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Black History Month: Pioneers of freedom from Decatur

Published: Feb. 25, 2022 at 9:34 PM CST
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DECATUR, Ala. (WAFF) - If you have a good pair of walking shoes and one hour of free time, you can enrich your mind with the stories of the freedom pioneers. They are the ones who championed individual liberties and equality in the city of Decatur’s oldest neighborhood.

Peggy Allen Towns grew up in Old Town. She returns often to tell the stories of the people who made it a thriving community.

“You had your doctors, your dentists, your lawyers and other service venues. They were all located on Vine Street during segregation,” said Towns.

Towns is passionate about history. She’s turned that passion into three books on the subject, including the impact African Americans had during the Civil War. Towns says Decatur was home to the first of only two black regiments in Alabama in the Civil War.

“They were called United States Colored Infantry Regiment. So, Decatur has the distinction of raising the first, there were only two, in the entire state of Alabama,” said Towns.

Towns was instrumental in shaping the walking tour of Decatur’s Old Town community, which was incorporated in 1826. She’s also leading the charge to raise the $200,000 necessary to get the Scottsboro Boys Civil Rights Museum built.

“Many people don’t know that the retrials from 1933 to 1937 occurred here in Decatur, yes,” said Towns.

Towns says the museum will feature other landmark events, like the Tommy Lee Hines trial, events that tell the story of the struggle for civil rights in North Alabama. For now, she encourages you to stroll through the streets of Old Town, where you can learn about the impact of its churches, like First Missionary Baptist, the second oldest black congregation in Decatur.

“Did you know that Wallace A Rayfield designed this building? Wallace A Rayfield was the second licensed black architect at the time,” said Towns. “And it’s our story to tell. Anyone else can tell the story, but we have a story to tell ourselves.”

Towns is on a mission to share these stories to inspire the current generation but also to remind them of the sacrifices and struggles that were necessary to provide them with better opportunities.

You can start your inspiring journey at the corner of Sycamore and Vine Streets in Decatur. Bring your phone, scan the bar codes on the 11 historical markers and get ready to learn about these pioneers of freedom!

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