HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Beulah Toney has lived in Huntsville all her life. Born on November 13, 1935, in a home on County Line Road, Beulah with the ninth of 11 children. But that doesn't mean she doesn't know what it means to be first. Toney was the first Black woman in Madison County to be on the Board of Registrars.
Going through the pictures in her personal collection is like going through a timeline of Huntsville and Madison County firsts. "...Of the first expo we had, with my daughters and myself, and Dr. [Richard] Showers," she recalls as she shares her reminiscences. "This is the guy here that spoke... and Dr. [George] Grayson."
Beulah started school at St. Andrews Church, and would later attend a school in New Hope, then Trinity High School, the only Black school in Limestone County.
She would briefly attend Alabama A&M, but would drop out because she couldn't afford tuition. Toney would then work at the now-defunct Intertech Research Service as an accountant clerk.
"I did the payroll, and they paid the white clerk; they paid me lower salary," she remembers.
"When I became 21 years old I registered to vote," she said. "I had to read the Constitution of the United States, recite the [Preamble] and sear that I was a citizen with my right hand held up in the air."
Patriotism and her responsibility as a citizen grew within Beulah. She participated in sit-ins at the Huntsville Woolworth store in the 1960s during the burgeoning civil rights movement. That experience, she said, gave her the push she needed to register more people to vote.
"When George Wallace... I'll never forget it," she said, "stood in the door at the University of Alabama and said 'Segregation now, segregation forever,' that's when we really started moving."
It jumpstarted a dedication of more than 50 years to public service.
"When I was over the Board of Registrars, I registered voters," Toney said. "When I had a problem at the poll, I went to the poll and corrected. They tell me today how they miss me."
Toney says she realizes the fight hasn't stopped in the modern political climate.
"That has been my main cause, to bring this generation up above what I came through," she said. "I don't want them to fall back; I want them to continue to move up. We are the foot soldiers for them. We want them to work hard, work smart, and make sure they move up."
Toney has her 'Beulah Ballard Toney Scholarship' program that she's been running since 2016.