Vintage Photos of Tuskegee Majorettes
Tuskegee University, formerly known as the Tuskegee Institute, is a private, historically black land-grant university in Tuskegee, Alabama. It was founded on July 4, 1881. Dr. Booker T. Washington was the first teacher.
Tuskegee University Marching Crimon Pipers (MCP) was established in 1906 and is the oldest Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) marching band in the United States. Originally part of the military department, the band added majorettes and drum majors in the late 1930s. Today, the band’s auxiliaries include the Piperettes, a dance line, and the Twirling Divas, a flag line. I have not been able to document when baton twirlers ceased being part of the MCP.
Tuskegee Majorettes, 1971
The above photo of Tuskegee Majorettes was taken in 1971. We are so proud of it because we restored it to its intended glory using special software. The original photo was grainy. Through the software we were able to bring out the vivid beauty of the majorettes.
The original source of the photo is the lovely Ms. Brenda Richie, owner of BRP Publishing and former Tuskegee majorette. She’s pictured third from the left. Click here to see the before photo.
One of the things that make this photo a spectacuar vernacular image is the Greyhound buses in the background. They provide a special timestamp on the image that ultimately creates an historic backdrop for the beautiful majorettes in their classic 1970s uniforms complete with tall boots and gauntlets.
Young Tuskegee Drum Majors & Majorettes
This photo appears in the U.S. National Archives. I believe it is a screenshot from a rare video shared later in this post. I used software to bring clarity to the screenshotted image. If enlarged, you will notice that some of the faces are a bit distored by the software. Again, not every photo responds well to restoration tools. Nevertheless, I do like this treatment of the photo better than the original image, which is blurry.
Rare Footage, 1941-42
Tuskegee majorettes and the Crimon Pipers appear in this rare, crica 1941 footage discovered by a staff member with the U.S. National Archives. The civil servant was doing an accession of National Park Service archives in 2018, when they discovered the footage. It includes rare moving images of the late George Washington Carver (1864-1943), the prominent scientist. Truly extraordinary! The majorettes are stunning, too. They begin marching at 8:21.
Mildred Hemmons Carter
Another famous majorette to attend Tuskegee was Mildred Hemmons (1921-2011). In 1941, she became the first Black woman in Alabama to earn her pilot’s license. In 1942, she married fellow classmate and original Tuskegee Airman, Lt. Col. Herbert Carter (1919-2012). Carter flew 77 combat missions during World War II. CNN covered their love story in a 2018 article.
This Kodachrome film is truly a treasure. The Vintage Twirler is proud to be the first to report that Mildred unquestionably appears in this film at the 8:29 mark with two other women, Marjorie Edghill and Mildred I. Webster). All three are wearing corsages and/or holding bouquets as if being honored at an event. Furthermore, all three women appear in a photograph in the August 22, 1942 edition of The Phoenix that reported Mildred’s first place win as Miss Tuskegee Airmen Flying School. Thus, it seems plausible that this film was shot in 1942, because that is the year she received the award. The date of the film was originally reported as 1939, and later 1941.
Finally, I will leave you with the following image of Tuskegee majorettes and cheerleaders. I have seen numerous versions of this photo around the Internet with the cheerleaders cropped out of the frame, an anecdote I find mildly amusing. If you’re in the twirling world, you know this statement needs no qualification. LOL. Nevertheless, all the lovely ladies in this 1968 photo would all be in their 70s today. Long live the Marching Crimson Pipers!
Post Script: Black Baton Twirlers Network
Learn more about how you can advocate for Black baton twirlers and majorettes by visiting the Black Baton Twirlers Network. They are doing amazing things. Moreover, they were the very first group in baton twirling to reach out to us. We will be sharing all of our research and images with them.