Color Us Connected: Building bridges from South Berwick to Alabama gets attention from CBS News

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This column appears every other week in Foster’s Daily Democrat and the Tuskegee News. This time, in recognition of the season, Guy Trammell, an African American man from Tuskegee, Ala., and Amy Miller, a white woman from South Berwick, Maine, write about building bridges and Color Us Connected being featured on CBS Evening News.

By Amy Miller

Guy and I were recently on CBS News talking about the Sister City project and this column. The television piece was an attempt by the national news program to offer positive news this week, to look at this one small effort that aims to heal and move our country forward.

The CBS News team tried in a few segments this week to look at efforts to bring the country together after the divisiveness that erupted after the election of 2016.

The inspiration for “Common Ground: The Tuskegee/South Berwick Sister City Project” began before that, following the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and numerous other events that reminded us — that is, reminded white people, who are the only ones who can forget — the centuries-old challenge of our nation regarding race issues.

Guy Trammell Jr. and Amy Miller
Guy Trammell Jr. and Amy Miller

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What has the Sister City project accomplished and for whom? Yes, honest and real friendships have been formed, relationships built. All of us involved have felt enriched. But, the point of these friendships is merely a stepping stone for what we hope will be greater understanding.

As we told CBS, we were able to talk honestly and openly, if not always comfortably, about race because we had bonded over motherhood or journalism, a love of history or a past as veterans. We were able to talk about our feelings and experiences as white people or as Black people largely because we had shared meals and music first.

When Guy tells me he was barred from a swimming pool as a child because of the color of his skin, or that his brother was threatened for working to register other African Americans to vote, I hear it with different ears. I hear about the mistreatment of a friend I have come to care about.

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Although we all don’t have to have a Sister City to make a Black friend, or to learn the challenges of being Black, many of us live in segregated worlds. And so we might in fact have to make a bigger effort to talk to human beings who are in many ways like us but who have had experiences as Americans that are in many crucial ways not at all like ours. It will take work, but take it from South Berwick, it can be a lot of fun. And that’s another place Guy and I no doubt agree.

By Guy Trammell Jr.

CBS News recently featured “Color Us Connected” as an example of addressing the U.S. racial divide. Our columns and Sister City project all focus on bringing people together.

In 1965, Dr. P. Bertrand Phillips, Tuskegee Institute’s dean of students, recruited 900 white and Black college students from 12 colleges around the country for a rural summer program. The students went to Black communities in 11 Alabama counties and tutored youth, taught sports and adult literacy, coordinated community programs, created a newspaper, and even formed a traveling musical group. Tuskegee Institute Summer Education Program, or TISEP, was the project name.

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During that time, the Tuskegee Institute Advancement League, a student-led civil rights group, was active in central Alabama. TISEP and TIAL worked separately and at times together to bridge the racial divide via communications, relationships and engagements.

Communication involves both speaking and listening. In Lowndes County, Alabama, which was 80% Black with 100% white voters, TIAL and TISEP organized community discussions to address problems and opportunities. The students listened. They learned they did not need Black county commissioners; they needed a Black sheriff for law and justice, and a Black superintendent for equal education. They also needed a Black coroner so that when a mother found her son on a road at night with five shotgun holes in his back, the death certificate would not read “Death from Natural Causes."

Communication led to forming the first ever Black Panther Party in 1965, registering Black voters and Black candidates. In 1966, they trained Bobby Rush and Huey Newton to form California’s Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.

TIAL students built relationships with the community by assisting Black farmers with their daily chores, including plowing, and enjoying down home meals with community members. Many of the TISEP students actually lived in the homes of the families they served. They became part of the family. It is difficult to put up walls of segregation and racial hatred when you are living with someone, enjoying a plate of home-cooked greens and steamy corn bread.

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In the summer of 1965, TIAL and TISEP students engaged with the community to integrate Tuskegee’s three all-white downtown churches. They were met at the Baptist church with a vicious German shepherd. The Presbyterian church congregation boarded up the front door and for 30 years entered the church from the back. At the Methodist church, the students were thrown out. The next week they returned and were beaten with pipes, bricks, boards and sticks. They returned the next week and found that the colored men in the community were joining them.

One of the Jewish girls in TISEP wrote her mother, saying they were surrounded by colored men who guarded them. She said someone would have to pass through nine colored men to get to any student, and the colored men were well armed to protect them. The students failed to integrate the churches, but the student involvement gained the trust and involvement of the community.

Many TIAL and TISEP students, white and Black, continued to work for civil and equal rights, and are actively working today. They crossed over racial divides and never went back.

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

This article originally appeared on Fosters Daily Democrat: CBS News: Color Us Connected's work Building bridges spotlighted

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