THOUSANDS of miles across the ocean, tributes to a "forgotten hero" from Tullibody can be found.

Born in the Wee County town in 1849, William Burns Paterson quickly became a pioneer when he emigrated to the US – helping to champion African American education.

One of nine children, he came from humble beginnings; his father worked as a Balman at Glenochil Distillery but died when William was young.

Leaving the local primary school with only three years education, he trained himself enough to be able to teach in Scottish schools.

However, he had other plans in mind and would go on to serve as Alabama State University's second president and is generally thought of as one of its founders, steering it through the challenging years of 1878-1915.

To this day, his contribution is still acknowledged in Alabama – founder's day is celebrated on his birthday, there is the Tullibody Fine Arts Center and a marker explaining his input – as is his link to Clacks.

In 1867, William left for America where he worked and travelled around all but five states, before arriving in Alabama in 1970.

He was employed as a construction supervisor in Greensboro, Hale County, and began teaching black workmen of the ditching crew during their lunch breaks.

He was soon asked to devote all of his time to education, establishing the Tullibody Academy, before being elected principal of the state school of Marion – Abraham Lincoln Normal School, which was started by nine former slaves – two years later.

Tireless in his pursuit, he steered the institution during an expansion, subsequent move and during a time in which it was difficult to get funding for a southern school dedicated to educating African Americans.

He worked to build interest and solicit pledges to allow a relocation to Montgomery and the school began operations in 1887.

Through the years, racial issues still raised their heads but – with support from the community and churches – William would continue to oversee what went on to become Alabama State University in 1969.

Chair of Tullibody History Group Christine Calder, which has information on William and other notable former residents at Tullibody Heritage Centre, within the civic centre, said he was a man who "bucked the odds".

She said: "I mean it was a no-no to teach Afro-Americans anything in these days; I mean it was the era of the slavery.

"So to teach Afro-Americans was just unheard of. But, he obviously had a passion to teach because he had actually started as a pupil teacher in Tullibody before he left to go to America.

"So he obviously had that ability and interest, and was obviously very keen to educate and bring up people to the same as white people.

"But it was quite a dangerous thing to do in those... 1800s with the Ku-Klux Klan being around, so it was very brave really."

She said he is one of the many "forgotten heroes" of the town and is an inspiration – showing that it doesn't matter what kind of background you come from.

She added: "I think, personally speaking, it shows children and young adults what can be achieved in life."

Former Tullibody resident Brian Mitchell, who grew up in Newbiggen Crescent, emigrated to the US 20 years ago.

After spending summers at a camp in Cincinnati, where he met his wife, he moved to Ohio and then relocated to Florida last year.

Visiting the historic spot has been on his to-do list, so when the opportunity arose recently he took a trip to see the campus and take a few pictures.

The 49-year-old said: "I have known about the link Alabama State University has to Tullibody for years. 

"I loved local history as a teen and I remember someone telling me about it back then, so I was well aware of the connection – I had to research the exact location though.

"I never really had a reason to make the huge drive from Ohio. Now that I am in Florida, I was planning a road trip with my son, Brennan, to Memphis and when I checked we saw that Montgomery was on the way.

"It was only a minor detour to go see the historical marker and the arts centre; I checked it all out on Google Earth so I knew exactly where I was going.

"It has been a bit of a bucket list thing for me, to see the only wee bit of Tullibody in the United States.

"There is another marker on Tullibody Drive to recognise the Montgomery bus boycott during the civil rights movement, which was planned at the university, so there is a bit of important USA history there."