in March left my home without our wood stove for the nine months the world and we have been battling the pandemic. Two days before Christmas, a wood stove installation guy came and connected our wood stove to a newly lined chimney.  For us, this is symbolic of the kinder, gentler year ahead.

I am lucky I can think of silver linings and lessons. No one in my family died or got sick. We managed to keep our incomes through remote work and new jobs.

As we face the year ahead, I put my faith in the people of our planet. In March, when the entire world shut down, I looked at photos of the Taj Mahal, the Champs Éysées, Time Square and Machu Picchu. All of them were emptied because billions of human beings in all corners of the globe did their part to keep away from other people so we could heal as a planet.  

Healing is hard and will involve work, but it can and will be done.

Happy New Year to Guy, to all my friends in Tuskegee and South Berwick, to my family and to Planet Earth.

A hundred days of masks. Trust the doctors (Dec. 2020)

By Guy Trammell Jr.

The Mvskoke Nation inhabited all of current day Alabama, and parts of Georgia, Florida and Mississippi, with a population of over 24,000. They became such a formidable civilization by acting as a confederacy. As they traveled to the southeastern territory from an area near Mexico and defeated tribes along the way, they assimilated both the conquered peoples and their customs, even portions of their languages. This caused them to evolve, but also to grow in size and power, which benefited both the Nation and their new members.

As global technology progressed, from travel by foot to the wheel and even ships, more and more cultures were spread and customs shared, with new locations and travelers. But diseases also spread. Aboard ship, an outbreak affects the majority, if not all passengers. That motivated the early U.S. Navy to have the highest food quality standards in the country, possibly the world. When Spain, England and France came to the Americas, diseases came with them. Today’s air travel multiplies this process. Now you can literally eat a meal on two continents in a single day, unknowingly transporting diseases to unsuspecting people.

In the late 1940s, returning World War II servicemen brought foreign practices to their hometowns, practices that became standard for average American households: regular bathing (not just on Saturdays) and brushing teeth. However, over 60 years earlier, in the previous century before Crest and Colgate, Booker T. Washington began teaching the “Gospel of the Toothbrush” and the practice of regular bathing to his Tuskegee students, who would go out and build communities of Black families across the country that utilized and taught both health and empowerment.

Booker T. Washington developed the first indoor plumbing in Tuskegee and Macon County, Alabama. Tuskegee University had the first bath houses in the county, and when the Tuskegee Airmen program began, the campus men’s bath houses located behind the Chapel were converted to barracks for the soldier trainees.

We have adapted many times before, and now, as air travel shrinks our world, we must adapt again. President-elect Joe Biden asked us all to wear masks for his first 100 days in office. Is this  political? Is this asking too much? China’s pollution and respiratory illnesses 15 years ago prompted voluntary mask wearing for over a decade.  In the U.S., tuberculosis led to mask wearing around infected people for many decades.

Airborne diseases are here, and we have to protect ourselves and those around us. Even with a vaccine, the Covid virus is mutating and vaccine-based immunity can be compromised by a new strain of the disease. Therefore, we will still need masks to protect us.

Some countries have made it part of their culture, and even hold mask fashion shows. So select your favorite color, or sports team, or organization logo, or cartoon character or super hero or family member, or…(I think you have the idea!), and wear it proudly on your mask.

This is actually us showing love for the people around us. Wearing a mask won’t make us political; it shows we are human! Besides, I enjoy how it keeps my face warm outside on cold mornings.

By Amy Miller

True, even if we all wear masks, the pandemic will not disappear any time soon. And even if we stay stay six feet apart at the supermarket, avoid indoor dining and skip holiday visits with our family, the virus will not go away.

This we know.

We also know that the hospitals can’t keep up with the number of sick people coming in, and it is past time to drastically reduce the spread of the virus. It isn’t fair to put doctors and nurses at risk as you get sicker with Covid than you thought you would.

Doctors at three Maine healthcare systems begged us this week to help slow down the virus. Hospitals here in Maine, one of the states with the lowest rate of Covid in the country, are scrambling to keep up with the number of sick people coming in. Nurses are being hired who don’t usually work emergency rooms and at this rate, by Christmas hospitals won’t be able to keep up.

The vaccine is coming. Hopefully, the vast majority of us will get the vaccine sometime next year. In the meantime, we need to stay as healthy as we can.

If you are ok with our government drafting citizens during wars, collecting taxes to build roads, arresting people for drunk driving, give it some respect as it works to protect us from a deathly virus that has killed nearly 300,000 Americans.

You might think you have a right to take your chances. After all, most people recover and perhaps no one you know has died. But the clerk at the grocery store or the doctor who has to treat you at the hospital may not survive. And people they infected before they knew they were infected may not survive or recover their health for years either.

President-Elect Biden plans to ask every American to wear a mask for his first 100 days, he said in a CNN interview.

Let me be clear. Masks, social distancing and lock-downs provide a critical function that every patriotic American should honor. They won’t end or shorten the pandemic – unless the rules are more stringent and compliance more widespread, as occurred in Australia. They will, however, allow hospitals to keep pace with the need and reduce the number of people who will die as well as the scale of needless suffering.

As of last week one American was dying roughly every 30 seconds. Many of the 300,000 people who have died and the 15 million people who have been infected were cared for in hospitals. Many of these people may have infected someone else. And that is how this pyramid scheme works, and works so rapidly that one person in China affected the whole world in a matter of months.

As of my writing this, Maine had seen 14,049 cases of Covid and 239 deaths. Our infection rate of 21 people for every 100,000 residents was second-lowest in the nation after Vermont.

Still, Maine state heath officials announced this month that numbers were so high they had to scale back contact tracing, a key to reducing the spread of the virus.

If we want our doctors to keep taking care of us, if we want nurses to leave their families to tend to us, we need to do our patriotic duty to slow the virus down.

If you trust doctors enough to take care of you, then trust them when they say you need to protect yourself and your neighbors by wearing a mask, keeping your distance and staying home if you feel sick.