Black History Month: Huntsville’s heroes close to home

single-meta-cal February 26, 2018

Huntsville has had no shortage of influential black residents who have changed the landscape of this community and left incredible legacies, men such as Dr. William Councill, Dr. Sonnie Hereford III and Dr. Joseph Lowery.

But as City Blog reached out to African American leaders who work here at the City of Huntsville, we quickly learned their heroes typically were found closer to their hearts. Here’s the first of a two-day series, in their own words.

Read Part Two.

Michelle Jordan, Director of Planning

To everyone else, Dr. Virginia Caples was the first female selected to lead Alabama A&M University as President in the University’s 120-year history – two times!

She was the iconic Alabama Cooperative Extension System 1890 Administrator; the smart, caring, well connected, distinguished University Professor; one-half of the dynamic partnership that owned and operated WEUP radio station; the well-traveled pilot that soared above the clouds in her airplane; the person responsible for the annual Successful Aging Initiative; and the reason there is a Virginia Caples Lifelong Learning Institute nestled on the campus that she loved and served for 38 years.

To me, she was a mentor, a role model, a positive supporter that always had a kind word and warm smile – a friend.

Dr. Virginia Caples passed away on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. She will be missed by many, especially me, one of her “girls.”

Byron Thomas, Director of Human Resources

Heroes – individuals who make great sacrifices for the benefit of others!

Most heroes go unrecognized and without any fanfare or applause.  One local African American hero within the Huntsville community is Natalie Otey Thomas.

A graduate of the University of Alabama-Huntsville, with a Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences, and of J.O. Johnson High School, Natalie left a career with the Boeing Company, now over 21 years ago, to accept an even greater role — as a Stay-At-Home Mom!

She is truly a person who has made great sacrifices not only for our own three children, but has done so much to encourage and motivate many other children within her church, Union Hill Primitive Baptist Church, her neighborhood and the Buckhorn community.

Natalie O. Thomas is truly a hero within our community who is worthy of due recognition and admiration!

Corey Harris, Deputy Chief, Huntsville Police

I would like to honor a true hero and fellow East St. Louis, Illinois native, Dr. Juanita M. Harris.

For those who are not aware, growing up in East St. Louis was filled with challenges.  However, Dr. Harris did not allow her environment to define her.  Dr. Harris was selected for the Senior Executive Service in February 2015 and she currently serves as the Executive Director for the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development, and Engineering Center at Redstone Arsenal.

In addition to leading her organization in providing life-cycle engineering services for all Army aviation and missile systems, Dr. Harris (no relation to Chief Harris) is a champion for various mentoring initiatives and is committed to developing future leaders.

David Delisser, Community Services Superintendent

Last month, I attended the funeral of a family friend, Claud Martin, commonly known as Uncle Claud. He was the first black civil servant to be selected for the position of electrical engineer at Redstone Arsenal.

Not only was he a pioneer for black professionals, but he made it his mission to champion diversity and equal opportunity for the higher-paying positions with the Federal Government and their corporate counterparts.

In their tributes to Uncle Claud, colleagues gave disturbing details of the injustice and prejudice they had to overcome, and the tenacity and persistence needed to better themselves and others coming from behind.  This helped me reflect on my career, and put my life in perspective.

On a personal note, I feel Black History Month exposes us to “uncomfortable” subject matter and the harsh realities of life that many choose to ignore.  It is a time to reflect, not solely on black people, but all humanity. Most individuals’ greatest accomplishments in life are standing on the shoulders of others, both black and white. To that end, please join me in celebrating Black History Month and assessing your role in the acceptance of all races and cultures.