SEVERE WX : Flood Advisory - Flood Warning View Alerts

WAAY 31 Black History Month Spotlight: William Hooper Councill, landmark educator and renowned orator

One of Councill's most notable achievements was his role in founding and serving as the first principal of the Colored Normal School, which eventually became Alabama A&M University.

Posted: Feb 1, 2021 8:35 PM
Updated: Feb 1, 2021 10:43 PM

When discussing great educators in Alabama's history, no conversation is complete without bringing in William Hooper Councill.

Born into slavery on July 12, 1849, on the Councill Plantation in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Councill and his family became quite resilient.

William Hooper Councill (center) with his family. (Courtesy: Alabama A&M University) William Hooper Councill (center) with his family. (Courtesy: Alabama A&M University)

He and his mother were solder to a Huntsville attorney David Humphrey in 1857. But when the Union soldiers occupied Chattanooga, Tennesse, they were able to escape to the North.

After the war, in 1865, Councill returned to north Alabama and learned at a Quaker-established school for freedmen in Stevenson, Alabama, for three years.

With that as his only formal education, Councill went onto found the Lincoln School in Huntsville, that would educate black children.

"He partnered with Reuben Jones, who was one of the first legislators in Alabama. It was that connection where Councill realized that he had to have deep political roots in order to establish a sustainable education for freedmen in Alabama," said Eddie Davis Jr., a biographer of Councill.

Davis spent several years researching and writing his story about Councill, "William Hooper Councill: The Greatest Negro the Race Ever Produced."

He also graduated from another one of the schools that Councill helped establish in Madison County, the Colored Normal School at Huntsville, which was created in part through a legislative act on December 9, 1873. It would become a land-grant institutuion in 1891 and eventually come to be called "Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University."

Davis said part of Councill's goal in helping to foster education for Black children and young adults is that he wanted them to be able to translate their learned skills into a livelihood.

"He wanted to make sure that they were still sufficient in agriculture. He wanted to make sure they were still sufficient in the mechanical arts, things they had mastered on the slave plantation, now freed, he wanted to make sure they could also monetize on the master craft that they had already developed in years past," Davis said.

The A&M campus underwent a big change in 2020. It completed the demolition of Prentice Hall, a building that stood nearby where Councill and his wife are laid to rest. It its place, they are erecting a large memorial courtyard for Councill that will include an eternal flame. 

School officials said that project is scheduled to be completed on September 21, 2021.

Councill was also extremely accomplished beyond his work in education. 

In 1893, he had the opportunity to speak at the Colombian World Expo in Chicago, which catapulted him onto the global stage. He spoke in several countries for prominent audiences and expressed that with education and opportunity, Black people could become valuable members of society.

He pointed back to the successes seen in Alabama.

Councill was also active in the political realm. A few years after arriving in Huntsville as a free man, he became active in the Republican Party and was elected to serve as the Assistant Enrolling Clerk in the Alabama Legislature from 1872 to 1874. 

He would eventually switch his party affiliation to the Democratic Party. Councill believed that he would not succeed as a Black Republican in the post-Reconstruction era.

In a speech in Tuscumbia, he said to Black residents who wanted to stay with the Republican Party "The republican party will grow tired of you... and like the bat who was disowned by the beasts and not recognized by the birds, you will find favor with neither democrats or republicans." 

Councill also served as the founder and editor of the Huntsville Herald from 1877 to 1884.

He eventually died in 1909 at the age of 61. 

Huntsville/Redstone
Partly Cloudy
42° wxIcon
Hi: 55° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 38°
Muscle Shoals
Partly Cloudy
45° wxIcon
Hi: 53° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 42°
Huntsville/Madison
Clear
41° wxIcon
Hi: 52° Lo: 40°
Feels Like: 35°
Decatur
Partly Cloudy
43° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 38°
Fort Payne
Partly Cloudy
43° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 38°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 493252

Reported Deaths: 9929
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson709861374
Mobile36108725
Madison32405455
Tuscaloosa24110410
Montgomery22565500
Shelby21929215
Baldwin19732283
Lee14961153
Morgan13659251
Calhoun13275286
Etowah13176319
Marshall11261209
Houston10086261
Elmore9376185
Limestone9359134
Cullman8891181
St. Clair8822223
Lauderdale8603211
DeKalb8446175
Talladega7517163
Walker6518255
Jackson6492102
Autauga626491
Blount6097127
Colbert6001118
Coffee5245102
Dale4640107
Russell404730
Franklin399177
Covington3957106
Chilton3870100
Escambia377472
Tallapoosa3585142
Clarke343650
Chambers3410110
Dallas3403141
Pike293372
Lawrence282984
Marion281895
Winston246767
Bibb245060
Geneva239670
Marengo235855
Pickens224654
Barbour211551
Hale209768
Fayette200256
Butler196166
Henry182441
Cherokee177038
Monroe166139
Randolph163640
Washington156535
Clay144354
Crenshaw144354
Macon142043
Cleburne137739
Lamar132833
Lowndes131051
Wilcox121825
Bullock116936
Conecuh106724
Perry105527
Sumter98331
Coosa88823
Greene87632
Choctaw55023
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 775004

Reported Deaths: 11411
CountyCasesDeaths
Shelby872191491
Davidson81420861
Knox45877581
Hamilton40298459
Rutherford38301383
Williamson25238203
Sumner21329315
Montgomery17380212
Out of TN1693194
Wilson16371210
Unassigned15639125
Sullivan14318273
Blount14036181
Bradley12867139
Washington12759234
Maury12203163
Sevier12011163
Putnam10592169
Madison10092229
Robertson8941120
Hamblen8013162
Anderson7971156
Greene7283145
Tipton6945103
Coffee6311114
Dickson6205106
Gibson6187140
Cumberland6102121
Carter5962152
McMinn591791
Roane588896
Bedford5789119
Loudon567965
Jefferson5642118
Lawrence556383
Monroe532290
Warren530975
Hawkins523894
Dyer5234101
Franklin472585
Fayette466171
Obion436694
Rhea414473
Lincoln413362
Cocke397593
Marshall390756
Cheatham390543
Campbell380059
Weakley378659
Giles373296
Henderson361973
Carroll347981
Hardeman338164
White337166
Macon336373
Hardin331163
Lauderdale309742
Henry300675
Marion293644
Wayne287130
Scott286843
Overton284857
Claiborne278967
McNairy267253
Hickman264941
Haywood264860
DeKalb264349
Smith255636
Grainger242446
Trousdale238922
Morgan229637
Fentress229144
Johnson216338
Chester201548
Bledsoe200110
Crockett197147
Unicoi180347
Polk175522
Cannon174529
Union171933
Grundy168330
Lake167826
Sequatchie155327
Decatur153737
Humphreys153221
Benton150739
Lewis146825
Meigs125921
Jackson125034
Stewart123324
Clay106930
Perry103227
Houston102732
Moore94416
Van Buren79520
Pickett74623
Hancock49612

Community Events