The life and legacy of William Hooper Councill

The life and legacy of William Hooper Councill

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - You’ve heard of Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois, but there’s another man who deserves to be on that high-profile list of individuals who paved the way for civil rights.

His name is William Hooper Councill.

Born in 1848 on a plantation in North Carolina, Councill was soon brought to Alabama to be sold as a slave, where he would work the fields and carry out other domestic duties.

“He asked God to help him to become a man so that he could come back and do something for his people,” says Joseph Lee, Director of AAMU Community Development Corporation.

By the end of the Civil War, Councill’s prayer had been answered. He was free and ready to leave his mark on the world.

In 1875, he founded Alabama A&M University to educate other former slaves like him.

“He just had a passion to elevate those who were at the lowest," says Eddie Davis Jr., William Hooper Councill’s biographer.

Buried on AAMU’s campus, William Hooper Councill is not only known for his role as an educator, but as a minister. In 1885, Councill founded Huntsville’s St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church.

“Our first church, St. John AME Church, was first located in a barber shop on West Holmes and Miller,”says Barbara Johnson, a steward at St. John AME.

In 1900, the church moved to Church Street, and in 1971, the current downtown building was established.

Throughout the years, there were several other landmarks to honor Mr. William Hooper Councill, one being a high school named for him.

“He was an individual who, as a slave, he practiced excellence in everything that he did. Crops that he grew, everything that his hands set out to do," says Brenda Chunn, the president of the William Hooper Councill Alumni Association. "He took that same commitment to excellence into everything that he did once he was freed... And I personally benefited from the high school that was named for him and stood for the qualities that he brought into the community and the standards that he brought into the community.”

Chunn graduated in 1966, the same year the school closed.

“We turned out the lights, and we locked the door," says Chunn.

Though the school is no more, Councill High’s history will continue on in the form of a new downtown memorial park. Expected to open in late spring, the park will follow the blueprint of the school to mimic the Councill experience and host bricks engraved with the name of every Councill High student.

“It’s a history that must not be lost, cannot be lost," says Chunn.

One of many left behind by William Hooper Council…

“If you really look at the history of African Americans in the state of Alabama in particular," says Lee, "you cannot leave Councill out.”

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