Montevallo mourns loss of Earl Cunningham

By Steven Calhoun/Staff Writer

The Montevallo community is mourning the loss of veteran, friend, student, mentor and active member of his community Dr. Earl Cunningham after he died at the age of 85 on April 1.

Cunningham received two bronze stars for his service in Korea and Vietnam, held six college degrees, participated in more than 30 civic organizations, served as a county commissioner and was a friendly face in Montevallo.

“He’s been a prominent figure in the city of Montevallo, especially in the African American community,” Shelby County NAACP president Kenneth Duke said. “He’s always been involved in local politics, dealing with the things that are going to help this community.”

Duke said he knew Cunningham all his life, and worked alongside him in the NAACP and in organizing Martin Luther King, Jr. events in Montevallo. He noted Cunningham’s active involvement in a multitude of organizations, his willingness to stand for what he believed and his determination to help others.

“He set a benchmark for our community, for a generation of individuals to step up,” Duke said. “He’ll help anybody. I didn’t ever ask him for anything … that he didn’t put forth his best effort to make happen.”

Cunningham was also active at Shiloh Baptist Church in Montevallo, where he was a deacon for 40 years, according to his close friend, the Rev. Albert Jones of Mt. Olive Baptist in Wilton.

“He was very involved in the community. We tried to get a street named after him because he was very energetic in helping young people,” Jones said. “He will be missed. We always called him the walking man. He had an automobile, but he liked to walk. You’d see him in McDonald’s or Jack’s. He’d always smile to people, shake people’s hands. Black, white, no matter who it was – he always was friendly to everybody.”

A result of his heart for young people, The Earl Cunningham Outreach and Education Scholarship Fund has given scholarships to high school seniors in Shelby, Bibb and Chilton counties for twelve years.

“He often came down to my church and helped me with the mentoring program. Some of those guys went to college, went on and did good. He was glad to see the fruit of his labor,” Jones said.

Cunningham once said, “If you ever have anything, pass it on to others.” The memories his close friends shared of him are evidence that he lived by this statement.

“He’s going to be missed, but I think he has a legacy he has left for us that will take a lifetime to fulfill ourselves,” Duke said.