The Art of Making Men Around You Wiser, Better, and Happier: Daniel Pratt and the Working Mill Village
The two earliest existing buildings of Daniel Pratt’s cotton gin factory, constructed in 1848 and 1852, still loom over Autauga Creek in Prattville. Pratt’s office is believed to have been at the end of the second floor of the 1852 building, angled, it is speculated, for Pratt to observe his creation. (Photo by Robin McDonald)
In 1835 Daniel Pratt (1799–1873), a northerner from New Hampshire, told a coworker that he would soon establish a factory and manufacturing village in the South “for the purpose of dignifying labor, and to give the laboring class an opportunity of not only making an independent living, but to train up workmen who could give dignity to labor.” With a strict adherence to religion and education, Pratt hoped to imbue his southern community with what he believed to be positive New England virtues of sobriety, thrift, and hard work. Fundamental qualities such as these might then earn each individual “a neat, substantial dwelling, the front yard adorned with shrubbery and flowers, a good vegetable garden, a pleasant wife and cheerful children,” according to Pratt. Prattville, Alabama, which Pratt founded fourteen miles northwest of Montgomery in 1839, offered just such opportunities.
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.
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.
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.
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