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*On this date we mark the birth of William Councill in 1849. He was a Black teacher, college president, and editor.
Councill was born a slave in Fayetteville, North Carolina. At the age of five, he saw his father escape from slavery to Canada. In 1857, Councill, his mother, and brother were sold to slave traders, who resold them to Judge David C. Humphrey of Huntsville, Alabama. Two other brothers were sold separately and never seen by Councill again. He worked in the cotton fields near Huntsville until 1863, when he escaped to Union lines. After the American Civil War, he attended a school for freedmen in Jackson County, Alabama and in 1869, established Lincoln School near Huntsville.
Between 1872 and 1874, Councill was chief enrolling clerk of the Alabama legislature. He unsuccessfully ran for legislature in 1874 and was offered the federal patronage position as receiver of public lands for northern Alabama a year later. Councill turned this down in order to become the principal of a Huntsville school. Prior to this job, at the Alabama State Equal Rights convention, he urged Congress to enact Charles Sumner’s Civil Rights Bill without deleting its provision for integration. Councill said he: “wanted all the rights that the white man enjoyed, for justice hath no color.”
Soon he was named president of the Alabama State Normal and Industrial School at Huntsville (now Alabama A&M). Between 1877 and 1884, Councill edited the Huntsville Herald; he also studied law and was admitted to the state bar in 1883, though he never practiced. In 1885, he was accused of raping a twelve-year-old student but was acquitted. Councill wrote several books during his lifetime including Lamp of Wisdom (1898). It was during this time that he was evicted from a railroad car, sued the company before the newly created Interstate Commerce Commission, and won.
At the time of his death, the Montgomery Advertiser wrote, “He was the greatest Negro that the race has produced.” William H. Council died in 1909.
The African American Desk Reference
Schomburg Center for research in Black Culture
Copyright 1999 The Stonesong Press Inc. and
The New York Public Library, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Pub.