William Pettiford (1847–1914) was a minister and banker in Birmingham. He led the historic 16th Street Baptist Church for 10 years.
He was born Jan. 20, 1847, in Granville County, North Carolina, to William and Matilda Pettiford. His parents were free black people who owned a farm. He worked on the farm and had reading lessons on weekends.
When he was 10, his parents sold their land and moved to Person County, North Carolina. A tutor helped Pettiford with his education.
He converted to the Baptist faith on July 4, 1868, and was baptized the next month at Salisbury. He became a clerk at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church.
Pettiford married Mary Jane Farley in July 1869. They moved to Selma, Alabama, where he worked as a teacher and farmer. His wife died eight months after their marriage.
He then studied at the State Normal School at Marion. He married his second wife, Jennie Powell, in July 1873. She died the next year.
After becoming a principal in Uniontown, he resigned in 1877 to focus on his education. The next year he started teaching at the Selma Institute (later Selma University) and also studied theology.
He married Della Boyd of Selma in November 1880. They had three children. He was ordained at St. Philip Baptist Church in Selma.
He was pastor of 16th Street Baptist Church from 1883 to 1893. The church was organized in 1873. Pettiford was the fourth pastor.
When he began there, the church had 150 members and was $500 in debt. The next year he paid off the debt. A great fundraiser, he helped finance a $25,000 church building.
He established the Christian Aid Society to help sick members and to assist them in burial services. In 1887, he and other prominent black leaders started a technology school in Birmingham, the first school of its type in America. He became president of the Birmingham Ministerial Association and a member of the board of trustees at Selma University.
In 1890, he founded and became president of the Alabama Penny Savings Bank, Alabama’s first bank for black people. Three years later, he resigned as pastor of 16th Street Baptist Church. The bank prospered, but after his death, it failed.
Pettiford died Sept. 20, 1914. More than 3,000 people attended his funeral at 16th Street Baptist.
He is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Birmingham.
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