The Appalachian Teaching Project, sponsored by the Appalachian Regional Commission, is a fifteen-member consortium of universities offering courses that engage students in research projects that address endemic challenges facing Appalachian communities. For 2011, students who are participants in the Living Democracy Project are partnering with the Tuskegee Human & Civil Rights Multicultural Center to collect oral histories related to the upcoming 50th anniversary of the important Lee v. Macon court decision, which ultimately led to the integration of public schools in Alabama. Students will present on their research at the annual ATP symposium in Washington, D.C. in December.
By Marian Royston, junior majoring in history.
We need to be ever vigilant and prepared to take our place in the annals of history. This is the lesson I learned from Mr. Anthony Lee on the morning of September 16, 2011 as I sat down with him to learn his story. At times, his story was so extraordinary that it sounded like the contents of an epic work of fiction, but everything he told me is true. What made his tales even more powerful was the simple fact that it was his story in his own words. The greatest lesson that I learned from Lee is that change does not just spontaneously occur; rather, it comes about through preparation and persistence.
Of course, there are instances in history of people who, without much forethought, took a stand against injustice as they saw it. However, for the most part, social activists are informed of their issues and have taken calculated steps towards achieving their goal. This is the case of the students that integrated Macon County schools. Numerous times, Lee told me that his family was politically active and interested in civic life. His family was always very involved in the battle for equal rights in Macon County. So, when his time came to integrate the schools, he was, in a way, ready. When his time came, he and his classmates knew what they had to do. They displayed courage and poise that is not always found in teenagers.
Lee’s story did not end with Macon County schools; instead, that’s where it began. From there he, along with Willie Wyatt, a classmate, enrolled as the first black freshmen at Auburn University. Lee went on to graduate and become the first African American to complete all four years at AU. Lee’s advice to the next generation is reflective of his story. He says, “Uou always have to be prepared because you never know when opportunities like this will happen.” He went on to say, “Take the chance because you never know.” So, we must always be prepared to take a chance because that chance may just change the course of history.