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 within the City of Huntsville, we quickly learned their heroes typically were found closer to their hearts. Here’s the second of a two-day series, in their own words.
Jocelyn Boustani, Assistant City Attorney
Dr. Bessie Washington Jones, a professor of English since 1967, and Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Alabama A&M University since 1973, departed this life and entered into eternal rest and ecstasy on April 7, 1995. Dr. Jones earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Spelman College in Atlanta, where she minored in history and music. She received her Masters from Atlanta University and her Ph.D. from the George Peabody College of Vanderbilt University.
With unparalleled dedication, Dr. Jones served higher education as a professor, administrator and a leader for Alabama A&M University. After beginning her teaching career at Miles College, she came to Alabama A&M in 1957, rising from assistant professor of English to eventually become Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences.
A leader in religious circles in Huntsville, Dr. Jones was a devoted member of the First Missionary Baptist Church for more than 30 years. She served as a member of the Trustee Board, Vice President of Missionary Circle One, taught the Nursery/Kindergarten Sunday School Class, played the piano for the Sunday School, directed Vacation Bible School for many years and established the Drama Ministry.
Dr. Jones attained recognition for her scholarly writing and research, including the completion of a book just prior to her death called “Seedtime and Harvest: The Life and Legacy of Miss Georgia Washington.”
Dr. Jones’ diligence in the pursuit of community and educational endeavors did not go unnoticed. Her honors and awards are many. They include distinguished fellowships, Outstanding Educator of America, the “She Knows Where She’s Going Award” from Girls, Inc. and many others. Her most beloved award came from Spelman College, the Merit Award of the National Alumnae Association.
We can all say with confidence that this world is a better place because Bessie Washington Jones – my mother – stopped by here on her way to eternity.
Ashley Nichols, Planner
I don’t have any one individual, but I would like to recognize many of the current leaders I interact with on a daily or recurring basis. I’m not a Huntsville native but there are many leaders in the African American community here that I consider as heroes and as a daily inspiration, not only for myself but other millennials and emerging young professionals
From our government leadership, it would be our own planning director, Michelle Jordan. From the state, it would be Rep. Laura Hall. And there is Juanita Harris, the Director of AMERDEC on Redstone Arsenal. They’re very important in the local community. There hasn’t been a lot of African American leadership in those positions, and to see those leaders, especially as women, is inspiring.
In our private sector, we have great leadership in Larry and Kim Lewis at Project XYZ. They’re both very involved, on various boards and strong community activists.
The list of key figures in the community doesn’t stop with them. It includes many other departments heads, elected officials, local pastors and their staffs. They’re all significant in their career fields but they’re also significant in the community with unwavering commitment, mentorship and a strong sense of community. They continue to impact the youth and other young professionals and their peers.
Brenda M. Martin, Host, “Inside Huntsville”
The Reverend Dr. Henry Bradford, Jr. was a legendary educator, spiritual and community leader and mentor. He served for 36 years as the pastor of Church Street Cumberland Presbyterian Church and imparted generously his knowledge and wisdom selflessly to several generations— including “little ole me and my family.”
Dr. Bradford, a man with a heart and love for all, demonstrates it on a daily basis. In a lifetime of service to mankind and through his pursuit of excellence, he has inspired and shaped thousands of young minds and not-so-young minds to always achieve their best.
He always found time to share the good news of the gospel with me. Dr. Bradford would encourage me and my family about many aspects of life. Sometimes it was by telephone, a visit and many times in writing, some of which I have some still posted on my refrigerator. Dr. Bradford has been a part of our family since we moved to Huntsville. He was a constant encourager as I moved through this community during high times and challenging ones.
He and his family took time to attend significant occasions in my family’s life: my daughter’s 16th birthday celebration, her college graduations, as the co-pastor at her wedding, and during the passing of my dear husband he was there.
Dr. Bradford is the husband of Nell Bradford. You don’t see one without the other. I love and cherish their love and support immensely. They are the epitome of a true partnership. At 97 years young, he continues to encourage, quote scriptures and pray with me.
Henry Adams stated, “A teacher affects eternity; he/she can never tell where his influence stops.”
I am just one of the “ripples” that the Reverend Dr. Henry Bradford Jr., greatly influenced.
Kenny Anderson, Director of Multicultural Affairs
I came to what was then Oakwood College in 1975 as a theology major and I had it in my mind that’s what I probably wanted to do, but I wasn’t sure. I spent the first year taking courses, then toyed with majoring in biology, thinking about pre-med because I wanted to be a doctor. But I didn’t do well in science, didn’t do well in math, and I kind of lost my focus.
In the fall of 1976 in my sophomore year, a brand new teacher arrived at Oakwood. Dr. Keith Wood taught “Principles of Psychology.” It was my first psychology class, and it literally changed my life. He came in with a passion for students, with an energy that was contagious, with a free spirit that was so inviting. He was somebody the students could identify with and somebody who inspired you to do more.
The next semester I decided to sign up for another of his courses. The rest was history. I declared my major as psychology, graduated with that degree and practiced for 20 years after that.
Dr. Wood is living in Atlanta now. He has had a great career in psychology, with a legacy of having taught students and helping people through his practice and just being a good person. Along the way, he’s become a friend, somebody I’ve gotten to know up close and personal. And though he always tells me to call him “Keith,” I can never bring myself to say it.
In the fall of 2017, I was invited to teach a class in “Intro to Psychology” at Oakwood. I discovered that it was in Green Hall, room 206 – the room where I took the classes from Dr. Wood. That was an out-of-body experience for me. It was surreal to be in that classroom, to teach those young people the principles of psychology where it all started for me.