Keep Telling Your Story

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On Thursday, March 12, 2015, members of the Black Belt Treasures Book Club (Black Belt Book Bag) attended the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame Installation Ceremony on the Judson College campus in Marion, AL. As Alabama’s only college for women, Judson is the perfect home for the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame (AWHF). This was not the first installation ceremony I had attended. Actually, the first three times I attended were in March of 1977 – 1979 as a Judson College student. After graduating and moving back to Birmingham, I honestly thought little more about the AWHF events each spring. But in 1988, I returned to Judson to serve as an administrator, and for the next ten years each March, I along with Judson’s students, faculty, and staff, attended the Hall of Fame Installation Ceremonies. Without doing a little research, I cannot tell you the women who were installed during all of those years, however, each year the event was a true highlight for me. Why you may be wondering? Well, first of all the women being installed were shining examples of ordinary women who made extraordinary differences - in their communities and professions, as well as the lives of their friends and families. Secondly, the keynote speakers were inspirational; and finally, the individuals speaking about the contributions of the inductee’s lives consistently shared with great ardor. So, how could an ordinary woman aspiring to make a difference in her world not be inspired?

In many ways, last week’s ceremony was much the same as in the past. The speaker, The Honorable Terri Sewell, U. S. Representative for Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, gave an exceptionally, inspirational speech encouraging all in attendance to “tell your own stories” as proud Alabamians. She encouraged young women in the audience to be civic minded, to believe in themselves as natural born leaders and to strive to make a difference. She was a masterful speaker, sharing personal stories of growing up in Selma, Alabama, being a student in an integrated high school, and later at Princeton University. The audience was challenged intellectually and touched emotionally by her words.

The difference in this year’s installation for me was the fact that I had known personally the woman being installed – Alabama’s beloved Kathryn Tucker Windham. I will not claim to have been her close friend, although she always made me feel as if we had a long history of friendship. But in honesty, we were more acquaintances. I did not come to know her until she was well into her 80’s and I in my 40’s. I had heard of her all my life because of the books she had written. The first memory of meeting her was a steaming hot, summer day at her home in Selma. I was in the company of several others. The purpose of the visit was to capture her picture as well as that of her dear friend Charlie Lucas, “Tin Man”. The memory of that day will be one I cherish for the rest of my life. On that particular afternoon, I sat at the feet of “Miss” Kathryn, as Johnna Bush, portrait artist, snapped photos of her while she told stories, with Charlie standing at her right shoulder sculpting with wire. The photos taken that summer day would serve as Johnna’s inspiration as she painted the Black Belt Treasures signature portrait entitled, Celebrating our Black Belt Treasures. “Miss” Kathryn would later offer suggestions for the setting of the portrait to include the rich dark soil of the Black Belt with a little white church in the background.

Storytelling was such a part of “Miss” Kathryn that every conversation I ever had with her was mesmerizing. I have many more memories of this precious lady – the opening day of Black Belt Treasures, riding in the backseat of the car with her as we traveled to Birmingham for a ceremony to honor her, her visit to the Black Belt Treasures Gallery with her daughter, Dilcy Windham Hilley, an author visit and book signing at BBTCAC, and storytelling during a Folk Life Festival at BBTCAC on a cold, November day (when she refused to allow me to move her speaking venue inside), just to name a few. Then, there are the handwritten notes still tucked away in my desk drawer – replies of confirmation when she was asked to make speaking appearances, or notes of encouragement and appreciation for the work being accomplished through BBTCAC.

During the Installation Ceremony, as I listened to Deborah Rankins Tunstall, Assistant Director of the Alabama Southern Libraries, and the Kathryn Tucker Windham Library and Museum, and Norton Dill, Director of the 2004 documentary film, Kathryn: The Story of a Teller, I could envision the “Miss” Kathryn they spoke of so endearingly, and could hear her Southern voice spinning tales to include history, humor and emotion.

“Miss” Kathryn, a friend to so many, cared not the color of your skin nor your position in life. She approached every individual she encountered with respect and honesty – often times with great bluntness, but always with a genteel, Southern politeness. While we may have been more acquaintances than longtime friends, I was inspired by her in so many ways with the most important being to tell my stories and those of my family. I was blessed to have known her.

The installation of Kathryn Tucker Windham as a member of the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame is without a doubt the most significant of the ceremonies I have attended thus far. It was truly an honor to be among her family, friends and greatest fans celebrating her life and legacy.

A bronze plague bearing an inscription and her likeness, is located in the Hall of Fame Museum on the first floor of Asa Howard Bean Hall on the Judson College campus in Marion, Alabama. For more information, visit

Sulynn Creswell

Executive Director

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