County honors Carl Elliott
A general theme rang throughout the speeches made Sunday at the unveiling of the Carl Elliott historical marker at the Vina Community Center: Elliott was a man who loved his country and fought for the underdog or “the least of these.”
That phrase comes from the Bible, Matthew 25:40, a scripture that many speakers cited in reference to Elliott’s values.
Elliott, a Vina native and Vina High School graduate – valedictorian of his class – went on to become a lawyer and then a seven-term congressman.
In 1990 he became the first recipient of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for improving education and opposing racism. He published an autobiography titled “The Cost of Courage: The Journey of an American Congressman” in 1992. He passed away in 1999.
Friends, family and dignitaries were on hand Sunday for the historical marker unveiling. Many of them shared their thoughts on his life and legacy.
Longtime friend Mary Jolley spoke about an essay Elliott wrote titled “Advice for a Good Life,” in which he enumerated 10 points that reflected on those Biblical values: have compassion for the poor, educate the ignorant, feed the hungry, guide those who have lost their way, don’t kick a person who’s down, heal the wounded, love those who are less lovable, warm the cold, wash the dirty and water the thirsty.
“The values he learned in Vina carried him through his life,” Jolley said. “He had a deep love of country and a deep trust in the people that elected him. He believed the government was an instrument of leveling the playing field so that every person could have an equal chance at life.”
Elliott carried those values into his career as a lawyer and as a congressman, according to state Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow. Morrow shared his personal remembrances of Elliott from his time as a child, when his father would converse with Elliott about politics as he was getting ready to run for Congress for the first time in 1948.
“I am what I am today because of him,” Morrow said.
During Elliott’s time as a congressman, he accomplished many acts through that helped the people he dedicated his life to serving. He co-wrote the National Defense Education Act, which provided funding for American schools. He also developed the Library Services Act, which helped rural counties have access to public libraries through means such as bookmobiles.
According to friend Julian Butler, Elliott embodied the statement that a person needs to remember “where you came from, who sent you and why you’re here.” His works, Butler said, helped millions of people, not just in Alabama but across the nation.
“Carl Elliott impacted the history of the United States and the world because of the commitments he made to improve the lives of so many people,” said Secretary of State John Merrill.
Kreg Kennedy, field representative for Congressman Robert Aderholt, read a statement Aderholt made to the House of Representatives April 19 honoring Carl Elliott for his “dedication to public service” and being a “champion of universal education.”
Scotty Kennedy with the Red Bay Civitan Club and Red Bay Museum credited the success of the Red Bay oral history book and the Red Bay Museum to Elliott’s efforts, saying they wouldn’t have come to fruition without him.
The historical marker stands outside of Vina Town Hall and tells of Elliott’s background, his birthplace in Gober Ridge and his many achievements.