By Josie Shaw, Managing editor of production
In the research process for the Montevallo African American Heritage Trail, Dr. Kathy King and Anitka Stewart Sims wrote “Untold Stories of Black Montevallo”: a 20-page booklet detailing and preserving historical stories of the Black community in Montevallo.
In correlation with Black History Month, this booklet was distributed in February to Carmichael Library and Parnell Library. A $5 contribution is recommended for those taking a booklet.
The booklet includes stories about community, education, church and civil rights activism in Montevallo’s Black community.
Research for the booklet was a collaborative effort between King and Sims who regularly collected oral history from community members, and researching such history in both UM’s Milner Archives and Special Collections and Samford University’s Special Collections.
The preface of the booklet, written by King and Sims, describes why they chose to archive these stories.
King’s career as a literary historian motivated her to question where the inclusion of the Black perspective was in Montevallo’s communal history.
“As Kathy took oral histories she came to realize that Black history was out there but unknown to much of the community – due, she suspected, to a combination of White indifference, Black self-protection, and mutual distrust,” reads the booklet’s preface.
Sims was born and raised in Montevallo, and lived around many stories being told throughout her life by family members, but experienced that those stories weren’t archived and preserved in the broader Montevallo community.
Sims reflected on researching the untold story of Jacksonville, a Black community once located on the corner of Island and Bloch Street, and how that discovery informed her personal understanding of Montevallo’s history.
“I really was amazed to find that out, and that it was a pretty large community of Black people who lived in the downtown Montevallo area,” said Sims.
The archives reveal that the Jacksonville community had a school for Black children until 1939.
The first few stories of the booklet center around Rev. Joseph Sidney Prentice and the Prentice family, and their impact on Montevallo during and succeeding the Jim Crow era.
Prentice was a pastor in Baptist churches in at least three counties, and advocated for education throughout his life.
His community-based impact resulted in Montevallo’s Black High School being named Prentice High School in 1954. Montevallo Middle School now sits on that site as of 1970.
The afterword in the book was written by Harrison Neville, the Communications Director for The Montevallo Legacy Project. While he did not grow up in Montevallo, Neville relates the untold stories to his personal experience hearing family stories as a child, as he regrets not archiving them.
“I have this personal, deep, strong, emotional connection to African-American history and so, yes, my family’s history was a lot of why I wanted to be involved with this, because it’s a part of history that gets erased. And that erasure actively hurts not only African-American people, but everyone, every American,” said Neville.
Sims shared a similar sentiment towards preservation, saying, “I wish I had written down things that I was told by my great-grandmother and my grandmother, who probably know about some of the things that have been written about in the untold stories.”
Keep up with new additions to the Untold Stories of Black Montevallo by reading the “Chamber Chatter”, published by Montevallo Chamber of Commerce.