Alabama Academy of Honor

Emory Cunningham

The following biographical sketch was compiled at the time of induction into the Academy in 1977.

Emory Cunningham, as president and publisher of the Progressive Farmer Company since 1968, led a former, small farm magazine publishing firm to become the dominant magazine and book-publishing business in the South.

Mr. Cunningham was born in Kansas, Alabama, on March 17, 1921. He graduated from Carbon Hill high School in 1938 and then entered Gulf Coast Junior College, Perkinston Mississippi, on a football scholarship. Following his military service as a navy pilot in the South Pacific in World War II, he entered Auburn University and graduated in 1948 with a B.S. degree in agriculture. He has also been granted honorary doctorates, Humane Letters from the University of Alabama and a Doctorate of Science from Auburn University.

In 1948 he joined the Progressive Farmer Company as an advertising salesman and in 1968 was elected president and chief executive officer of the company and its subsidiary organizations, all but one of which were organized under his direction. The Progressive Farmer Company now includes these divisions: Southern Living which emphasizes good living in today's South; Progressive Farmer now beginning its 92nd year of publication crusading for improved southern rural leadership, strong farm organizations, higher rural incomes, improved rural health facilities, and more economical crop and livestock production; and Decorating & Craft Ideas, the largest commercial printing operation between Atlanta and Dallas in the Mid-South; Oxmoor House, Inc., a book publishing and marketing division with 85 different books marketed in practically all states.

The success of the progressive Farmer Company has led to national, business-oriented assignments for its president in several fields, such as director, and for two terms president, of the Agricultural Publishers Association; director of the Adult Bureau of Circulations; director, Birmingham Trust National Bank; director, Discover America Travel Organizations; Board of Governors, International Insurance Seminars, Inc,; and director, Alabama Gas Corporation.

Mr. Cunningham has served numerous Birmingham cultural and civic groups in a variety of capacities, such as the Advisory Board, Salvation Army; Director and Executive committee of the Birmingham Area Chamber of Commerce; Advisory Board, University of Alabama in Birmingham where he is also a guest lecturer; Advisory Board, Boy Scouts of America; Chairman, Alabama Committee of the Newcomen Society in North America; Director, Birmingham Kiwanis Club; Board of Trustees, Birmingham Symphony; Board of Directors, Birmingham Museum of Art; and Board of Directors, Alabama Heart Association.

Honors and awards due to his activities in various business and civic endeavors have been received by Mr. Cunningham: The Discover America Travel Award in 1969-1970; Man of the Year for 1970, Birmingham Advertising Club; Emory Cunningham Day in Birmingham in 1972; Alumnus of the year and elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973 by the Gulf Coast Junior College; Man of the year in Service to Alabama Agriculture in 1975, Birmingham Area Chamber of Commerce; Man of the Year in Southern Advertising in 1976; South's Hall of Fame for the Living in 1976, Dixie Business Magazine; Magazine Publisher of the year for 1975, Magazine Publishers Association, New York City and the Kelley Mosely Environmental Award: 1996. He has also received membership in the Birmingham Bussiness Hall of Fame and the Agricultural Hall of Fame at Auburn University.

Long a strong advocate of business growth for the South, Mr. Cunningham and his company have been recognized for these efforts in the building of their new home office. They have received seven awards calling attention to the wide use of the South's natural beauties in creating new office facilities. These awards are as follows: Audubon Society Award, American Institute of Architects Award, American Institute of Steel Construction Award, American Institute of Steel Construction Award, Birmingham Beautification Board Gold Cup Award; Birmingham Architectural Orchid Award, American Institute of Architect Design Award.

Mr. Cunningham has led more agricultural leaders of the South on study-visits to foreign countries than any other Southerner. Among the countries where Southern farm leaders have reviewed agricultural practices are Russia, cotton growing and processing; Denmark, small farms; Belgium, horticulture; France, cotton packaging and marketing; England, livestock production; Switzerland, corn growing and livestock feeding; Italy, livestock feeding and general farms; Israel, cotton growing, community general farms, and wine yards; Egypt, cotton growing in Nine Delta Region; Ethiopia, general agriculture; Kenya, cotton and tea plantations and livestock production; Tanzania, conference with the world's agricultural leaders; and South Africa, large municipal farm where treated sewage water is used for irrigation and residue is used for fertilizer, and cattle breeding farms. In 1977 Mr. Cunningham accompanied more than 50 Southern farm leaders in a study-visit to Australia, New Zealand and the Orient, including the People's Republic of China.

He was married to the former Jeanne Loftis of Kentucky, Alabama, and they had four children: James, David, Sara, and Mary. They were active members of the Canterbury United Methodist Church where Mr. Cunningham was a teacher of an adult Sunday School class and a member of his church's administrative board.

Emory Cunninghaam died on January 24, 2000.