Residents of Hobson City gathered on Friday for a Juneteenth “Black Towns Matter” celebration on Martin Luther King Drive in Hobson City.
A group of roughly 25 people, including Mayor Alberta McCrory, contributed in painting a street mural along the road, reading “Black towns matter” in red and yellow paint.
“What we did, which is part of a national public movement, is a public art that we are doing to build awareness about historically Black towns and settlements,” McCrory said. “We want to let people know that we exist and we want people to know the significance of our towns and we want to provide a platform for our towns to thrive as we continue to move forward.”
Geraldo Washington, a freelance artist from Anniston, worked with McCrory to organize the mural.
“Revitalizing the spirit of Juneteenth, by doing this, is an honor,” Washington said.
The June 19 Juneteenth holiday commemorates the anniversary of Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger’s 1865 reading of the Emancipation Proclamation to freed slaves in Galveston, Texas, among the last places to receive word of the presidential order.
Washington said that with ongoing division and hate, he wants the painting to “echo the great cry of Black lives matter.”
“We’re saying Black towns matter as well because we’re trying to rebuild the monies here,” he said. “If you’ve got businesses, place it here within your own city that way you can flourish it even more.”
Hobson City, the oldest Black municipality in the state, was founded in 1899 and named for Richard Pearson Hobson, a U.S. Navy veteran of the Spanish-American War.
With a population today of 761, according to census data, Hobson City began as a part of the town of Oxford called Mooree Quarter, but in the 1890s, Oxford’s white population sought to disrupt the influence of the predominantly black community over city elections.
In 1899, according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, Oxford’s mayor petitioned the state to redraw the city boundaries to exclude the section from the city of Oxford after a Black man was elected justice of peace. Afterward, the 125 Black citizens of the Mooree Quarter sent a petition to the county court to become what is now known as Hobson City.
“The only school, the historic Calhoun County Training School, in the town was developed as a Rosenwald school,” said Dorothy Walker, the Black Heritage Council liaison for the Alabama Historical Commission. “The Rosenwald School building burned and the new school was built in the 1940s. It served as the only high school for Black students in Calhoun County for many years. The school, listed in the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage, is now closed.”
Rosenwald schools were schools built in the United States with the support of Julius Rosenwald of Sears, Roebuck & Co. to help educate Black children in the South during the early 20th century.
Walker said the Black Heritage Council has been providing assistance to the town to preserve historic properties and the city’s archives.
“When you’re driving through Hobson City, you feel like you’re in a historic place and in a historic community,” she said. “The properties in the town are built into and blend into the historic landscape. The houses and churches in Hobson City reflect in their architecture and design, a close interdependent and self-sustaining community.”
Christopher Fantroy, a 24-year-old resident of Anniston, has aspirations to become a councilman in the future and said that he has extended family in Hobson City.
“I’m pretty much wanting to restore what was ours,” Fantroy said. “Putting back what’s rightfully supposed to be here: the stores, the restaurants, maybe a bank or two.”
Fantroy pointed out many of the economic struggles that Hobson City faces, including the fact that City Hall is located in the old C.E. Hanna Elementary School.
“We should have our own City Hall building,” he said. “We should be able to reach out to neighboring cities and actually say ‘Hey, we’ve got a slight issue. Could y’all do something for us?’ and not get turned down.”
Fantroy said his reason for helping to organize the event was to show the Hobson City community that he cares, a community that he said his extended family lives in.
“No, I didn’t particularly come up in Hobson City,” he said. “But, we played out here and to see the little stuff that we had left before everything was completely diminished, I still feel like I’m a part of this town.”
Many street murals have been painted around the country in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Many who associate with the movement have organized demonstrations nationwide in response to the death of George Floyd during an arrest by Minneapolis police on May 25.
“If that police officer can hold his knee on a Black man’s neck for nine minutes, we can get up and take care of our business,” Fantroy said.