#BlackHistoryMonth: Notable Alabamians, Part Twelve

Times staff report

The AT&T Alabama African-American History Calendar has been highlighting the achievements of the state’s best and brightest since 2011. It highlights the achievements of 12 notable Alabamians for a calendar year. Here is a listing of honorees who have had a compelling impact on Alabama and beyond, with the year they have appeared on the calendar.

Dr. Fred Reese (2017)

Dr. Fred Reese participated in "Bloody Sunday."
Dr. Fred Reese participated in “Bloody Sunday.”

Dr. Frederick Reese was an educator, civil rights activist, and participant in the “Bloody Sunday” attempted march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., as well as the subsequent march that led to passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Reese was president of the Dallas County Voter’s League, which was the major Selma freedom organization after the state banned the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and he also was a member of the Courageous Eight, the name given to the eight board members of the Dallas County Voter’s League in Selma for their work fighting segregation and voting rights in the city and their work in paving the way for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Civil Rights Act of 1968. Reese served 12 years on the Selma City Council and was pastor of Selma’s Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church for more than 50 years.

Martha Reeves (2016)

Martha Reeves is a member of the popular 1960s group Martha and the Vandellas.
Martha Reeves is a member of the popular 1960s group Martha and the Vandellas.

Martha Reeves, a native of Eufaula, Ala., and currently residing in Detroit, Mich., is a member of the popular 1960s group Martha and the Vandellas. The group sang hits, such as “Heat Wave,” “Quicksand,” “Nowhere To Run,” and one of the biggest singles from Motown, “Dancing In The Street.” Reeves was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and is also a member of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. In 2005, Reeves became a member of the Detroit City Council.

Sonia Sanchez (2013)

Poet Sonia Sanchez has lectured at more than 500 universities and colleges in the United States and has been featured in readings around the world
Poet Sonia Sanchez has lectured at more than 500 universities and colleges in the United States and has been featured in readings around the world

Legendary poet and Birmingham, Ala., native Sonia Sanchez has authored more than 20 books, including “Homecoming,” “We a BadDDD People,” “Love Poems,” “I’ve Been a Woman,” “A Sound Investment and Other Stories,” “Like the Singing Coming off the Drums,” and “Morning Haiku.” She has also been a contributing editor to The Black Scholar and the Journal of African Studies, as well as the editor of an anthology, “We Be Word Sorcerers: 25 Stories by Black Americans.” BMa: The Sonia Sanchez Literary Review is the first African-American journal that analyzes Sanchez’s work and the Black Arts movement as a whole. She has lectured at more than 500 universities and colleges in the United States and has been featured in readings around the world, including Africa, Cuba, England, the Caribbean, Australia, Europe, Nicaragua, the People’s Republic of China, Norway, and Canada. She was Philadelphia’s first Poet Laureate in 2011.

Rickey Smiley (2017)

Rickey Smiley is a comedian, radio host, and TV personality.
Rickey Smiley is a comedian, radio host, and TV personality.

Birmingham, Ala., native Rickey Smiley is a nationally-known comedian. He began his career as the host of BET’s “ComicView” in 2000 and as an opening act for Steve Harvey, George Wallace, and Carl Strong. Smiley has been in the entertainment industry for more than 25 years, establishing an empire that includes television, film, radio, and stage performances. Smiley hosted BET’s “The Way We Do It,” which became one of the network’s top five shows between 2001 and 2002. He has appeared on “Showtime at The Apollo,” “Uptown Comedy Club”, HBO’s “Def Comedy Jam,” and “Snaps,” and in 2007 he landed his radio show, “The Rickey Smiley Morning Show.” Smiley is dedicated to giving back to his community through The Rickey Smiley Foundation, a nonprofit organization created to have a positive impact on the lives of children and teens through programs that inspire and motivate young people to live lives to their fullest and live up to their potential, as well as celebrate the lives of seniors, who are the fabric of the community.

Bryan Stevenson (2016)

Bryan Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) continues to fight against poverty and racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. (Bernard Troncale, special to The Times)
Bryan Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) continues to fight against poverty and racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. (Bernard Troncale, special to The Times)

Bryan Stevenson is an acclaimed public interest lawyer and the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Ala. Under Stevenson, EJI has won cases eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults. He secured a historic ruling stating that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children 17 and younger are unconstitutional. Stevenson and his staff have won reversals, relief, or release of more than 115 wrongly accused death row prisoners, and they have created several initiatives to combat the legacy of racial inequality in America.

Surpora Sparks-Thomas (2016)

Surpora Sparks-Thomas is the chief nurse executive emeritus of Children’s of Alabama
Surpora Sparks-Thomas is the chief nurse executive emeritus of Children’s of Alabama.

Surpora Sparks-Thomas, of Wylam, Ala., is the chief nurse executive emeritus of Children’s of Alabama, as well as a certified Christian life coach, human behavior consultant, evangelist, published author, inspirational speaker, and teacher of living biblical principles. Her career with Children’s of Alabama began as a staff nurse in 1962. During her tenure, she helped transform the hospital from a four-story, 100-bed hospital into a state-of-the-art facility. In 1985, she developed an acuity-based pricing system for nursing that transitioned the profession from a cost to a revenue center. She is the first inductee into the Pediatric Nursing Hall of Fame and the first recipient of the Surpora Thomas Nursing Excellence Award.

#BlackHistoryMonth: Notable black Alabamians will be updated throughout the remainder of February. Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine, Part Ten, Part Eleven