North Alabama natives sharing history of Black people in Muscle Shoals

WAFF 48's Jasmyn Cornell reporting
Published: May. 10, 2023 at 7:24 AM CDT
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MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala. (WAFF) - Natives of the Tennessee Valley are working to preserve the history of enslaved African Americans who were tied to the land along the Muscle Shoals of the Tennessee River.

Written by Butch Walker and Huston Cobb, one of the longest-living members of Muscle Shoals, the Black Folktales of the Muscle Shoals: Slavery to Success is a collection of stories from Black people. They both had one mission – to share the history of African Americans in the area.

So, they spent several hours discussing their history. Walker says it took more than a decade to gather the information and publish the book. It was released in February.

Cobb, who is a descendant of enslaved Black people from northwestern Alabama, Navy veteran, and foreman with the Tennessee Valley Authority, interviewed people during the 1980′s. Some were 100 years old and born in the 1880′s. According to Walker and Cobb, most of them spent their lives around the Town Creek Triangle of the Muscle Shoals area.

”Miss Field’s husband was an undertaker during World War I, and I can vividly remember her now when I was talking to her, ‘My name is Zelda Fields,’” said Cobb. “But this woman put all her money into a war bond. It was sent up to [a] teachers association. Black folks [were] teaching other Black Folks how to be teachers.”

Walker also spoke with Black people in the area to learn about their lives. He says the history of Black people in the Shoals was left out of Alabama’s history books, and it‘s difficult to examine the history of the area without addressing the role enslaved Black people played in the area’s growth.

He and Managing Editor Angela Broyles say most people are not aware that Black people were developing the foundation of the area long before the first wealthy White cotton planters arrived.

“There’s not a lot available because they were treated as property rather than as a person,” said Broyles. “Both of us are highly motivated to see history preserved in such a manner that families can go back and find their roots and where they came from, and that was the same thing with with Mr. Cobb.”

Walker says Black Folktales of the Muscle Shoals also shares a brief history of the relationship of American Indians and Black people who called the area home.

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