Tuskegee News february 9, 2012
Lee vs. Macon had a Major Impact on Andy Hornsby
Editor’s note: The following article is one in a series of stories about Tuskegee's rich history written by Auburn University students in Associate Professor Nan Fairley's feature writing class. The series will appear during February as part of Black History Month.
By BRIAN WOODHAM
On a Tuesday morning, someone discovered Sammy Younge near the bus station in Tuskegee, dead from a gunshot wound.
The night before, on Jan. 3, 1966, Younge sought to use a white-only bathroom at nearby Wilson’s Service Station, which had three bathrooms, one for men, one for women and one for private use by employees.
Younge and the gas station’s elderly night attendant, Marvin Segrest, found themselves in a standoff, with Segrest brandishing a pistol and Younge, allegedly, wielding a golf club retrieved from his car.
Whether on purpose or by accident, Segrest shot Younge, who fled to the area near the bus station where he was found dead the next day.
Andy Hornsby, son of Preston Hornsby, Macon County’s probate judge, slid out of his father’s office that day. From nearby steps, he watched as more than a thousand students, teachers and administrators from Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, marched in the city square in front of the courthouse.
“It was a spontaneous outburst in this march,” Hornsby said. “There was rock throwing, windows being broken. Students were angry, they were crying, they were upset.”
The situation almost took a turn for the worse that morning as black students made their way past Freeman’s Service Station, a different station owned by W.T. Wadsworth.
“There was a barber shop on the back where these white guys hung out. They armed themselves that day and they were kind of like protecting their business,” said Hornsby, who added that there were 10 to 12 armed men with guns drawn at the station.
“You could tell something was about to break loose. If one had thrown a rock through the window, he would easily have been shot,” Hornsby recalled.
With the guns about to blaze, two officers, Edward Stahlworth and Sgt. Willie Whitehead, appealed to Kyle Freeman to get everyone back inside the station.
“(Whitehead) said ‘Mr. Freeman, you all please just let us get these students out of here,’” Hornsby, who witnessed the confrontation, said.
The officers succeeded and diffused the situation.
But what impacted Hornsby the most that day was hearing the crowd sing “We Shall Overcome.”
“I had never heard a group sing “We Shall Overcome” with the emotion that they had in it,” he said. “I never forgot that. That moved me a lot.”
Hornsby cites hearing the demonstrators sing as one of the three experiences that caused him to shift away from his segregationist views.
“When I was in high school, I held the traditional segregationist views that were so prevalent at the time,” he said. “You know, when you’re in high school, you kind of want to be accepted by others and probably don’t form your own thoughts as much as you should.”
These views led to him speaking out against his father’s hiring in 1962 of Alabama’s first black deputy sheriff, James G. Charity, who had been trained at the FBI Academy in Virginia and was well-respected in the community among both whites and blacks because of his professionalism.
Once word filtered back to Preston Hornsby about his son’s speaking out, he called him into his office — a rarity according to Andy — and a second experience that pushed him toward a change in views.
“We sat down and he explained why he was going to hire a black deputy — the time had come and it was politically necessary,” said Andy Hornsby. “That had a profound impact on me, the fact that he called me in. He was a powerful man, the most powerful man in the county — and a very persuasive man. He just kept talking to me logically and straightforward.
“I said to myself when I left, ‘well, I said, he was right, and I’m not going to ever speak out against what he’s trying to do here. I’m going to support him.’”
Hornsby also credits becoming more of an independent thinker while he was a college student studying business administration at Auburn University for helping change his views.
It was while he was at Auburn that one of the most important racial integration showdowns in Alabama was taking place in his hometown of Tuskegee in Macon County.
In January of 1963, civil rights attorney Fred Gray filed the Lee v. Macon lawsuit in Federal Judge Frank Johnson’s court with the aim of desegregating the public schools in Macon County.
Johnson, for whom the federal courthouse in Montgomery is named, ordered the Macon County board to desegregate Tuskegee High School in a decision handed down Aug. 13, two weeks before school started on Sept. 2.
The ruling was anticipated by the county’s leaders, who advocated compliance and the peaceful integration of the school in the months leading up to the ruling.
Preston Hornsby, who was the county sheriff at the time, was one of the more liberal-minded people in Tuskegee who hoped to see integration come about without violence.
“To me, the Hornsby family — sort of like Fred Gray — represents an attempt to move things forward, but move things forward in a way Tuskegee could still hold together as a viable community,” said Wayne Flynt, a retired professor of Auburn University who has written books focusing on culture in the South.
The plan, according to Flynt and Hornsby, was to incrementally integrate the Macon County schools, slowly bringing more black students into the white school system.
Tuskegee and Macon County were ruled by the minority white community, even though residents of the city and county were predominately black.
The plan to slowly integrate the schools had no chance once Alabama Gov. George Wallace intervened, forcing the postponement of the school year at Tuskegee High by sending 200 state troopers, including a mounted posse from Selma, to encircle the school.
“Problems were going to crop up, but Wallace clearly made the situation untenable for the forces of desegregation,” said Robert Norrell, a history professor at the University of Tennessee whose book, “Reaping the Whirlwind,” recounts the civil rights movement in Tuskegee. “He usurped local authority. He demagogued the issue as much as he could.
“Hornsby and like-minded people were really trying to have a peaceful and successful desegregation of the schools. Wallace effectively made that impossible.”
Wallace usurped the authority of Preston Hornsby, whose daughter was set to be a senior at Tuskegee High that year.
“My dad was outraged,” Andy Hornsby said. “My dad was the chief law enforcement officer of the county. He should have been in charge of the enforcement of the law in that county that day.”
Preston led his daughter, and other teachers and students past the state troopers that day, according to Andy, but realized it was futile because of how few people had showed up.
With Wallace’s intervention, what could have been the slow, smooth integration of Tuskegee High roiled into an issue that split the community, prodded some white residents to move and sparked the creation of the all-white private school, Macon Academy, which Wallace even solicited funds for.
“In every community there were people of good will — white and black — who were trying to solve the problem, and what Wallace did is force a polarization that resulted in black agitation to immediately integrate all of the schools, no qualms, no regrets, no attempt at a middle way,” Flynt said.
“And on the other hand, you had whites who were then forced to say it’s either a segregated academy or a messy and immediate integration. So all the middle ground was simply swept away by Wallace.”
Andy Hornsby, now 68, has moved on since then, graduating from Auburn University in the 1968, running the Alabama Department of Human Resources under three governors and serving as head of the national Food Stamp Program under President George H.W. Bush. He is a former president of the Auburn Alumni Association.
Now retired from public service, Hornsby spends a lot of his time in the Tuskegee community, supporting the Tuskegee Human & Civil Rights Multicultural Center, Tuskegee University where he is a member of the Board of Trustees and the city’s economic development.
“In the last few years blacks and whites in Tuskegee and Macon County have realized that there’s no future for any of them without all of them,” Flynt said. “In the last few years, what has impressed me about Tuskegee is the fact that Andy and some other whites are now reaching back toward that community, which they love.
“I think what Andy realizes is that the history of Macon County, which is so conflicted, is now the best asset that Macon County has.”
The following are comments from the readers. In no way do they represent the views of thetuskegeenews.com.
Mike Jenkins wrote on Feb 26, 2012 7:06 PM:
" A very important point has been left out. Marvin. Segrest was quite elderly and at his trial, of which he was acquitted of Younge's murder,it came out that Y. came at him with a golf club. He fired his gun into the pavement and the bullet ricocheted up into Y.'s head. He ran around the bldg. and was found with the club under his body. There is more, but check the record. And give the whole story. "