Following the end of the Civil War, a few black politicians gained political power in Alabama and the South. Although their success would be short-lived, they would hold office and strive to protect the rights of the newly emancipated African Americans. One such politician is the Alabama native James Thomas Rapier. Through the struggles of segregation, terrorism, and a repressive social structure, he sought to make Alabama a better place for all.
Alabama has had its fair share of stories lost to history. One such tragedy took place in Macon County in 1966. Many Alabamians are not familiar with the murder of Sammy Younge Jr., who died in the waning years of the civil rights movement. He grew up in a middle-class family with educated parents in Tuskegee, Alabama. Younge joined the U.S. Navy when he graduated from Tuskegee Institute High School. After a discharge for medical issues, he enrolled as a Political Science major at the Tuskegee Institute where he became involved in the civil rights movements through groups like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He routinely promoted voter registration, participated in marches like the Selma to Montgomery in 1965 and gained a reputation for his activism. Yet, his activism would ultimately cost him his life. Remembering people like Sammy Younge, Jr., could change future generations of Alabamians and Americans.
Hidden in Alabama’s history is the story of an entrepreneur named Benjamin Russell. Alexander City attracted the Russell family as merchants in the early 1880s, proving just prosperous enough to send Benjamin Russell to the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1899 with a degree in law and practiced in Birmingham for a few months before returning to Alex City in 1900 to take over the family business after his father suffered a stroke. Here, young Benjamin acquired his first taste in the business world and founded the Citizen’s Bank of Alexander City, known today as the Valley Bank System. In 1902, Russell undertook two major projects. His first consisted of the area’s first telephone service, a construction running from Sylacauga to Dadeville, all operated by a switchboard in the basement of the Citizen’s Bank. Russell later sold the company to Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph for $15,250 in 1904. The boost in income from the deal fueled the expansion of his second project known as Russell Mills, a soon-to-be bustling apparel company. Benjamin Russell’s trailblazing spirit would prove instrumental in shaping the lives of local families and private sector of the entire state.
When people think of Tuskegee, Alabama they might think of Tuskegee University, a historically black college founded by Booker T. Washington. They might also remember George Washington Carver (“The Peanut Man”) teaching agriculture at the same university. Yet, many people do not know of the disturbing forty-year medical study in Tuskegee, Alabama. The 1932 study is considered the longest nontherapeutic experiment on humans in the U.S. The study, originally named “The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male,” involved six hundred African American male participants who were promised free treatment for their “bad blood” or illnesses such as sickle cell disease, malaise, and syphilis. During this time, Alabama researchers falsely believed syphilis caused more neurological problems in white men and more cardiovascular issues in black men. The U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) intended to use the men to study the effects of syphilis on the body and compare those effects to what they already knew about white men with the infection. The covert and unethical study resulted in unnecessary deaths and health issues in many African American Tuskegee families as well as long lasting distrust in the government’s health system.
Alabama Heritage BLOG
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