Old Stillman College Bus Discovered During Bike Ride
Have you ever been walking around a wooded area and come upon something old that you knew had to have been from many years before, possibly even decades? When you found it, you probably didn’t think anything about how dirty it was or anything else. You just knew that it was old and uncommon and that you had to show somebody.
That’s probably the same feeling Paul McCracken felt when he came upon this jewel during a recent bike ride.
Can't you just hear the sounds of the choir, singing during a trip to a performance? The harmonies of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" ring through the ears of your mind. You can see the various degrees of melanin and heights of afros one behind the other, the long legs extended into the aisles or tucked behind the seats in front of them as the basketball team traveled to face its opponents.
James A. Muhammad wrote:
This bus is not just a bus for the Stillmanites who rode on it. Many of the students who sat on this bus had limited exposure to certain aspects of the American experience prior to arriving at Stillman. This bus served as the conduit to a new mindset. It is the means by which they were given access to experiences that influenced them to dream bigger and reach higher. The Negro spirituals often speak of transportation as part of our spiritual journey. The spirituals speak of the "same train" that will carry us to heaven and the "chariot" we'll ride on in the morning. Funny how my father used to call this bus the chariot. It's incredible how something a simple as a bus can have such deep relevance.
And there the bus sits.... In an unidentified field in Samantha.
Reflections from Prof. William Henry Caldwell:
So many wonderful memories.The Stillman College bus represents a period in the history of the institution when Stillman was one of the most exclusive private Black Colleges in the nation with one of the largest endowments and operated with a board of trustees that included millionaires from Texas and from Tuscaloosa’s Gulf State paper company. During the out break of sickle cell anemia, the Stillman College bus provided transportation for Black people in the greater Tuscaloosa area to travel to testing sites. The Stillman bus also transported the athletic teams around the state and transported students to cheer and support basketball games as far away as Huntsville. The bus also transported students in the Upward Bound summer program and the Stillman Discovery program.The Stillman bus played a major role in the history of the school but its greatest role was that of transporting the famed Stillman College Choir with Professor James Arthur Williams, traveling throughout the country and especially in the great state of Texas. Stillman had a development office in Texas, and it was operated by Rev. Clark Williams. In 1973 which was my first tour with the choir, we traveled north east as far as Baltimore. Of course we travelled through Georgia and up through the Carolinas and Virginia. On that tour, the choir received a $50,000.00 gift for a performance in Roanoke Rapids. I can remember Prof. Williams excitement about the gift and his running back into the dressing rooms the choir had been assigned to break the news.In 1974 we travelled to Texas on tour and on that bus. The tour included stops in Brownsville Texas among other places. I think it was on that tour that the choir also travelled and performed in Monterey Mexico. In Mexico we sang at a Presbyterian Church, and some of us got to experience singing the Hallelujah Chorus on a mountain top with a local choir that sang it in Spanish. When we got back to the United States, the Stillman bus was waiting for us at the boarder, and we finished the tour. Yes, I can also recall the bus breaking down on our way to Houston for a concert at Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church in Houston. We sat on the road for hours until someone from that church chartered a bus for us and when we finally got to Houston, the audience was still there waiting on us. Mr. Williams changed the order of the program, and we opened with O Happy Day. Even though we were tired and exhausted we still set very high musical standards for the concert and brought down the house,but we knew it was not our best. We still got standing ovations of course.The choir tours were professionally organized and structured. This was before computers and cell phones. All the correspondence was done by hand, my hands. Lol. For most of our tours, Mr. Jenkins was the bus driver I think.We would always stack the singing risers on the back seat of the bus. I can recall traveling to Florida on tour with the choir on that bus as well. We sang at the First Presbyterian Church of Tampa and throughout the state of Florida. That bus made it possible for so many of us to travel the country in one of the greatest college choirs in the history of the college, state, and nation. Prof. James Arthur Williams was the first African American choral conductor at Stillman and Dr. Harold Stinson was the first African American Stillman College president. Stillman had a world class faculty of teachers with terminal degrees from major colleges and universities around the country and world. Prof. Lila LeVan Loadwick had degrees from the Juilliard School of Music. She accompanied the choir and taught piano and theory, and she always sat behind the bus driver on the bus on choir trips and tour. Prof. Williams sat on the opposite side but one seat back because he said he did not like watching the road and he would often sleep. Where was your seat on the bus? We used his brief case to play cards on thebus as we travelled on tour.I think we should arrange to save at least so portion thereof since the bus made it possible for us to achieve so much....Sounds like that Stillman Bus has lots of mileage. Wow. What are we going to do about it? That’s my challenge. It cannot rust in peace.
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