tv American Artifacts Mobile Alabama African American Heritage Trail - Part 2 CSPAN August 2, 2021 1:49pm-2:46pm EDT
markers that tell the history of the city from the former location of a slave market through the civil rights era. previously on american artifacts, eric finley took us from the slave market to africatown founded by captives of the slave ship "clotilda." in part two, we pick up the story after the civil war with mr. finley describing how african-americans established businesses on the north side of town. >> the dora franklin finley. up next in part two, we pick up the story after the civil war
with mr. finley describing african-americans established businesses in the north side of town. but the real story is mrs. allen. she started a private school directly behind us in the 1880s. it was called josephine allen institute. before the emancipation proclamation it was against the law for african-americans to be educated. so after the emancipation proclamation, schools started opening everywhere. and she opened one to educate young african-americans. but this family actually came to mobile from virginia so they were never slaves. they were free and they were somewhat elite because they had a big home down near dauphin
island and they had a big home in the city. well, in the 1880s and 90s, most african-americans had shotgun homes, unfortunately, but that was the way it was. well, they had a lot of friends. and some of their friends were booker t. washington, president of tuskegee university. george washington carver. a.f. owens, the principal of owens academy in mobile and johnson, an entrepreneur. and those guys would go fishing. and because of that relationship, a lot of her students got to go to tuskegee university in the 1890s and 1900s and on. which meant that when they graduated, they became entrepreneurs. they became teachers, businesspeople. doctors. and just very successful throughout the country. so that relationship was a great bonding that they had during
that time. the funeral home closed two years ago when the last sibling of the allen family passed, mrs. gray. and just recently it's been announced that it's going to reopen under the owen-ford family mortuary. so that's to take place in the near future. and so from here we're going to visit some other entrepreneurs and we will eventually end the tour with a gentleman by the name of wallace turnich. he was a slave that ran away four times and got caught and ultimately, he got to mobile and we'll talk about how he eventually got his freedom. this is stone street baptist church. and it is the oldest baptist church in the state of alabama. established in 1806, which was
13 years before alabama was even a state. now i didn't say oldest african-american church. it's the oldest baptist church in the state of alabama. and the story goes that the individuals that worshipped here, they would be singing spirituals with so much conviction and passion that their owner started to have headaches and nightmares. and ultimately, he emancipated them. he set them free. and they were worshiping not too far from here and they moved to this location. well, not only was it against the law for african-americans to be educated in alabama. it was against the law for them to have property deeded in their name. fortunately, this was an integrated parish and the property was deeded in the white parishioners' names. and they continued to worship together here until somewhere around 1860, and they moved the
deed to the african-american parishioners. they continued to grow the church. in 1930, they decided that they would build a new church. well, we all know what was going on in 1930s. the great depression. but they felt so strong about their faith that they said we'll start this project and complete it. and they did. it's been a thriving church in the community ever since. you know, the church was one of the few places that during this period that african-americans could really truly be themselves because they worked hard all week. a lot of times they wore uniforms. and on sunday they could dress up in their best and then be themselves in the african-american church. and that's the experience that we read about with stone street that was established in 1806 and it's the oldest baptist church in the state of alabama.
we are now in the heart of the african-american community. during the civil rights days, dr. martin luther king came to mobile in 1959. this was the international longshoreman building. this is where the longshoreman used to come to find out what jobs they had. they'd look in this window and there would be a big chart with what boats or ships were in and which one they were assigned to. but there's also an auditorium through these red doors. in 1959, dr. marthin luther king came to mobile and this was the only time that he spoke in mobile was in this building in 1959. local 1410.
because of the state docks we had a lot of longshoremen. prior to all of the equipment nowadays that do that work, there's still a significant number of longshoremen, but nowhere near what it used to be before you had the equipment that we have today to do a lot of that work. it was all manual labor. all right. so now we are approaching the african-american archives and museum. unfortunately, it closed two years ago because of a mold problem. m-o-l-d. and it started in the hvac system. moved to the walls and the ceiling. they had to close it and they moved the artifacts down to the history museum of mobile. and so they're under lock and key there. and the city has committed to -- right now they're making it ada
compliant. and they have restored the inside. and then they're going to come to the community to see if we want to continue with the african-american heritage museum or maybe a cultural museum. so that's open for discussion in the future. when i was growing up, this was the davis avenue public library. this was the only library that african-americans could go in. even though we've always been 47 to 50% of the population in mobile and there were four or five other libraries, this was the only one, regardless of where you lived, if you were black, that you could go in. and so what we didn't know was that when we got new books, they were the old books from the main public library. and so we made lemonade out of lemons that we had.
only thing i remember is that no one told me i couldn't talk, i had to be quiet. but when we opened those doors, two ladies sat behind the desk. they'd look at you like they had laser beams in your eyes and just burn you up if you made any noise while you there were. strictly zero tolerance. the door takes us on a real quick historical trip that in the 1860s we had the 13th, 14th, 15th amendments. one abolished slavery. one said we were created equal. then african-americans were in the fast track. alabama, mobile representatives in montgomery in d.c. we had u.s. and local senators. and everything was working like it was supposed to, as far as the democracy. and then the most profound thing that we remembered that happened was when the guy sat on the bus, the train car in new orleans and said i'm going to covington.
and they said, oh, no you can't. he was an african-american. they said you can't sit here. he says, yes i can. no, yes, that case goes all the way to the supreme court. and that was plessy versus ferguson. the decision was separate versus equal. blacks were considered colored. so we're going to put this first train car is going to be for whites. the one on the back is going to be for colored. so it's separate and equal but you can't sit with us. and that started just an enormous amount of different disparities because right after that we had the jim crow laws. the jim crow laws, colored entrance, white entrance. colored restaurant, white restaurant. then we had the ku klux klan that intimidated african-americans from voting. well, in alabama, most of the men that had weapons were the confederate soldiers. so they became the policemen. then they created all of these
laws like loitering. if you were standing on the corner, you could be arrested. and they amended the state constitution to say that if you were incarcerated, you could be subcontracted out for labor which meant that they would arrest people and put them right back on the plantation to work. and then during the same time, we had all of the lynchings from 1860 to 1950. over 4,000 lynchings that took place during that time. so we had all of these things happening during that period, right up until 1954 where brown versus board of education. things kind of settled a little. and it was another ten years before the civil rights bill was passed. when that happened, we could go to any library in the city, not just this one. and the jim crow laws finally were taken -- the signs were taken down. integration took place.
but even the schools were not really integrated or desegregated until 1970, in this area. so this facility kind of paints that story for us of the things that took place during that time. when you see our brochure, you'll see what dora did. she took this building and put it in the front doorsteps of our main public library to show the difference in the size, even though african-americans were 50% of the population. it was designed by george rogers. he was the premier architect in mobile during that time, and he designed the main public library as well, as well as several other buildings. but that's the national african-american archives museum. okay? let's walk down and i'm going to
talk about -- during the 1980s we had something come through mobile called urban renewal. well, urban renewal removed a lot of buildings, but didn't renew nothing, okay? as we go down this street, this was the african-american shopping center of mobile. there was nothing but black businesses on this street. any and everything that you needed you could purchase on this street. and it was kind of during the jim crow days that either you were not accepted in the white community or you were scared to go. so businesses opened up in the african-american part of the community where you could shop and buy clothes, food, go to the movies, see your physician, your dentist, get your prescriptions filled. whatever you needed, you could purchase on this street. appliances. the five-and-dime stores. restaurants, hats, clothing, shoes. it was all on this particular
street. urban renewal came through here. there used to be a two-story building right here. it was the franklin building. on the bottom floor was a drugstore. and this was dora's father's drugstore. it was called finley's drugstore number three. well, dora's father started the first chain of african-american drugstores in the state of alabama. he had five drugstores. my father, john, was his oldest brother and he started finley's pharmacy number one and two. they were both pharmacists. the younger brother, more energy and created five drugstores. but my uncle james was a member of a group of neighbors that started a civil rights organization called neighborhood organized workers. and their philosophy was they wanted to increase the living standards of african-americans in the community and provide some racial reconciliation.
well, in the '50s there was a gentleman from mobile by the name of mr. john leflore. he was the premier civil rights leader. from the '20s, his mission was to register people to vote. i think this is the 150th year of the 15th amendment. and it's the 100th year of allowing ladies to vote. so mr. leflore was in this building on the second floor. and they had been working with the city trying to get improvements in the neighborhoods, trying to improve racial relations throughout the city. he was president of the naacp. well, they outlawed the naacp in alabama in the 1950s. mr. leflore started another organization called the national partisan voter league.
which did the same thing. just didn't have the national backing. and they continued to work. well, neighborhood organized workers, their acronym was n.o.w. in the '60s, things were starting to move faster and they were wanting results faster. and one of the most profound legal things that happened was mobile was set up with three districts, none which had a majority of african-americans. so there was never an african-american city commissioner. and because african-americans were 45% to 50% of the population, the community never felt they were getting their fair return as far as streets being paved, sidewalks, streetlights, community centers. they were never at the table when the money was being allocated, so they had no idea. ultimately the city was sued and
the case was called bolden versus the city of mobile. it goes all the way to the supreme court. the supreme court looked at it, judge stewart said not for sure we want to act on this. they sent it to the lower court. the lower court sent it back to mobile and it went to the capitol as the zoghby marietta act. and ultimately it came back for the citizens to vote on it. and the citizens voted on it and it was approved. when it was approved, it split the city up into seven districts, three of them which were majority african-american. so we've had an african-american representative at the table since 1984. and we've also had an african-american mayor. so now those individuals represent their district. and each district currently getting $3 million per district. if they don't spend that money like the constituents want, obviously they vote someone else in. but at least we're sitting at the table now when the decisions are made and when the money is
allocated, which means it can be spent in their communities as opposed to other areas of the city. so it was probably one of the most profound decisions ever made in the city. it took that case something like ten years to get through the system. and the judge that finally made the decision, judge pittman, there were articles in our press register, they wanted him to leave the country. he was not well received after that. but things have moved. we're moving forward in the city, and still a lot of work to be done. but that was probably one of the greatest milestones for the african-american community to benefit from during that time as a result of neighborhood organized workers. in most cases, when an urban renewal comes into a community,
not only do they buy the business, but then they have a design for the renewal with financial plans to start those new businesses. you know, obviously, if i'm living in a $250,000 home and -- that i built 20 years ago and i want to replace it to the equivalent, it's going to cost me probably $400,000 or $500,000 today. a lot of these businesses, yes, they purchased them, but they had no plan to restore them. as a result, this community has been in this state ever since then. so we're at most pure heart of mary church established in 1899 originally at st. anthony's. st. anthony is the saint of hope. so that was relevant during that period of time.
african-americans needed hope. and someone made an anonymous donation for them to change the name to most pure heart of mary church and that was done. and it was initially established for the creoles and african-americans of the mobile community. it's been a thriving church in the community ever since. there's a parochial school here that has the first through the eighth grade. there was a high school, two-story building, and the high school closed in 1968. we had a national figure, alexis herman. she became secretary of labor during bill clinton's administration. she attended school here. this is where she graduated from. some of the reasons that it's on the trail is that during the civil rights days, neighborhood organized workers had to have a place to meet. and ultimately, the school's cafeteria was the only place in the city that would allow them
to meet, to strategize on how they were going to approach the problems that existed in the african-american community and trying to resolve them with the city. the nuns and the priests here -- because this street was the main thoroughfare through the african-american community, during the civil rights days, all of the marches would come down this street. and when those marches took place, these nuns and priests would be on the front line. in fact, i remember dora sharing a story with me, she wasn't but 15 at the time. the junior miss pageant was here. today it's called the distinguished women of america. there's 50 young ladies from all over the country. so quickly they said, oh, this would be a good time to march because we could get word out to the rest of the country on the problems we're having in mobile. because there would be reporters from all over the country. so they established the march and they marched down to the
auditorium, a place that was frequently visited and supported by the african-american community. but there were no african-americans that worked there or on the board to make these decisions. and as soon as they got there, they arrested them and took them to jail in the paddy wagon. well, on that particular occasion, mr. leflore was on the sidewalk standing up. and he was not a part of the march, nor was he a part of the demonstration. he was just basically observing what was going on. they arrested him. there's a famous picture around town with him with the handcuffs on, and they took him to jail. well, the nuns were standing on the sidewalk. they put them in the paddy wagon and took them to jail as well. and this police officer comes downstairs and he says, who are these ladies? somebody said, those are nuns from most pure heart of mary. he said, we can't have any nuns in here. he goes upstairs to get the key and open the cell door.
the nuns looked at him and said we're not going until everybody go. that's how committed they were to the community and how much they supported the african-american community during the civil rights days. and so as a result of that, they've always -- the school has always been involved with the disparities that took place in the community during that time. most pure heart of mary church. we had three movie theaters on this street. there were three african-american grocery stores. this is one of the few buildings that was preserved. york's barber shop. i'm not really for sure why they didn't destroy this building, but it's an original. next to it was a grocery store. there was a nightclub. so you had, you know,
businesses, clubs, any and everything that you needed to buy. of course, there were service stations, you know, for gas and repair, mechanic shops. all of these vacant lots had businesses on them. there was only about ten houses on this whole street -- those are new -- all of these vacant lots had businesses on them. so we're now at the home of dave patton. dave patton had a wagon hauling dirt around mobile. he became one of the richest realtors in the city. and this was in the 1880s, all right? 1890s. he pulled all of the dirt out of the bankhead tunnel. that's the tunnel that takes us to the eastern shore. he laid the foundation for most of the streets in mobile. he laid the foundation for the alabama state docks and one of the largest high schools that we have here which is murphy high
school. now initially, he wanted to build this house on government street. well, government street is our main street, if you've been down government. there's a lot of antebellum homes there. that are on this size which we're talking about probably 5,500 square feet. but because he was black, they would not let him build that house over on government street. and we're talking -- this was in the early 1900s. and to be honest with you, most blacks were living in shotguns during that time. this was a huge house when you look at it. and it was built by the premier architect in the city which was george rogers during that time. i know that he had to have cash because my dad told me when he built his store in 1950, the banks wouldn't loan him money. not because he had bad credit. they just did not loan blacks money for businesses or homes. i know for him to have george rogers as an architect and to
build this house, he had to have plenty of cash at that time. unfortunately he died at a very young age from pneumonia. he was like 47 years old. so he never got a chance to enjoy the fruits of his labor. this church was on that street behind us. and eventually they bought this vacant lot and placed their church here, constructed the church. and then they purchased the home and it is now the parsonage for their pastor. this entire area, they call it the campground. the reason it's called the campground, during the confederate war, there were over 10,000 confederate soldiers that lived in this area. when the confederates lost the civil war, the union soldiers moved in to restore civility. and it took them about five years to restore civility. so growing up, we used to call this the avenue. but the name was davis avenue. today, it's dr. martin luther king.
so we didn't know until they changed the name that it was named after jefferson davis, the president of the confederacy right through the heart of the african-american community. but, in reality, i guess it made sense because african-americans didn't come into this community until after the war. it was close to the other parts of town where they were working. they could walk to work and walk back home. we're at the franklin primary health care center. that's the namesake for dr. james franklin. and dr. franklin actually grew up in tennessee. he went to school at lincoln university. and then he attended the university of michigan in 1909. upon arrival, he had to sleep in the boiler room which was where
the air conditioning and heating equipment was. he took his trunk and that was his desk with a night lamp and he slept on a cot for four years. finished second in his medical class. dr. franklin was our grandfather. he was my maternal grandfather. so he comes back to alabama and starts practicing medicine in evergreen. and if i had known i had been doing this, i would be asking him a lot of questions. i had no idea we would be doing this trail today. first of all, i want to know, why evergreen? why not montgomery, tuskeegee, mobile or birmingham? evergreen is somewhat of a small community. that's where he started practicing medicine, and there was an outbreak of flu in this -- and this gentleman came to his home and said, dr. franklin, my wife is dying, please come help me. he did. what he found out, they would keep the house closed up which
meant that it kept all of the germs inside. and so he had them open the windows and continue to work with the patient, and ultimately she was well. and there had been a lot of people dying in the community. and so when people started to see her again, they were asking the husband, oh, my goodness, how did she survive the problem? and he said, well, dr. franklin came out to see her. and they said dr. franklin? you mean the black doctor? and he said, yes. they said, oh, no, a black man can't touch a white woman. and they were coming to kill him. they were going to lynch him. and the husband tried to control them, but he couldn't. so he ultimately got dr. franklin on the train. at the time he had two children. and they came south and got off in africatown. and that's how he got to mobile.
there's some stories in the "mobile press register" on the encounter. but once he got here, he started practicing. a lot of the patients from the "clotilda" were his patients, because he was here in 1914. and he continued to practice and ultimately moved his practice down on the other end of dr. martin luther king boulevard. and had an enormous practice, and he passed in 1972. he was 84 years old. well, when urban renewal took out his building, he built a three-room office right over in the parking lot behind us. and he continued to practice medicine. and at 84, he was still making house calls. he just enjoyed practicing medicine. well, he had a heart attack. and when they closed the school,
most pure heart of mary, there was a nun named sister marilyn. sister marilyn and most of the nuns were admirers of him, and he was a member of the most pure heart of mary church. well, sister marilyn said, i'm going to med school. she goes to the university of south alabama here in mobile and the students are like, what in the world are you going to do? you're going to be 40 years old when you finish. she says i'm going to open up a medical clinical on the north side of town. because the one hospital we had in this area was moving west. she said i grew up in this community. i've been here since i was 21. i love the people. they love me. and that's what i want to do. and so she did. she finished med school and she came over and started practicing in his office, seeing his patients because he had such a large patient base. ultimately she convinced their
senior class, and they came along with some of the other local doctors and started rotating through the office to see his patients. the family eventually -- i guess you could say donated the facility to the clinic for a dollar, and ultimately sister marilyn writes a proposal, a grant and she started franklin primary health care center in his name. and today you can go in here, you can see a medical doctor, an ob/gyn. you can see a dentist, optometrist, audiologist, you can get prescriptions filled, you can have money, no money, insurance, no insurance. and there's now 23 of these clinics in this area all from the dream of sister marilyn and the philosophy of dr. james
franklin. he was an elevator operator in 1884. do you know that lehman brothers started in mobile? the reason being, cotton was the cash crop. it was the moneymaker in the u.s. so this guy used to operate the elevator. and he would hear the brokers talking in between the floors. and so he said, i want to do something more with my life. he started an insurance company. and he would sell policies for people to provide a respectable burial for their relatives. and he started the insurance company right around the time johnson and allen opened. so it was very timely. well, he hired six other guys and they sold over $10 million worth of insurance in the early 1900s. you run that in the calculator today, and that would be close to $100 million. so he was very wealthy, all
right? in the 1900s. he paid out over $3 million worth of insurance. and so here's where we try to inspire children. we don't live in the past on this trail. we tell the past to help us try to reconcile where we are today. okay? and when we tell the stories of c. first johnson, here is a man that had no one, no mentor, no one encouraging him to do anything. he's an elevator operator. this is where we tell the kids, you got to find your passion. this is where you'll get up running in the morning, and this is how you become successful, okay? and that's what this guy did back in the 1890s. he started his own company called unity mutual life insurance company. he made a lot of money during his life. this is where he initially lived, in this home. so we're in a part of the town
that's somewhat blighted. and there are some programs that have been recently approved for individuals to bring their houses up to code. there's several grants that are available. and there's a big push in the community to -- by local government to make that happen. and -- because, again, this area is the area that again the confederate soldiers were in back in the 1800s. in fact, there's a lot of shotgun houses in this area, you know. and a shotgun house is just a colloquial term, that if you open the front door and the back door is open, you can shoot straight through and it goes
through the back. that's a shotgun house. now, over here to the right are some original confederate barracks. see those blue and green back there? they have been back there since the 1850s. somewhat renovated, but those are the original barracks from that period of time. this is a shotgun house right here. it's one of those -- usually they're straight and narrow and go straight back. this is the vivian malone jones marker. and her sisters came to our board, and they said, you know, our sister accomplished a lot but there's nothing in mobile to recognize what she did. and they said, we would like to put a historical marker. we said, that's a great idea. where would you like to put it? they said we would like to put it right in front of where our
homestead was. this is where we grew up. from that block to the next block, there were nothing but homes behind this. now, over to the left is the mobile county health department. and so ultimately they bought this property and made it a parking lot. and they moved these homes to other areas in the city, okay? but they said this is where we grew up. and this is where we would like to have it. and ms. malone attended the university of alabama. that was when george wallace stood in the door and said segregation today, tomorrow and forever. robert kennedy was attorney general and sent in the national guard. of course, he stepped out of the way, and she entered the school and graduated. and from stories with the sisters, she did not have any difficult times while she was there. and i must say, she was not the first african-american to attend school there. but vivian was the first african-american to graduate.
so when she graduated, no one in alabama would provide her a job because they were still i guess upset that she had gone to the school. so ultimately she gets a job with the department of justice in washington, d.c. and the school did ask her to come back to do the commencement address, and she did. and to make a long story short, the theme of her commencement address was that you must always be prepared, because you never know what door you may have to walk through. and that's the story of ms. vivian malone jones who opened a lot of doors. the city made this honorary vivian malone jones way as a complimentary to the historical marker being placed in front of where the homestead used to be.
dr. h. roger williams grew up in louisiana on a sugar plantation. he decided he wants to be a pharmacist. he goes to pharmacy school, comes to mobile and opens up a drugstore right here. 607 dolphin street. 1896, he decides he wants to be a physician. he goes to meharry medical school in nashville, tennessee, becomes a doctor and opens up his doctor's office upstairs. drugstore downstairs is called live and let live. his home was over in this parking lot across the street. the white citizen council comes to him and they say -- i doubt they said dr. williams. they told him he needed to put a sign up here that said colored because this was during the jim crow days. well, he being the smart, independent person that he was, he found a picture of himself,
blew it up about half size of that poster and put it in the window. he was a brown-skinned guy. he said, do you think they'll know i'm colored? that's dr. roger williams, he was very involved in the community. different medical societies and pharmaceutical associations. this is right in the heart of the community, but it was on the edge of the city during that time because, remember, ft. whiting was the city which was about two miles from here. so we were on the outskirts at that time. and this area was very heavily populated by creoles, okay? this is the volunteer creole fire station which was established in 1819, and this building was constructed in 1869. in order to work here, you had to be a creole and you had to be authenticated by one of the original creole families. and a lot of them still live in the community today.
and those members, those families volunteered at this fire department. and you can see that's where the horse and buggy would come out with the water on it. they put out fires for everybody. just didn't have -- you didn't have to be a creole if there was a fire. and upstairs was like a great room. and there was the pole that would bring you down to the first floor. and this right now is the home of a private individual. and he left the front of it like it is, like it was, to honor and to preserve the story of the creole fire station. but back in the 1880s, they used to have community parties. that top floor is like a great room. and there was this guy having a party in 1882 by the name of john a. pope. and he breaks out a horn and starts playing it.
somebody else goes home and gets the saxophone, trombone, clarinet, drums, cymbals and they have a jam session going on. that was the beginning of a band we have here called the excelsius band. this band has been playing in front of every parade since 1882. they will be in the parade tonight. they will be the lead band. and so this is where they started. ♪♪ if you were creole, you were considered free. you could be educated, you could own your own property, business, you had all the rights and freedom of a white person, except that you could not vote. that was the only thing. so it kind of created a disparity for many years between african-americans and creoles. you had a decision to make. during that time, if you were creole, you had all of these freedoms. if not, you were going to be working in somebody's kitchen or
plantation. and all of that changed in 1964 with the passage of the civil rights bill. but this is the creole fire station that just celebrated 200 years this year in the establishment of this fire station. and there's one family that's had a family member in this fire station since 1869. and they're the treniers, and there are three of them right now that's a member of the mobile fire department. it's an amazing story that their great-grandfather and grandfather and dad and now the children are still firemen in the mobile fire department. here we are at it takes a village. this marker was done in conjunction with mobile united
leadership. and so we have selected some hidden figures, kind of similar to the movie about the ladies who worked for nasa. and the first person that we see is a lady by the name of dr. regina benjamin. dr. benjamin grew up over near most pure heart of mary church. she goes to xavier university and ultimately becomes the surgeon general of the united states during president barack obama's administration, right here from mobile. she now has a clinic out in the western section of the city, an area we call bayou la batre. so she's still giving back to the community all the time. the next gentlemen is a gentlemen that went to one of the local high schools. williamson high school. he used to blow up things in the chemistry lab and set his mom's kitchen on fire.
ultimately, he goes to tuskegee university and becomes a ph.d. engineer. works on the b-2 stealth bomber and invents the supersoaker. the water gun that shoots over buildings and across the street. he sold over a billion dollars worth. recently he returned to mobile about eight months ago, presented a check to the mobile county public school system for $7.5 million to start a robotics school. interesting enough, the same high school that he attended finished third in the overall presentations of robotics at the state contests a couple of years ago. he's given back all the time. his labs are in atlanta, georgia. and the third gentleman is major general gary cooper. and major general gary cooper also attended most pure heart of mary school.
he finished and attended notre dame, and when he graduated he decided that he would volunteer and join the marines. and upon entry, they wanted to make him a supply officer, and he said, well, i think i'll see if i can maybe find my way into another avenue in the military. and ultimately he becomes an infantry commander. the first african-american ever to be an infantry commander which could be up to managing 10,000 men. that meant he was on the front line during the vietnam conflict. did two stints, returned to mobile. the air force calls him back as a deputy administrator. goes back in the air force for a couple years, comes back to mobile. they appoint him to ambassador
to jamaica for several years. he returns back home and he was appointed head of the department of human resources in montgomery, alabama. returns back home and becomes a district representative for the area that he lived in here in mobile. he returns back to mobile as ceo and president of commonwealth national bank. recently retired and now he manages his family's funeral business, christian benevolent funeral home. so those are our hidden figures and those are just a few. there are many, many more in the city. >> so it's pretty busy here in mobile tonight. why is that? >> this is mardi gras. let the good times roll. and, you know, mardi gras is kind of synchronized with the
liturgical catholic year. we have parades from 12 days after christmas right up to fat tuesday. and of course mardi gras means fat tuesday in french. and fat tuesday is the culmination of the year. usually so it's about five weeks, which is always the tuesday before ash wednesday, which is 40 days before easter, and then we start the process all over again. and of course that was -- the celebration was brought to mobile by the founders of mobile, jean baptiste lemoyne and pierre lemoyne. so we like to say mobile is the birthplace of mardi gras because those gentlemen founded mobile in 1702, and pierre founded new orleans in 1718, 16 years after.
so they brought that celebration to the new world and then they took it to new orleans. so that's our stake as to the birthplace of mardi gras, and it's a fun time and it's in the air. you'll see the people. everybody is excited and having fun. tonight is the first parade of the year. ♪♪ >> wallace turnage was a 17-year-old slave in north mississippi, and wallace tried to run away four times. each time he would run away, he would run away north and he'd get caught. and they would bring him back and beat him unmercifully. in fact, during that time you could get jobs beating slaves by the number of lashes or by the hour. finally, unbelievably, his owner became sympathetic and brought him to mobile from north mississippi and had him
auctioned off at the slave market on rollins street. and the guy that purchased him -- before this building was here, there was an antebellum home. he was a merchant marine. well, he purchased wallace, and all collier wanted wallace to do was walk his horses. he was fond of horses. and collier was walking the horse down dolphin street one day and something spooked the horse. he had to come home and say the horse took off and he couldn't catch him. she said you go downstairs, collier is going to want to talk to you when he comes home. he knew what that meant. he was not going to take another beating. he runs out the door.
instead of running north this time, he ran south. in mobile when you run south you're going to run into water. so he ran for a day and a half all the way to the end of the county and he's down in dolphin island, and he could see the union soldiers over at the fort but couldn't figure out how to get there because the water was 40, 50 feet deep. he saw these confederate soldiers every day. they would go to the look out booth to look over and see what the union soldiers were doing, and at night they would leave. so he's run through water moccasins, alligators, snakes, mosquitos, bugs, everything. he would go up into the booth to shield himself from the bugs and then leave the next morning before the soldiers got back. well, ultimately he finds this little eight-foot boat, he jumps in it, gets two branches off a tree and he is just rowing trying to get over there. and this union boat comes along and sees him, and they think they're hallucinating. they bring him over to the fort. they say, wallace, we're going to get you free, but we need one of two things from you.
we need you to either go back to mobile and plot out everything the confederate soldiers are doing or tell us what you know. wallace was smart enough to say, i'm going to tell you what i know. because i'm getting out of here. he did. they got him to north carolina where he saw his mother and his sister that he had not seen in 20 years. spent some quality time with them. and then he ended up in new york city with a niece. and he just had a regular life, regular jobs working in hotels and things of that nature. and then he passed from a kidney infection. and years later his niece finds a manuscript. people didn't know wallace could read and write, and he had kept notes on his life in mississippi, his life in mobile. and she provided that to an author by the name of dr. david blight. and he wrote the story of "slave no more." as a result of that, the national park service did come
to mobile a couple years ago. dora's sister did research and found the original home and as a result of this site as well as all the family lineage. as a result, this site is now on the underground railroad. the story of wallace turnage, "a slave no more." and that ends the tour. we start with where the city began. we saw where the illegally kidnapped people were sold, would go out to africatown where they lived. and we see entrepreneurs throughout the city and end here with wallace turnage, a slave no more. this history is not in the history books, so there's multiple purposes. one is that as our founder said, you have to know where you've
been in order to know where you're going, okay? we talk about the past to help us understand why some things are the way they are today, and maybe it'll help us reconcile, okay, with the reasons that these things exist or will help us with racial reconciliation by understanding what took place in the past. the other thing is that it's a motivation and an inspiration for young adults because when we talk about what these individuals accomplished 15 and 20 years after the emancipation proclamation with no mentors, and today we have mentors and we have different resources. and it's just creating a desire for them to accomplish and to
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