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William R. Pettiford
*William Pettiford was born on this date in 1847. He was a Black minister, educator, and business entrepreneur.
From Granville County, North Carolina, William Ruben Pettiford’s parents, William and Matilda Pettiford, were free, and, according to the law of the land, their son was free. His parents sold their farm and moved to Person County, where he had the advantage of private instruction and obtained a very fair knowledge of the English language. Being the oldest child, he had to bear a part of the responsibility of the family; the hard, laborious work he was compelled to do was a school of preparation for his life work.
At age 21, Pettiford converted religiously in 1868 and was baptized at Salisbury, N.C., by Rev. Ezekiel Horton. This was the beginning of the life that made him an earnest disciple and minister of Christ. In 1869 he married Miss Mary J. Farley. He moved to Selma, Alabama, and worked there both as a laborer and teacher. In March 1870, after being married for eight months, his wife died. Deciding to pursue a further course of training, he entered the state normal school at Marion, Alabama. He remained there for seven years, paying his expenses by teaching during vacations. He was connected with the church at Marion, where he attended and conducted prayer meetings and revivals. The church licensed him to preach in 1879.
In 1873, Pettiford married Mrs. Jennie Powell of Marion, who died in September 1874, leaving him for the second time a widower as principal of the school at Uniontown, Mrs. Florence Billingslea, and Rev. John Dozier assisted him. Three years later, Pettiford, wishing to take a more extended course of study, resigned from his position as principal in 1877 and entered Selma University. The following year the trustees appointed him a teacher at a salary of twenty dollars per month and permission to pursue theological studies.
He married Della Boyd on November 23, 1880; was ordained at St. Philip Baptist Church in Selma; moved to Union Springs; then, in 1883, accepted a call at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. At this time, the church had a membership of one hundred fifty, was worshiping in a store in the low part of town and had five hundred dollars in debt. A year later, the debt was retired, and a new tower costing more than $7000 was built. He was president of the ministerial union of Birmingham, a trustee of Selma University, and president of the Baptist State Convention.
During that time, the degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon Rev. Pettiford by Selma University. In 1890 Pettiford founded and became president of the Alabama Penny Savings Bank. It was Alabama’s first bank for Blacks, one of the first three for Blacks in America. William Pettiford died in 1914.