African Americans have been a part of America's history from the original discovery of the Americas in the 1400s. When the first ships touched Colonial America in 1619, there were twenty blacks of undetermined origin who arrived as indentured servants. History records that they fared relatively well in their new environment. Some attained full freedom, acquired land, were baptized, and secured the right to vote. Several became affluent and masters of servants themselves.
With the great need for labor in the new lands of America, the slave trade flourished. Great numbers of men and women were brought from the Motherland of Africa.
The settlement of the area now known as Bullock County increased as a result of the Indian Wars. Land became available for settlement after 1814 when Andrew Jackson started the relocation of the Indians (Trail of Tears). The State of Alabama was created in 1819.
As the region grew and land needed to be cleared for large plantations, the need for a large labor force increased. Men, women, and children were brought in as slaves to tend the fields, do carpentry, be brick masons, and serve in the homes of their owners at various jobs. Many of the white landowners did not own slaves, but worked their own small fields.
The war, commonly called the Civil War, gave the slaves their freedom: however, many remained as tenant farmers or sharecroppers on the plantations where they were once considered personal property. Many of the former slaves took the names of their former owners as their own.
The rule of the day was that a county seat should be accessible by mule and wagon within one day's travel. With a legislative act in 1866, land from Barbour, Macon, Montgomery, and Pike counties were joined to form Bullock County. It was named for Colonel E.G. Bullock of the 18th Alabama Infantry Regiment. Union Springs, incorporated in 1844, was selected as the county seat.
Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1866, granting citizenship and voting rights to all native-born Americans, except American Indians. Only men were given the right to vote.
The Bullock County Courthouse was built in 1871 during Reconstruction. It was during this time that five African American men served with distinction in the Alabama Legislature: Representatives G.W. Allen, D. H. Hill, Charles Smith, Lawrence Speed, and Senator Benjamin Royal. When Reconstruction ended in 1877 and the Union Troops withdrew, many of the rights began to be eroded with restricting laws.
The largest migration in U.S. history from the rural South to the Northern states began in 1910 and continued until 1950. Bullock County had a population of forty thousand at the turn of the century. Bullock County African Americans began to migrate to Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, New York and many other towns and cities in the Northern part of the U.S. Bullock County's elected officials? failure to uphold basic civil liberties played a great part in the exodus.
Bullock County had seven documented lynchings from 1889-1921 with the 1911 public lynching of Aberdeen Johnson resulting in the National Guard being called out by Governor O'Neal. Three shootings, in 1945, contributed greatly to the mass exodus of young African American men. Edgar Thomas, a businessman, was killed. Algie Lee Gary, an ex-serviceman was shot and Dock Hightower was killed within three months by Officer Dewey Bradley. In 1947, Sheriff Joseph L. Pickett and others were indicted and acquitted for violating the civil liberties of Martha McMillian.
Many young Bullock County African American men served in the First and Second World Wars only to return to a country that would let them die for freedom, but would not give them the full benefits of the freedoms for which they so valiantly fought.
The right to vote was never actually taken away; but the poll tax and the written tests, "designed to fail the citizen," had the same effect. A group of Tuskegee University leaders came to Bullock County to help the local leaders in their efforts to eliminate these hindrances. Rufus Huffman, Benjamin Jordan, Aaron Sellers, and Wilma Cox were among those that took the lead in Bullock County. Attorney Fred Gray of Tuskegee, was instrumental in several court cases that facilitated the registration of African American voters in Bullock County.
In 1961, the United States Government filed a lawsuit against the State of Alabama, particularly Bullock County, to eliminate the hindrances to voter registration. The Court found that there had been "systematic, intentional and insidious conduct and such conduct was a clear violation of the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution." In 1960, there were five African American voters registered and there were 2,845 by 1966.
The churches of Bullock County have always been a source of strength to the African American community. A strong faith in the face of adversity has been the key to the nonviolent way that changes have come to Bullock County. One exceptional man of courage was Solomon Derry, pastor of Derry's Chapel AME Zion Church, who stood up to the KKK and began the first public school for all African Americans. The members of the Oak Grove No. 1 Baptist Church in Midway allowed their church to he used as the meeting place for the NAACP.
Cultural and political changes have taken place in Bullock County and continue to change. Many of those who left the county in the 1950s are returning as retirees. This has become possible because of the courageous men and women from both races who worked together to make Bullock County a better place. In the past five years, the Hispanic population has grown to 1.6% of the population, adding another dimension to our cultural diversity.
Many accomplishments have been and will be made by the African American citizens of Bullock County--many who have come and gone, those working today, and those yet to be. It is impossible to put in one brochure all that needs to be said of these contributions, both positive and negative. This brochure is only a beginning for the collection of oral and written history of those that have lived the struggle, felt the joys of equality, and justice for African Americans. Please use this brochure as a guide to visit the churches, Courthouse, Pauly Jail, and talk to our living legends. The Tourism Council thanks Judge Rufus Huffman, Nadine Ivy, Lynn Jinks III, and Henry Thomas for their assistance in this endeavor.
This section of the web site is an excerpt of a Tourism Council brochure (pictured above).
Contact the Tourism Council, 334.738.8687, for a copy of the brochure.