This month, Alexander City native Orlando Withers is paying homage to the village that raised him.
"We have our own Black history here in Alexander City, Alabama and I wanted to honor our icons that have served our community in and out," said Withers, 37.
For each day of February, Withers is commemorating one of those icons —living and deceased — by posting a photograph and brief bio on his personal Facebook page.
"The saying is, 'it takes a village to raise a child,'" Withers said. "These are the people who motivated me to keep going when I wanted to give up. It wasn't only me, it was the whole community."
The first person to come to mind was community leader Rev. Alfred Cooper, who died in 2019 at the age of 90. Cooper, a former assistant principal and football coach, was an Alexander City Schools board member during integration.
As a child, Withers would see him at the Laurel Recreation Center, renamed the Cooper Community Center after its director.
"Each day that I came in, he motivated me; he'd ask 'how you doing, young man?'" Withers said.
Ella Gray, owner and chef of soul food restaurant "Mama Ella's," was another obvious choice, Withers said.
"Ms. Ella Gray, she basically taught me love," Withers said. "And what I mean by 'she taught me love' is Ms. Ella ran a restaurant where she probably gave away more food than she sold."
After coming up with a few names important to himself, Withers reached out to some of his friends to help come up with a shortlist. Instead, Withers came away with over 120 names.
"Sadly, the month of February only has 28 days," he said.
Withers works at the Honda plant, alternating between the day and night shift every couple of weeks. For the past few days, he's has gotten into a routine of posting at around 4 a.m. before heading into work. As of Thursday, Withers already had several days' worth of posts queued up on a Word document.
"Once I put it up there, people are going to share, comment, congratulate them," Withers said. "They're going to share memories on the page or something like that. Because some people don't know how much effect they had on the Black community — and not only the Black community."
The Outlook has excerpted the posts made so far, courtesy of Orlando Withers:
Rev. Alfred Cooper
"Cooper was a community leader, educator and coach. He was committed to directing the youth on the right path and educating. The Cooper Rec Center wasn't only a place for sports, but also a place of knowledge. Each and every day you (received) a word of encouragement from Rev. Cooper. He was a father to the fatherless!"
Gwendolyn Darnell Coley
"Gwendolyn Darnell Coley was born in Alexander City to two grade school teachers, Grace Ellis Darnell and William Thomas Darnell, in April of 1941. Mrs. Coley taught 35-plus years in Alexander City (Schools) as a first-grade teacher and middle school counselor. She was devoted to encouraging kids to be proud of themselves and taught them self-love."
"Better known as Mama Ella, Ms. Gray was known (for) her ownership of the best soul food restaurant in Alex City, known as 'Mama Ella's.' She always greeted her guests with a smile and the nicest voice you could ever find. The difference from Mama Ella's restaurant and others was she always prepared food for the homeless, less fortunate, sick, and elders free of cost. She always asked the youth about how life and school was going."
"Ask anyone from Northside to Springhill if they have been influenced by Mrs. Geraldine Freeman (also affectionately known as Miss Freeman, Miss Geraldine or Mother Freeman) and their eyes light up. A lifelong citizen of Alexander City, Mrs. Freeman has made her mark; be it as a Head Start teacher or a Sunday School teacher, she has touched many lives."
Willie Carl Martin
"Some call him coach, Dad, Carl, but born and raised in Alexander City, Martin graduated from Laurel High School in 1969, just as integration was bringing about the merger of Alabama's white and Black high school athletic associations. He was one of three Black players chosen for the 1969 North-South All-Star game, the first minorities to receive that honor."
"Born December 17, 1956 in Alexander City, Alabama, (Poole) attended Benjamin Russell High School where he graduated (and) later attended University of Louisville to play running back. (In) 1979, Poole was drafted in the NFL draft by the Cincinnati Bengals (and) traded to the Denver Broncos. Poole also played in Canadian Football League. Poole has an athletic scholarship that he gives out each year."
Joe Ennis Berry
"Mr. Berry joined the military during World War II where he served both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force. One of his greatest honors came in 2014, as he became the first African American ever to be honored with the Legion of Honor Award, the highest award issued by the French Government for distinguished Military Service. In 1966, during a turbulent time of the civil rights movement where there (were) no Black officers in the South and few across the country, Mr. Berry joined the Alexander City Police force."
"Coach Hicks was well known within the community. He had a genuine love and concern for the people, especially his students and athletes. He had an excellent rapport with all people. We've all had teachers or coaches that were special to us in some way. But, the impact that Coach Hicks had upon those that knew him was remarkable."
"One of the most substantial things (Gamble) did (as Alexander City councilman) was have the gym at the Sportplex named after Mrs. Eva Fuller, who was asked to sell her land to create the Sportplex. He then became the first African American male to become a Tallapoosa County Commissioner. To this day, he is still helping his community whether it be a heart to heart conversation with the youth, employing those in need of work, or helping the elderly."
Beverly Pearson Price
"Beverly has devoted her life to educating the children of Tallapoosa County, starting out as a teacher at Horseshoe Bend School before becoming an administrator in Alexander City Schools. She has served in various administrative capacities for the last 18 years, being named the first Black female principal in Alexander City Schools in 2007 and now serves as the deputy superintendent of teaching and learning."
Audrey Michelle "Buffy" Colvin
"Buffy has been employed at Russell Medical since 1990 as a respiratory therapist. In 2016, Buffy was elected as city councilor for District 2, becoming the third Black female to serve on the council. In 2020, she retained her position and was chosen as council president, making her the first female and first Black person to be chosen as council president."
"(Boleware) attended the city's all-Black and only school for Black children in Alex City, Laurel High, where he was valedictorian, a member of the high school band playing multiple instruments and student council president. He served on the Alexander City Board of Education for 10 years and two years as president. (Boleware is) currently director of the Community Action Agency for Chambers, Tallapoosa and Coosa counties."
Houston Frank Ford Jr.
"Mr. Ford also in the United States Army. He later began working with the Alexander City school system, where he proudly served as an educator for 29 years. In addition, Mr. Ford became a serial entrepreneur of many businesses in the community, including the one and only Ford's Community Club. Mr. Ford was also known as 'Boss.'"
Calvin L. Broughton
"Mr. B. received a job offer to teach building construction at the Tallapoosa Area Vocational Center. Mr. B. became the second African American teacher to teach at the school. After the vocational school closed, Mr. B. took his program over to (Benjamin Russell). Mr. B. has held several community roles (including) the Alexander City Planning Commission and Habitat for Humanity board. His passion for education and helping others led him to direct students to enter post-secondary careers as well as becoming successful entrepreneurs."