Huntsville’s first public school for African Americans closed more than half a century ago, but its legacy isn’t going anywhere.
Councill High School, named for Alabama A&M University founder and former enslaved person Dr. William Hooper Councill, served the Huntsville community from 1867 until its closing in 1966. The building later housed many businesses and nonprofits, but flooding and other issues left the structure uninhabitable and in need of extensive repairs.
To honor Dr. Councill’s ideals and provide more green space in downtown Huntsville, the City is creating a memorial park at the old Councill site on St. Clair Avenue. The park, designed by Bostick Landscape Architects with input from alumni and City leaders, will pay homage to the original building while extending access to education for all races.
As a member of the last graduating class at Councill High, William Hooper Councill Alumni Association (WHCAA) President Brenda Chunn is eager to see the park open. She hopes the 2.5-acre park will help teach citizens about the important role Councill High played in Huntsville.
“We really want to see the completion, and as we get towards that point, the excitement and the anticipation builds,” she said. “It’s going to be a great place to gather.”
Councill High park construction
The City is working with Pearce Construction Company on Phase I of the $1.4 million project, which includes new sidewalks, masonry structures, irrigation and landscaping, and a parking lot. City of Huntsville General Services Director Ricky Wilkinson said the first phase of the park should be complete in September.
Additional phases will feature bronze sculptures of Dr. Councill (coming February 2021) and Councill High schoolchildren (summer/fall 2022). Created by artist Dan Burch, the sculptures will offer a glimpse into what life may have been like at Councill High over 50 years ago.
Along with members of WHCAA, Chunn had the opportunity to see the Dr. Councill sculpture in progress last month.
“The sculpture is larger than life,” she said. “And I think in many ways, that’s the image we all have – that this is a figure who is larger than life in our minds.”
The park, which includes salvaged bricks from the original building, mimics the floor plan of the old school. Where the cafeteria once stood, Wilkinson said there will be a seat wall with provisions for water and electrical infrastructure to host events.
The former courtyard location will be home to the new Dr. Councill sculpture and the old gym and auditorium will provide open spaces where visitors can spend time exercising, lounging and more.
“The contractor’s done a great job,” Wilkinson said. “We’ve had a few setbacks due to weather, but it’s really starting to take shape out there. It’s been a tremendous team effort from start to finish on this one and I think it’ll be reflective in the finished product certainly.”
It’s been a tremendous team effort from start to finish on this one and I think it’ll be reflective in the finished product certainly.”
With construction starting soon on the new Pelham Park, Wilkinson said visitors will be able to easily walk from the new Councill High park to Pelham Park to Big Spring Park in downtown Huntsville.
Chunn said the new memorial park will be a “great coming-together place” when it opens this fall.
“That’s what I see and that’s what I hope we will experience in enjoying the park,” she said.