Only a couple hundred people live in Colony, Alabama, but on a hot summer day in August, around 800 people are in town for an annual reunion and homecoming.
It’s everything you want from a Southern cookout. The adults sit back on fold-out chairs under tents, fanning themselves as they watch kids giggle their way through outdoor games at Vivian Allen park. All the while, enough hamburgers to feed an army sizzle away on the grill.
It’s Colony Day — a celebration to honor the town’s history as one of Alabama’s oldest Black communities — and longtime resident Inez Malcom looks forward to it each year.
Andrew Ward smoked ribs for 8 hours just for Colony Day in Colony, Alabama, Aug. 6, 2022. Ward also made homemade ice cream to share with the kids at the celebration.
“We really enjoy our community,” Malcom said. “A lot of people from different areas — they don’t believe that Black people live in Cullman County and we do. We coincide with everybody and everybody gets along.”
Residents say to live in “the Colony,” as they call it, is to embrace the simple life. Things are slow, kids play freely in the woods and neighbors always share with one another.
“Nobody in my community will ever go hungry because there’s always somebody that knows somebody,” Malcom said.
Other residents at the celebration said the same thing — that Colony was a family, and that the town is not only home to living history, but a testament to its residents’ own resilience.
Building a thriving community
Colony, Alabama has a current population of around 300. Residents say to live here is to embrace the simple life.
Colony was settled following the Civil War by formerly enslaved people in the mid-19th century on land that wasn’t known for being very fertile, Robert Davis, a history professor at Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, Alabama, said. Its infertility kept would-be white settlers away, meaning the town was largely left alone. As a result, it became a safe haven for Black people, Davis said.
Despite the odds, Black farmers were able to work their land, make money and eventually buy their plots. A majority of the town’s residents own the land they live on and it’s been passed down from generation to generation.
“African-Americans from all over the state would move to the Colony. It was like Harlem was to New York or Ensley was to Birmingham,” Davis said. “The black community in Cullman County owned more land than any other community. They had their own stores, their own mills, their own schools — the whole nine yards.”