#BlackHistoryMonth: Notable Black Alabamians, Part One

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.

4 Little Girls of the 16th Street Baptist Church (2013)

(Clockwise from top left) Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair were killed in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing. (Wikimedia Commons)
(Clockwise from top left) Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair were killed in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

The deaths of 14-year-old Addie Mae Collins, 14-year-old Carole Robinson, 14-year-old Cynthia Wesley, and 11-year-old Denise McNair in the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., was a lynchpin in the city’s fight for civil rights. The bombing was one of several committed by hate groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, whose members were angry that city officials had reached settlements with demonstrators to integrate public places. The church was targeted because it was often used as the meeting place for civil rights leaders like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, and the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. Herman Cash, one of the bombers, died before being prosecuted. But between 1977 and 2000, the remaining bombers—Robert Chambliss, Thomas Blanton, and Bobby Cherry—were convicted of their crimes.

Hank Aaron (2011)

Hank Aaron made history by holding more Major League batting records than any other player in baseball’s history. (Wikimedia Commons)
Hank Aaron made history by holding more Major League batting records than any other player in baseball’s history. (Wikimedia Commons)

Mobile, Ala., native Hank Aaron’s major league career spanned 23 years, during which he made history by holding more Major League batting records than any other player in baseball’s history, including 775 lifetime home runs and 2.297 lifetime runs batted in (RBI). In 1970, Aaron became the first player to gain both 3,000 career hits and more than 500 home runs. In 1982, Aaron was inducted into the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y. Aaron, born in 1934, exhibited a talent for baseball at an early age and tried out for the Brooklyn Dodgers at 15 years old. He didn’t make the team, but he joined independent Negro League team the Mobile Black Bears. In 1951, Aaron moved onto the minor leagues when he was signed to the Indianapolis Clowns. He finally became a Major League player when he joined the Milwaukee Braves in 1954.

The Rev. Ralph David Abernathy (2014)

Rev. Ralph Abernathy at the National Press Club luncheon in 1968 (Library of Congress/Public domain)
Rev. Ralph Abernathy at the National Press Club luncheon in 1968 (Library of Congress/Public domain)

The Rev. Ralph David Abernathy was the pastor of First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., and a civil rights leader. Abernathy worked with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and together they led various protests, marches, and sit-ins, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. Abernathy, King, and others established the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, for which Abernathy served as secretary-treasurer, vice president, and president. He also led the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, which included the Poor People’s March on Washington. The campaign led to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) releasing surplus commodities to the nations one-thousand poorest counties, expansion of the food stamps, and the streamlining of some federal welfare guidelines. Abernathy also was at the center of the landmark New York Times v. Sullivan decision that reversed a 1963 verdict stating that Abernathy and four other lack ministers were guilty of supporting a New York Times ad criticizing Alabama police.

Dr. Frank Adams Sr. (2016)

Frank Adams Sr. was an accomplished jazz musician, specializing in the clarinet and alto sax.
Dr. Frank Adams Sr. was an accomplished jazz musician, specializing in the clarinet and alto sax.

Birmingham, Ala., native Dr. Frank Eaton Adams Sr. was an accomplished jazz musician, educator, and mentor. Adams worked with some of the greatest jazz musicians in the country, such as Erskine Hawkins, Duke Ellington, Tiny Bradshaw, Lucky Millinder, and Sun Ra. Adams became a teacher at Lincoln Elementary School in 1950, and what was supposed to be a temporary job became a permanent career. He taught at Lincoln for 27 years, eventually becoming the supervisor of music for Birmingham City Schools, a role he held for another 20 years. Adams was inducted as a charter member of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame and eventually became its executive director.

Juanakee Adams (2015)

Dr. Juanakee Adams is the first African-American female optometrist to practice in Alabama. (Facebook)
Dr. Juanakee Adams is the first African-American female optometrist to practice in Alabama. (Facebook)

Dr. Juanakee Adams, founder of Adams Eye Care, is the first African-American female optometrist to practice in Alabama. She became the youngest person to be granted early admission to Indiana University School of Optometry in Bloomington, Ind. Adams, a Birmingham, Ala., native, gives back to her home state by providing medical and vision care, as well as food and clothing to residents in Alabama’s Black Belt region. She also is an ordained minister, inspirational speaker and life coach.

Oscar Adams (2011)

Oscar Adams has made history in Birmingham and Alabama in the field of law several times over.
Oscar Adams has made history in Birmingham and Alabama in the field of law several times over.

Attorney Oscar William Adams life is a litany of firsts. The Birmingham, Ala., native was the first African-American to join the Birmingham Bar Association in 1966. He formed the state’s first integrated legal practice with white attorney Harvey Burg. In 1980, he was appointed to the Alabama Supreme Court, becoming the first African-American to serve on any appellate court in the state. He also was the first African-American to be elected to any statewide constitutional office in Alabama history; he was re-elected for two terms in 1982 and 1988 before retiring in 1993. Adams impressive resume also includes the establishment of one of the premier law firms to litigate civil rights cases in the 1960s—Adams, Baker, and Clemon, which was forms with fellow black lawyers James Baker and U.W. Clemon.

#BlackHistoryMonth: Notable black Alabamians will be updated throughout the remainder of February.