SCOTTSBORO, Ala. (WHNT) — In 1981, the mayor of Scottsboro, Ray Owens, declared that May 23rd will be forever known as Archie F. Stewart Day in Jackson County.
Stewart was a respected champion of civil rights at a time when the need for black leadership was great. On Wednesday, the City of Scottsboro celebrated his life of activism and courage.
At the age of 13 in 1931, Stewart regularly hopped on a horse and buggy to attend what is still considered by some the most explosive trial in American history. The Scottsboro Boys trial gripped newspaper headlines, as nine black boys were falsely accused of raping two white women in Jackson County.
The trial was a study point in Stewart’s journey to becoming an activist.
“He was really, really embedded in just the things that happened to these boys and probably because he was the same age as some of these boys,” said Tiajuana Cotton, the daughter of Stewart.
From that time, Stewart dedicated himself to becoming a powerful figure in Alabama’s civil rights history.
“He always looked for the good in people,” explained his grandson Kareem Battles. “It didn’t matter what political party you were affiliated with he didn’t care. If he could find common ground, he would work with you.”
Stewart was among the organizers of the Jackson County Voters League during the turbulent 1960s and was active in the NAACP. He was one of the original nine founders of the Alabama Democratic party and was the first and only among his race to serve as chairman of the zoning board for the city of Scottsboro.
“Mr. Archie Freeman Stewart, professionally known as Professor Stewart, was a man among men. Not only in Scottsboro, Alabama but wherever his interest and pioneering spirit led him,” said pastor and friend Gary Spears. “He could have lived anywhere in the world, yet he stayed here in the south in Scottsboro to help provide on which we built.”
Archie F. Stewart continued as an active champion of civil rights and integration in the state of Alabama until his death in 2005 at the age of 89.