African~Americans played a very significant role in the early history of Courtland. Most came as slaves from the older southern states to help clear the land, to plant crops of cotton and corn, and to serve as household domestics. President Thomas Jefferson's great~grandson, William S. Bankhead, brought his personal servant and valet, Jupiter, from Monticello when he settled near Courtland in the 1840s. Skilled slave craftsmen also assisted in constructing many Courtland buildings before the Civil War. After emancipation, most African~Americans earned their livelihood as tenants and small farmers.
Before being officially denied political participation by the state constitution of 1901, Courtland's African~American community produced the most successful local Republican party organization in North Alabama, on occasion uniting with area whites to create a biracial government. H. H. Stewart, a graduate of Williams College (Mass.), was an outstanding educational and political leader of the Courtland black community during this period. In the early 20th century, many Courtland area African~Americans migrated to the North and Upper Midwest to seek greater economic and social opportunity.