MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --
When mentioning “the City of Douglassville,” many people think about Douglassville, Penn., or Douglasville, Ga. However, very few individuals are aware of the forgotten community of Douglassville in Alabama, an African American neighborhood historically located where Maxwell Air Force Base currently exists.
Dr. Mehmed Ali, Director of Academic Services at Air University, spearheaded the research to highlight Douglassville, Ala., as part of a series of research on forgotten African American communities. This research is a form of historic preservation to protect the legacy of these communities.
“I’ve always had an affinity for places that don’t exist anymore except in people’s memories,” Dr. Ali explained. “You can’t get in a time machine to travel, but through time, people, and reading documents, you can put the forgotten narrative back on the table for people to understand what was there.”
Douglassville, Ala., was an independent, thriving African-American neighborhood with small farms, restaurants, stores, churches, and many community organizations. It remained a self-sustaining community until 1910, when the Wright Brothers traveled to Montgomery looking for an area to set up an aviation school. This attracted aviation to Montgomery and eventually led to the formation of Maxwell AFB.
“Maxwell needed more land to be a full-fledged aviation school, and Douglassville was located right in the middle of the existing Maxwell field and additional plantation land that the government had purchased,” Dr. Ali explained. “In 1931, an eminent domain declaration spelled the end for the Douglassville community.”
Marsha Russell, the Air Force Culture and Language Center’s Education Student Support Division Lead, has a special interest in the historical preservation of Douglassville, as her family owned some of the land in that community.
“My interest in Douglassville derived from my grandmother talking to me about her upbringing and family. I wanted to learn where I came from and why I am the way that I am,” Russell explained. “My family was displaced when Douglassville was taken, so learning about this culture brings closure and peace to unknown family history.”
Russell connected with Dr. Ali through AFCLC faculty members to collaborate on research about the forgotten community of Douglassville.
“No matter where you go across the world, there’s always a great story. Douglassville was a great story that needed a little bit of spotlight,” Dr. Ali said. “People have connectivity to place. By highlighting these pieces of land, you can teach history.”