When Barbara Howard arrives, things start happening. Like the “Energizer Bunny,” she just keeps on going.
Her background as a young activist in the Civil Rights Movement, along with community service involvement and work in the field of education, is only trumped by her sending four daughters through Tuskegee University and beyond as a single mother.
Then Howard decided it was time to move forward with her own education. She earned her B.S. degree from Faulkner University in 2003 when she was 54 years old. In 2009, she added a masters and is now working on her doctorate.
As office manager for the Department of Biology at Tuskegee University and serving as co-investigator and field coordinator for the Community Outreach component of the Morehouse School of Medicine/Tuskegee University/University of Alabama Comprehensive Research Partnership since 2004, her plate is full.
But Howard’s mother, the late Bertha Mae Davis Howard-Bray, told her a long time ago don’t just be on the membership list, do something.
Howard has followed that advice — and then some.
She currently serves as president of the Macon County Branch of the NAACP, is Area 2 Director of the Alabama Central District of Civitan (Club) International, and has been a member of the Macon County Democratic Executive Committee since 1986 — to list only a few of her activities.
She also makes time to play golf, with several trophies as a result, and follows NASCAR.
How does she do it all?
One of her close friends and fellow member of several organizations is Jacquelyn Carlisle, community news editor for The Tuskegee News and secretary of the local NAACP chapter.
“Barbara is a motivator who has the ability to delegate,” Carlisle said. “People look to her for leadership because she gets things done.”
It started at a young age for Howard, who grew up in Montgomery where she was born in 1949. Her grandfather, Prince Albert Howard, was the first registered black voter in his district in the 1940s.
Howard started school when she was only four years old and graduated from St. Jude Catholic School when she was 16. She was around some of the famous civil rights leaders who either lived in or visited Montgomery.
Her home was near the Montgomery Improvement Association office that led the Montgomery Bus Boycott under the direction of Martin Luther King with involvement of E.D. Nixon, Rosa Parks and other inspirational leaders.
Howard’s father, Prince Albert “P.A.” Howard Jr. owned a barber shop and his two brothers were proprietors of a funeral home and taxi cab company. Her mother was a beautician. Her family could afford for Howard to take piano lessons.
“My mother worked with Rosa Parks’ husband, Raymond, and was walking with Mr. Parks when he was told about Rosa Parks being arrested for not moving to the back of the bus,” Howard said.
Howard recalls seeing activists like Bernard LaFayette (who lives in Tuskegee), Walter Orange and James Bevel when she was young.
When the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March moved through the City of St. Jude, Howard was a senior at the school. She and her family members decided to leave classes in show of support for the marchers.
“My sister, Princella, was my role model and was about 18 months older than me. She had been appointed state youth coordinator for the march by Dr. King,” Howard said.
“I was suspended for leaving St. Jude for the march and it took an appeal to the monsignor to get back in school.”
Howard and another sister, Ruby, helped integrate lunch counters and movie theatres in Montgomery when they were in their teens. During the Montgomery Bus Boycott, when Howard was only five or six, she and Ruby would walk several miles back and forth for piano lessons at Alabama State because they wouldn’t get on a bus.
When she graduated high school, Howard worked briefly for the NAACP office in Montgomery in the same position once held by Rosa Parks.
While she was actively involved in efforts to make life better for blacks, Howard wanted to have children as soon as possible. She hoped to have twins and set a goal to have four children by the time she was 30.
She just didn’t expect the children to come so quickly. Daughter Khandi was born when Howard was 16 and Kami came along a year later when she was 17. Howard married the girls’ father, Robert James Fowler, who was a football star at Carver High School and headed to Mississippi Valley State on football scholarship.
Howard stayed behind to raise her two girls with the help of her family. She worked briefly as an associate editor for the Southern Courier newspaper in Montgomery out of the home of Virginia and Clifford Durr, celebrated liberal whites who supported civil rights causes. The paper folded and Howard moved on to work briefly the Montgomery law firm of Gray, Seay and Langford. Fred Gray was the young attorney for Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks who went on to become one of the top civil rights attorneys in the country. Gray’s main office is now in Tuskegee where he continues to practice.
Howard’s husband had some legal trouble while in Mississippi and suffered a gunshot wound that ended his athletic career. The marriage was off-and-on for years and the couple produced two more daughters, coming a year apart when Howard reached 31.
During that time she worked as worked as an administrative assistant to a dean at Auburn University. She also became the first black president of Dean Road School PTA in Auburn.
In 1975, Howard returned to Tuskegee to serve as administrative assistant to Dr. William Harvey in administrative services. Dr. Harvey left to become president of Hampton University and asked Howard to follow him there and work as his assistant.
“My husband didn’t want to go to Virginia, so I took an appointment in the Gov. Fob James’ Administration when he was a Democrat,” Howard said.
She returned to Tuskegee University in 2004 in her current position after a couple of years working for All-State Insurance.
Howard learned the ropes in administration for financial aid at Tuskegee, so much so she was able to find grants and other aid to help send her daughters through the University. She did the same for many other students, many who return to visit and thank her.
“I told a lot of students and parents, if you are poor enough, we can find some aid,” Howard said.
By this time Howard had divorced Flowers and was briefly married to a Tuskegee man in the late 1980s.
“The one thing I don’t give my daughters advice about is marriage,” said Howard with a smile.
She did give advice about getting an education — and they have responded accordingly.
Khandi Flowers, 44, lives in Atlanta. She has a B.S. in business and is a project manager for Fulton County. Kami, 43, is a resident of Conyers, Ga., where her husband, Orlando Tucker, is a pastor. She has undergraduate and masters’ degrees from TU in electrical engineering. She teachers in the school of engineering at Maynard Jackson High School in Atlanta.
Kheri, 32, and her husband, Lafrederick, have a house in Opelika and work with school systems in the Atlanta area. Lafrederick was a star football player at Tuskegee University from 1996 to 2000. Kheri’s undergrad degree from Tuskegee is in math and her master’s in math is from Auburn University. She’s with the School of Health Science and Research at South Atlanta High School.
Kimbaeli Flowers, 31, has a degree in psychology and master’s in instructional technology. She resides in Auburn and teaches at the Learning Tree, a private school for developmentally challenged children in Tallassee.
Her children’s unusual names come from the historic civil disobedience leader, Mahatma Gandhi from India.
“I changed the G to K with all my girls and ended their names with the letter “i.” I know it’s unusual, but it’s in tribute to a great leader,” Howard explained.
Howard said she talks with at least one of her children almost daily and visits with one of her daughters every weekend when her busy schedule permits.
“We are very close. I’m am very proud of all they have accomplished,” said the grandmother of seven.
“My daughters are my greatest achievement. I’m grateful they have been involved in the NAACP and other activities where they have lived. On weekends, Khandi is teaching computer classes at the Atlanta Women’s Day Shelter.”
Spoken like a proud mother who has sacrificed to make a better way for her children and one who has many reasons to enjoy Mother’s Day.
Barbara at a glance
Born: 1949 in Montgomery, age 61
Parents: Late Prince Albert “P.A.” Howard Jr. and Bertha Mae Davis Howard-Bray, both deceased
Marital Status: Single, previously married twice
Children: Khandi Flowers (44), Atlanta, Ga; Kami (Orlando) Tucker (43), Conyers, Ga.; Kheri (Lafrederick) Spence (32), Opelika and Atlanta, Ga.; Kimbalei Flowers (30), Auburn; Four grandchildren, three step-grandchildren.
Education: St. Jude High School (1965/at age 16); Faulkner University, B.S. in Management and Human Resources (2003); Master’s in Organization and Management from Capella University (2009); Working on doctorate from Capella University.
Professional Experience: Typist/Associate Editor, Southern Courier Newspaper, Montgomery, 1965-68; Legal Secretary (part-time), Gray, Seay and Langford Law Firm, Montgomery, 1968-70; Secretary, Office of Student Teaching, and Purchasing Assistant, Alabama State University, 1970-71; Administrative Assistant, Dean’s Office, School of Administration, Auburn University, 1971-75; Administrative Assistant, Office of Vice President for Administrative Services, Tuskegee University, 1975-79 (under Dr. William Harvey, current president of Hampton University);
Administrative Assistant, Gov. Fob James’ Office, Montgomery, 1979-81; Administrative Assistant, Office of Financial Aid Services, Tuskegee University, 1981-2000; All-State Insurance with Dee C. Madison, All-State Office, Auburn, 2000-2003; Office Manager in Department of Biology and co-investigator and field coordinator for the Community Outreach component of the Morehouse School of Medicine/Tuskegee University/University of Alabama Comprehensive Research Partnership, 2004-present. .
Community/Political Activities: Joined end of Selma to Montgomery March while student at St. Jude in 1963; Participated in integrating movie theatres and lunch counters in Montgomery as a teenager; First black president of Dean Road School PTA in Auburn, 1975; Staff representative Tuskegee Institute United Negro College Fund Campaign, 1978, 1984; Member SCLC, Tuskegee-Macon County Chapter, 1979-80; Member, PTA, Macon County Public Schools, 1975-89;
Advisory Board member, Macon County Head Start Program, 1982-86; Board member, Tuskegee-Macon County Chapter of American Red Cross, 1982-88, 1995-present; Founder and coordinator of Bertha D. Howard “Cross Connection” Bike Marathon annual charitable project, 1984-89; Co-Chair Hands Across Macon County to support Macon County Head Start Program, 1986;
Elected member of Macon County Democratic Executive Committee, 1986-present; Deputy Registrar, Macon County, 1986-89; Board member, Tuskegee Boys Club, 1987-89; Member, Tuskegee Chapter, NAACP and advisor, TU NAACP Chapter, 1988-present; Delegate from Third Congressional District in Alabama to the Democratic National Convention, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008; President, Tuskegee Branch, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, 1991-present, elected to national board in 1993; Macon County Coordinator for State Rep. Johnny Ford (1998-2003);
Chair of Macon County Democratic Executive Conference (1999-2001); President, Tuskegee-Macon County Branch of NAACP, 2009-10; Co-Founder and executive director of Paradise-Class Community Foundation; President of Tuskegee University Women’s League; Past president Tuskegee Civitan Club and currently serving as Area 2 Director of the Alabama Central District of Civitan International; Secretary of the Board of Trustees of the Montgomery County Farmers Service and Welfare Association, co-founded by her grandfather.
Vice President of Southern Courier Association of Washington, D.C.; Macon County Coordinator of Community Associates, Black Belt Community Foundation; Board member of Macon County River Region United Way Campaign; Member of the Taoists Rai Chi Society of Alabama, Tuskegee branch.
Candidate for Macon County Commission in 1988 and mayor of Tuskegee in 2000.
Hobbies: Playing golf and following NASCAR.