Booker T. Washington was a champion and icon of African American progress in his time, and the touchstone for debate in ours.
Booker Taliaferro Washington, the founder of Tuskegee University in Alabama, was asked to deliver the “Negro address” at the 1895 Atlanta Exposition, an economic fair to celebrate the South’s attempts to join in American industrial growth. The thirty-nine-year-old had been born a slave in Virginia, the child of an illiterate slave mother and a white father who did not acknowledge him as son. As an adolescent in West Virginia, Washington struggled mightily to receive the rudiments of an education, because he understood schooling was the necessary prerequisite for him to rise in the world. He was born without a surname, but emblematic of his ambitions and patriotism, he named himself after the father of the country. He went penniless to Hampton Institute, where he graduated and in 1881 was recommended to white men in Tuskegee who wanted to establish a school for “colored youth.”
A heart for service paved the way for Annie Wheeler to become the "Angel of Santiago." But before her fame, Annie Wheeler made a name for herself throughout Lawrence County for her adventurousness and devotion to family. However, her most endearing quality was her hopeful spirit, the one that led her around the world.
"Big Mama" Thornton & "Hound Dog"
Elvis Presley may have made "Hound Dog" a household name, but the origins of the song are rooted deep in Alabama.
"Hound Dog" belonged originally to a rhythm and blues singer, named Willie Mae Thornton, who, at the time of Elvis's recording, was making her living on what Black entertainers called "The Chitlin' Circuit." She had a big voice and suitably imperious manners, all of which had given rise to a nickname that had quickly supplanted her given name. On her rendition of "Hound Dog," released as a 78 rpm record, she was billed as "Big Mama" Thornton.
"Big Mama's" version of "Hound Dog," recorded for Peacock Records on a hot August day in 1952 in Los Angeles, was the crowning achievement in the career of a singer who left her mark on rock and blues history. "Hound Dog" quickly climbed to No. 1 on the 1953 all-Black rhythm and blues charts and became a 500,000-plus seller. It also became by far the biggest success in Willie Mae Thornton's career.
Historic Buildings of Stillman College
Presbyterian ministerial students at the Tuscaloosa Institute (now Stillman College), founded in 1876, pose in front of the Victorian cottage that served as the institute's home from 1881 until 1898, when the school moved to its present location. Stillman House, as the building is known today, still serves the college as a gathering place for alumni and others. (Photo courtesy Heritage Commission of Tuscaloosa County)
Saving souls and mending bodies were important goals for early educators and students at Tuscaloosa’s Stillman College, founded in 1876. Established by the Southern Presbyterian Church to provide a “Christian education of practical value” and train young black men for the ministry, the school has played an important role in the education of African Americans in Alabama for more than one hundred years. Three buildings in particular serve as reminders of the college’s rich heritage: Winsborough Hall and Emily Estes Snedecor Hall, both on the Stillman campus, and Stillman House on Twenty-first Avenue in Tuscaloosa.
The “Mockingbird” Courthouse
Arguably no Alabama courthouse is better known nor more frequently visited--especially by those not on legal business--than the Monroe County Courthouse, built in 1903. The fame that Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, has brought to the building has attracted thousands of the novel's admirers to tour it. After substantial and thoughtful restoration, the old Monroe County Courthouse now serves as the centerpiece of the Monroe County Heritage Museums complex. There, the Mockingbird buff may stand just where Atticus Finch defended Tom Robinson, to absorb all the atmosphere of the scene in the courtroom that appears quite as it did in the 1930s, when the novel is set.
From the Vault
Read complete classic articles and departments featured in Alabama Heritage magazine in the past 35 years of publishing. You'll find in-depth features along with quirky and fun departments that cover the people, places, and events that make our state great!