The city of Tuskegee lies on the edge of picturesque Tuskegee National Forest, 39 miles east of Montgomery, Alabama.
The name “Tuskegee” comes from a Muskogee word “Taskeke” which means “warriors”. The city was founded by General Thomas Simpson Woodward in 1833, and today, it’s one of the largest cities in Macon County.
It has a rich, diverse history to explore. In its early days it was used as a cotton plantation, and during the Civil Rights Movement, there was a notable legal case when boundaries were moved to exclude African-American residents and voters.
It has been subject to the world’s scrutiny following an atrocious medical study and was also the city of the Tuskegee Airmen – the first squadron of African-American pilots, who fought in World War II. Visitors to Tuskegee can learn more about its chequered history in its buildings, museums, cultural centres and national forests, making this a colourful, interesting base for your continued Alabama exploration.
1. Tuskegee National Forest
Located just north of the city is Tuskegee National Forest, the smallest national forest in America at 11,252 acres.
The forest appeals to outdoor enthusiasts with horseback riding, fish ponds, a wildlife viewing area and hiking and mountain biking trails.
It’s a place to visit during all seasons, as wildflowers and magnolias bloom in the spring and changing leaves colour the forest in autumn months.
If you love spotting wildlife in its natural habitat, venture to the Tsinia Wildlife Viewing Area to see rare species of birdlife.
It’s possible to stay overnight in Tuskegee National Forest too, so bring a picnic and pitch your tent under the stars with friends, family or a loved one.
2. Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site
The Tuskegee Institute was founded in 1881 for the purpose of training Alabama’s brightest teachers.
The aim was to establish a Normal School where African-Americans could teach others of the same race and help integrate them into society.
Booker T. Washington was hired as the principal, but there was no actual school building at the time.
Washington, not to be deterred, began to build relationships with white supporters as he tried to find land and recruit students.
He understood that educated African-Americans with specific skills could enhance the local community and become more accepted by white citizens.
Thanks to some high-profile donations, the school moved a year after its inception to an abandoned 100-acre plantation with purpose-built classrooms, facilities and materials for students.
Today, almost 140 years later, the historic site still educates the public on the accomplishments of the school and how it changed the face of Tuskegee forever.
3. George Washington Carver Museum
Next to the Tuskegee Institute Historic Site sits The George Washington Carver Museum.
Located on the University campus it offers self-guided tours of its exhibits, photographs and artifacts.
George Washington Carver was an African-American inventor and keen botanist.
He became a professor of the Tuskegee Institute when they were looking for bright teachers to educate local African-American children.
During his time at the school he developed techniques to improve the depletion of soil from overplanting of cotton.
He encouraged local farmers to diversify and grow sweet potatoes and peanuts to sustain themselves and to improve their quality of life.
In fact, to help them further, he wrote regular bulletins with recipes using the foods they could grow! Today, you can learn all about the life of George Washington Carver and his inventions, environmental projects and more at this fascinating museum in Tuskegee.
4. Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site
Prior to 1940, African American citizens were not allowed to fly for the United States military.
That was before the Tuskegee Airmen came along! Following a lengthy campaign, an all African-American squadron was formed in Tuskegee, Alabama.
The squadron included pilots, maintenance, support staff, bombardiers and navigators, and the nearby Tuskegee Institute was given the task to train them.
You can learn more at the historic site which opened in 1998, and visitors can enjoy displays, information and exhibits at the Hangar One Museum at Moton Field.
5. Lake Tuskegee
Lake Tuskegee, also known as City Lake is a picturesque waterside location close to Downtown Tuskegee which provides excellent opportunities for sailing, water sports and fishing.
The 92-acre lake is surrounded by grassy areas and woodland offering places to picnic and relax and enjoy the sunshine.
There are many interesting bird species here too including Eastern Bluebirds, Barn Swallows, and Orchard Orioles so don’t forget your binoculars!
6. Tuskegee Human & Civil Rights Multicultural Center
The city of Tuskegee, and Macon County Alabama has always attracted a diverse blend of cultures and races, from Native American and European American to African American citizens.
This museum covers the city’s history in detail, with timelines which include Civil Rights victories and ground-breaking educational systems, to one of the most atrocious medical travesties in world history.
Encompassing two centuries and three cultures, the museum gives all visitors a fascinating insight into the region’s heritage.
7. The Legacy Museum
The Legacy Museum is located on the campus of Tuskegee University.
It’s an interesting museum which gives an overview of the Tuskegee Institute and discusses medical ethics in its displays, especially those relating to the infamous Tuskegee study.
There is also a large collection of African, American, European and Oceanic artwork from over a 100-year period.
It may not be the largest of museums, but it certainly houses a lot of information in the space and is a must-visit if you are interested in delving into the city’s history.
8. The Oaks – Home of Booker T. Washington
Booker T. Washington was known as an inspirational leader in the African-American community.
His base was at Tuskegee Institute where he acted as principal of the school which advocated for education for African-American children.
His home was at The Oaks in Tuskegee.
The 15-room house tells the story of Booker T. Washington, the author, orator and Presidential advisor in detail and is well worth a visit when you are in Tuskegee.
9. National Memorial for Peace and Justice
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened to visitors in 2018 and is dedicated to all African-Americans who have ever been subjected to racial segregation, slavery, lynching and those deemed guilty of crimes they did not commit.
The memorial is set on a six-acre site and uses art, design and sculpture to portray these stories.
The focal point is memorial square, which features 800 x six-foot tall steel monuments which each signify racial lynching victims in the United States and across the world.
It’s a moving memorial which educates and ignites conversation, so if you are spending the day in Montgomery, don’t miss it.
10. Blue Seas 2 Restaurant
Blue Seas 2 Restaurant on West Martin Luther King Highway in Tuskegee offers tasty food the way your grandma used to make it.
With buffet-style dishes such as baked butternut squash pudding and baked fish and vegetables, it’s the perfect place to sit down and enjoy generous plates of Southern-style cooking following a day of sightseeing in Tuskegee.
11. Dexter Parsonage Museum
If you are interested in the history of the Civil Rights Movement and want to see where Dr Martin Luther King and his family lived in Montgomery during this time, head for Dexter Parsonage Museum.
There are permanent exhibits relating to his time at the house, original furnishings and photographs of the 12 Dexter pastors who also lived here.
With inspirational quotes galore, unpublished photographs and historic eye-witness accounts throughout the time period, it’s a must see for visitors to Montgomery.
12. Rosa Parks Library and Museum
It was in Montgomery in 1955 that a courageous African-American woman by the name of Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat for a white passenger.
At the time blacks and whites were segregated in most areas of life, even on public transport.
Her actions on this day triggered life-changing events and ramped up the cause of the Civil Rights Movement.
You can learn all about this incident and many more in the Rosa Parks Library and Museum.
When you’ve explored all the information inside the museum, walk outside to the bus stop where this landmark moment in history took place.
13. Sweet Creek Farm Market
If you want to sample delicious Alabama food and fresh produce, Sweet Creek Farm Market is the place to be.
Located just outside Montgomery, this charming market serves farm-to-table cuisine, signature sandwiches, fresh baked goods and mouth-watering homemade ice cream.
Prices are reasonable, and portions are generous, so if you’ve been sightseeing and want to stop for dinner before driving back to Tuskegee, Sweet Creek Farm Market ticks all the boxes.
14. John Emerald Distilling Company
John Emerald Distilling Company was inspired by the Sharp brothers who emigrated from Scotland to America.
Located in Downtown Opelika, the state-of-the-art distillery offers tours and tastings of their spiced rum, whisky and gin which are also sold locally.
The informative 20-minute tour includes a visit to the Barrel Storage room, warehouse and production area and the bottling room.
After the tour ends, you can sample some of the fiery nectar for yourself in the tasting room and pick up a bottle or two as a souvenir of your visit.
15. Museum of East Alabama
Located northeast of Tuskegee in the charming city of Opelika is the Museum of East Alabama.
The compact museum is a great place to discover Opelika’s and East Alabama’s history with artifacts and exhibits which you wouldn’t expect to see.
You can browse displays dating from the American Civil War and learn how parts of the city were used as a POW camp during the Second World War.
You can also gain information about Native American tribes who lived in the region and learn how local industry shaped the city.