Altamese Stroud-Hill has been an instrumental part of the College of Education for more than 31 years, primarily as the Word Processing Supervisor in the Learning Resources Center. The end of this year is also the end of era, as she unplugs her keyboard and retires to the familiar confines of Tuskegee, Alabama, where she was born on New Year’s Eve, 1956. In addition to seeing decades of change in the College, Stroud-Hill has seen cultural transformations both inside and outside of Haley Center and Auburn University.
“On both sides, my family goes back several generations in Macon County,” she said. “Along with my (at that time) two brothers, we just lived a country life with church and food and lots of pets and animals all around. But when I was five, my mother wanted us to have better opportunities, and moved us to Boston as part of the Great Migration. She was a strong believer in education, and I started school in Roxbury at the age of five.”
Altamese said there were good and bad sides in her rural-to-urban experience.
“I was definitely exposed to a larger international presence in Boston, since Tuskegee was basically just a farming community,” she said. “We lived in Dorchester and Roxbury, which were predominantly African-American communities, but we visited historic parts of the city many times. On the other hand, integration wasn’t much farther along in Massachusetts than it was in Alabama. In the first elementary school I attended, there were four of us in the 412-student school. In the second, there were 628 students, five of whom were black. And that included me and my two brothers!”
“For the most part, we were treated well while attending these schools. Of course, there were those who believed that whites were better and smarter than blacks, and they did their best to intimidate us. But because there were so few of us, they didn’t feel particularly threatened by our presence and mostly ignored us or pretended that we were part of the larger group.”
Altamese’s mother, meanwhile, was part of a local movement that was working to prevent mass numbers of African-American children from being bused into a condemned school, a plan which had been endorsed by the local school board.
“It was during that time that Martin Luther King, Jr. came to our home in Boston,” Altamese recalled. “Of course he knew Boston well, having graduated with his doctorate from Boston University just a few years before we arrived. And yes, even though I was young, I remember that visit very well. Why? I was scared at first because he wanted to talk to me and my brothers about how we felt! He was already well-known, having led the Bus Boycott in Montgomery and made his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech the previous year. But he wanted to talk to us. My impression of him at that time was that he was a quiet but determined person. Lots of people from the SCLC were with him in our house. Mom was always the person who thought education was the answer, probably because she had had second-rate opportunities. But that was a memorable day in my life.”
After that the family of eight (two adults and six children) returned to Macon County.
Back in Tuskegee, several leaders decided that the idea of ‘separate but equal’ schools and arbitrary voting rules were wrong. That was happening in Macon County, which led to many famous rulings by Judge Frank Johnson.
“As a result of these court cases, whites in Tuskegee essentially gave up on the town and moved to Auburn, Opelika, and Montgomery, and Tuskegee has been pretty much 100 percent black ever since then.”
Although fairness and justice were important to the young Altamese, she held no hatred in her heart.
“Throughout my life I’ve been exposed to all kinds of people and I really do not see color,” she said. “Not in my mind. I see people. If I meet you the first thing I think of is where you are from, not who are you and what you look like. But when Caucasians began pulling their kids out of schools and moving, it was demeaning. It wasn’t because the schools were bad, but just because we African Americans were there. But I cannot change what happened.”
Altamese graduated from Tuskegee Institute High School in 1974, along with her brother Irving (named for Irving Berlin), who was one of the more popular boys in the school. Altamese said in school she was always known as “Irving’s sister.”
“We really had a lot of bright students in my class, including Irving. It was a good school. I was alive with the love of learning and immediately began college at Tuskegee Institute (now University). I planned to be a veterinarian, but people said I’d be better in English. I went for two years and really enjoyed it, but we were very poor and I felt I had to drop out and go to work. We had a lot of love, and were very happy, but the cost was just so high. I went to work at a sewing factory in Tallassee, where the textile industry was still thriving in the South.”
She continued on in piece work and later was employed at a dry cleaners. But she soon heard about a manpower training program being held at Tuskegee. While attending that program (majoring in Clerical) she began working at an agency named SEASHA – the South East Alabama Self-Help Association.
“I was taking those clerical training classes and SEASHA called and said they needed clerical help in the office and to please send their best student. So that got me started on my first meaningful job. I was impressed with the mission of SEASHA — essentially the betterment of life in the African-American community. We had components for financing and building housing for low-income people in a 12-county area, along with a credit union and providing legal assistance. I was able to meet influential and inspiring people, such as Sophia Bracy Harris and Attorney Fred D. Gray; it was also good pay. But by this time, I was married with a son and a daughter. Looking to increase my pay, I put in applications to work at both Tuskegee and Auburn. I got a good offer at Auburn, so in 1986 I came to the first floor of Haley Center, where I began working in a clerical position for what is now the Department of Special Education, Rehabilitation, and Counseling. And I’ve been here in the College ever since.”
Coming in fresh, Altamese saw many ways she could help improve the organization and administration of her new department. Even as she thrived in SERC, she was recruited to become the Word Processing Supervisor in the Learning Resources Center (LRC), a position she took and has now held for 27 years.
“We’ve been in the same quadrant all that time, except for a brief period when the space was being renovated. Dr. Dan Wright was in charge of the LRC when I got there, but he soon retired and Dr. Susan Bannon came in. She and I have now worked well together for nearly 30 years. Dr. Bannon is one of the few people who were in the College when I started that are still here. Others include Professors Craig Darch, Joe Buckhalt, Randy Pipes, Marie Kraska, Bruce Gladden, and I believe Dave Pascoe. Many of them are now in Emeritus status or are about to retire. That’s a lot of institutional knowledge and memory between us all!”
In her time, Altamese has seen five different graphic designers come and go from the LRC, as well as five deans, and hundreds of faculty and staff.
“I love the fact that there are students who went to school here, that I knew well and worked with, who have come back, people like Peggy Shippen and Karen Rabren and Jason Bryant. I like knowing that several superintendents have gotten their doctorates here and now lead schools and state departments. There are so many good memories.”
“In all these years I’ve seen so many little pieces of the larger puzzle come together. And it all takes me back to the very beginning, remembering my mother emphasizing the importance of education for her children. I feel truly blessed to have been a part of this great movement and this great place. It will forever be a part of me.”
“But mostly I love our mission. We are training counselors, teachers, health care professionals, and researchers. That very much makes me feel a part of an ongoing cycle. People from all of the College’s units have come to me over the years. I’ve been able to know hundreds and hundreds of people here. I’ve helped so many graduate students with their dissertations. I’ve seen so much learning take place, which gives me a great glimpse into the world of education on both a theoretical and practical level. In all these years I’ve seen so many little pieces of the larger puzzle come together. And it all takes me back to the very beginning, remembering my mother emphasizing the importance of education for her children. I feel truly blessed to have been a part of this great movement and this great place. It will forever be a part of me.”