Gill honored with posthumous award

Published 7:13 pm Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pictured are Steve Rennings, Kristina Stewart Rennings, U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown and Mae Ida Gill Hawkins, daughter of Annie D. Gill.

On Sept. 23, Annie D. Gill was posthumously recognized and presented the prestigious Congressional Black Caucus Veterans’ Brain Trust award in Washington, D.C.


In attendance that night to accept the award in her honor was her daughter, Mae Ida Gill Hawkins, Kristina Stewart Rennings and Steve Rennings, the children of the late Dr. W.W. Rennings of Clanton.

Among the many figurative hats that Annie D. Gill wore throughout her lifetime, two hats stand out. One was a nurse’s hat that she wore for 42 years working with Dr. W.W. Rennings. She was one of several black women working in a professional office in Clanton even though she had to enter through the back door. This was during a time when blacks were not allowed to enter through the front door of any establishment in Clanton. Her home became an extension of Dr. Rennings’ office for friends and family who could not afford an office visit. They often came to her home to have their throats mopped and to get the “cure-all” penicillin shot. So, Annie became the unofficial doctor of her hometown community of West End.

It was during the Civil Rights era that she began to wear another hat that stands out prominently in her life story. She was a fierce advocate for justice and equality for blacks. Though she was not able to walk from Selma to Montgomery, she had her best friend Otto to drive her to Selma for the start of the march, then to Montgomery so she could be there when the other marchers arrived.

She had seven brothers and two sons who were all veterans. As an expression of her patriotism and to show support for veterans, she joined the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary. She was an active member with the American Legion Post No. 343 Clanton where she held several positions. She was a very active member of the VFW, Post No. 3193. She was also a member of several other organizations, too numerous to count in her community.

It was through talks with her brother, Sgt. Allie Cottrell (U.S. Army), and other older veterans that she began to research the history of African American soldiers during World War II. She also read the book “Blood for Dignity” by David Colley.

In 2003, after her daughters Mae and Becky listened to their uncle’s story about fighting on the front lines in WWII and never receiving his actual medals that were awarded to him, Annie D and her daughters contacted city leaders, the governor’s office, and other officials to get Sgt. Cottrell his medals.

In 2003, she and her daughters re-established the Association of the 2221 Negro Infantry Volunteers of World War II, a little known veteran’s organization that had ceased to function. Annie D. and her daughters worked tirelessly to bring several WWII veterans to a reunion in Alabama from as far away as California, Illinois, and New York.

Annie D. held various positions in the organization, and each year she and Georgia Hosecloth of Clanton, another active member, helped raised funds to finance several of the veterans’ trips to the reunions in Nashville, Tenn. and Washington, D.C. in 2008 to be honored at a reception by the Congressional Black Caucus Veterans Brain Trust. She was instrumental in helping her brother and other veterans to receive their medals and long overdue benefits.

Since she knew the importance of communication, she started a newsletter for the Association, which she produced until her health started to fail. However, even with failing health she never stopped working for the Association. Until her death in February 2011, she continued to call the remaining veterans every month and continued to send cards to them on their birthday and on all holidays. She was so happy to have lived to see the first African American president be elected. Her favorite pass time was playing Connect 4 and Wii bowling.