Death is not frightening, according to Birmingham Historical Society Trustee Wilhelmina Thomas, who leads tours through the historic Oak Hill Cemetery. She is among a number of volunteers who dress in period costumes and portray a deceased character buried there. Ms. Thomas brings to life the stories of Birmingham’s founders, politicians, and civil rights leaders. But she particularly likes to draw attention to the black elitists who are buried there as they are often overlooked in Birmingham’s history.
“The majority of the Black people in the cemetery were business owners, pastors, and started churches,” Wilhelmina explained. “When we’re looking at the Black people buried at Oak Hill, in the late 19th century, they’d have been the elitist. They were defined by the color of their skin and by how much money they had. The Black people who are buried there were very well educated, spoke more than one language, and were trying to build a community.”
In researching and telling the stories of residents buried there, Wilhelmina Thomas has become a compassionate voice of black history, and along with other volunteers, keeps Oak Hill residents ‘alive’.
Volunteers lead walking tours on the second Saturday of every month. Learn more and get tickets on Oak Hill’s website.
Steve Williams was a wonderful friend to Birmingham Historical Society and a contributing member prior to his death this month. Most recently he lent a photograph from his archive in Eufala for publication in our recent Shades Creek book. Over a period of many years he served as a Trustee, President, and Chairman of both the Finance and Investment Committees.
As President in 1980, he led the Society’s Trustees though a series of long-range planning sessions conducted by the heads of both the American Association of State and Local History and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. These sessions, held at Protective’s Headquarters, set the agenda of our institution for subsequent decades. The former resolved that the Society would not collect records, documents, and artifacts; the later that it would direct research, publishing, and educational efforts toward the preservation of historic landmarks and districts. The Society’s Finance Committee met in his offices at Protective. Here also, working with Steve, Trustees first formulated endowment policies, crafting guidelines for investment policy. This was cutting edge planning for non-profits in the mid1980s.
Steve also supported the younger trustees when we decided to renovate a historic house and move our offices to the Sloss Furnaces. One day he took me out to lunch and shopping … at the Protective Corporation surplus furniture warehouse. He told me I could have anything I wanted. I picked the burnt-orange covered conference chairs and table that we long enjoyed, quite a step up from our army-surplus office desks and chairs. Steve always encouraged us to write more about people. I think of him fondly when we do and it is deeply rewarding to recall and write about our association with him.