By Paul Gattis

Oscar Montgomery, pastor at Union Hill Primitive Baptist Church in Huntsville, gets the first round of the COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 27, 2021.

The city of Huntsville, in a comment on its Facebook post about the event, defended criticism for the community leaders who received the shots without meeting criteria for those currently eligible under Alabama Department of Public Health guidelines.

“Today’s media event was a collaboration between the Department of Public Health and the Huntsville-area COVID-19 Leadership Team to demonstrate to the public, and particularly our minority community, that the vaccine is safe,” the city’s comment said in part. “The team waited until after healthcare and frontline personnel were vaccinated and the state was well into phase 1B for essential workers before scheduling today’s shot.”

An ADPH official was also present when the leaders were being vaccinated.

The message from Huntsville leaders Wednesday was clear and emphatic: Minority communities, particularly African Americans, need to get the COVID-19 vaccine regardless of a history that may stir feelings of hesitancy.

Mayor Tommy Battle as well as the pastors from four predominantly Black churches in the Rocket City rolled up their sleeves at the Madison County Health Department to get their first injection of the vaccine.

Leslie Pollard, president of Oakwood University – designated a Historical Black College and University in Huntsville – received his second round vaccination.

The community leaders all spoke briefly before receiving their shots.

“I believe in following the science,” said Oscar Montgomery, pastor of Union Hill Primitive Baptist Church. “We as the people in the African American community, in particular, has a history that’s not so positive when it comes to the medical efforts and studies in the United States of America. It’s vital and crucially important to our overall success to our efforts to overcome and bring an end to this COVID-19 crisis that we have participation from all segments of the community.”

That history Montgomery alluded to traces back to Tuskegee University in the 1960s when researchers withheld the cure for syphilis from Black people in Macon County suffering from the illness. As a result of what became known as the Tuskegee Experiment, many became disabled and died as a result.

“This is not Tuskegee,” said Troy Garner, pastor of The Fellowship of Faith Church. “This is something that is needed and necessary for the life of others.