Tullibody History Group

William Burns Paterson

His father was a gardener employed by the Abercromby family at Tullibody House. William had to leave school aged 12 to help support his siblings. Working with his father in the gardens his love of flowers began. By the age of 17 he had educated himself and was able to teach in public schools.

His ambition was to go to Africa like his hero David Livingston. Not being able to afford this he went to America in 1867, working his passage as a deck hand on a freighter to New York. After 3 years with a mail order company he set off to see America and worked his way round the country, finishing up in Alabama. While employed with a dredging crew on the Black Warrior River, William’s educational work began, when the Negro workers ask him to teach them to read and write.

After the abolition of slavery, ex-slaves wanted schooling but the Government had made no provision for their education. William set up a day school near Greensboro, Alabama and in 1871 he built a schoolhouse in Greensboro called Tullibody Academy for Negroes. William became President of Lincoln State Normal School in Marian, Alabama where he met and married the missionary teacher, Maggie Flack in 1779. They suffered threats from the Klu Klux Klan and when the school was destroyed by fire the campus moved in 1887 to Montgomery where the first Tullibody Hall was built. This school has grown into Alabama State University.

Dr Paterson’s birthday is still celebrated each year as Alabama State University Founder’s Day and his name lives on in the College of Arts and Sciences, housed in William Paterson Hall.

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