Alabama Academy of Honor

History of the Alabama Academy of Honor

The History of the Alabama Academy of Honor printed below was published in the Spring 1976 issue of The Alabama Historical Quarterly. C. J. Coley was a member of the initial nominating committee of the Academy of Honor, becoming a member in 1974. Until his death in 1997, at the age of 95, Judge Coley was deeply involved in Academy affairs, including service as its Secretary. He wrote many of the citations of new members, and his delivery was the high point of the induction ceremonies. The style and content of those citations were memorable and may be glimpsed by reading the History. Judge Coley was born in 1902 in Alexander City, Alabama. He attended the University of Alabama, but he was forced to withdraw before graduation on the death of his father. He was Probate Judge of Tallapoosa County for many years.

by C. J. Coley

On October 29, 1965, Act #15 of the special session of the Alabama Legislature became law creating the Alabama Academy of Honor. The legislation was designed to honor Living Alabamians who had made a significant contribution to the life and times of the State of Alabama and the Nation.

There were organizations in Alabama that had been in existence for a number of years for the purpose of paying tribute to outstanding citizens who had passed on to their reward. Until the Alabama Academy of Honor was created no such vehicle was in existence to pay signal commemoration to those still with us.

Dr. Emmett Bryan Carmichael, a native of Missouri and professor and chairman of the Department of Biochemistry, University of Alabama in Birmingham, was aware of a plan by the state of Missouri to honor living citizens of that state service to their fellowman. This group was known as the Missouri Academy of Squires. Dr. Carmichael, a citizen of Alabama for a good many years, was an educator of note possessing more than a passing interest in the affairs of his adopted state. He thought long and seriously about proposing a project in Alabama that would establish something similar to the Missouri Academy of Squires. Under date of March 10, 1965, Dr. Carmichael sent Governor George C. Wallace of Alabama a letter suggesting that some means of publicly acknowledging the services of those Alabama citizens whose efforts for the public good had been particularly meritorious be established by legislative edict. The Governor exhibited an interest in this recommendation and action began to be in evidence.

At the time Dr. Carmichael to communicate with Governor Wallace about a proposed Alabama Academy of Honor, the Governor became quite busy in national affairs organizing and promoting his campaign for the presidency of the United States, and as a consequence the Academy of Honor proposal did not germinate for a while. Governor Wallace was succeeded as Chief Executive of the State by his wife, Governor Lurleen Wallace. Dr. Carmichael initiated correspondence with Governor Lurleen Wallace asking that she activate the project of the Alabama Academy of Honor, and requesting that she appoint a committee to choose the first class to be so honored. After a short time in office, Governor Lurleen Wallace became ill, and was unable to give the leadership needed in the Governor's office. In the course of a few months she died.

Dr. Emmet B. Carmichael has a great deal of that stubbornness about his makeup that we hear is a characteristic of the Missouri mule. In his pleasant but determined way, Dr. Carmichael would not be denied. When Lt. Governor Albert Brewer succeeded to the governor's office Dr. Carmichael began to communicate with him relative to the dormant legislation titled the "Alabama Academy of Honor," which was in dire need of revitalizing. Governor Brewer set to work to fulfill the intent of the Alabama Legislature purporting to honor Alabamians who had invested time, thought, effort and means "above and beyond the call of duty", striving to create a better place in which to live for the people of this state.

The legislation that established the Alabama Academy of Honor is located here.

The committee to nominate the first inductees into the Alabama Academy of Honor was named by Governor Albert Brewer. They were sixteen in number: Henri Aldridge and Bill Hearn of Mobile; Bob Inman of Montgomery; Jake Merrill of Andalusia; Dr. Harry Philpott of Auburn; Judge C. J. Coley of Alexander City; Dr. Walter Graham of Wadley; Carl C. Morgan of Selma; Dr. Herbert Goldstein of Bessemer; Col. Paul Robinson of Marion; Dr. Emmett B. Carmichael and Duard LeGrand of Birmingham; A. P. Reich of Gadsden; Mrs. James Britain of Jasper; Mrs. Houston Glover of Huntsville; and Howell Heflin of Tuscumbia.

On October 25, 1968, at the request of Governor Brewer, the nominating committee met with the chairman, Dr. Emmett B. Carmichael, at the State Capitol of Montgomery. After long and careful study the following distinguished Alabama citizens were chosen to be inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor as the first class. They were: Governor Albert P. Brewer; former governors, George C. Wallace, John Patterson and James E. Folsom; U.S. Senators Lister Hill and John Sparkman. The others were: Mrs. Bertha Smolian, philanthropist of Birmingham; Dr. Frank A. Rose, President of the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa; Frank P. Samford, President of Liberty National Life Insurance Company of Birmingham; Paul W. Bryant, head football coach University of Alabama; Winton Blount, Postmaster General of the United States; Dr. A. G. Gaston, industrialist of Birmingham; Dr. Wernher von Braun, Space Scientist of Huntsville; and Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, Chief of U.S. Naval Operations. Former Governor John Patterson was chosen Chairman of the Alabama Academy of Honor, and Milo B. Howard, Jr., Director Alabama Department of Archives and History, was selected Secretary. The first induction ceremonies were held in the chambers of the Alabama House of Representatives in Montgomery on August 25, 1969, beginning at 11:00 a.m. The Master of Ceremonies for the 1969 class was Dr. Emmett Bryan Carmichael. Among the comments made by the Master of Ceremonies at this impressive affair, was "The Alabama Academy of Honor is the only organization which has been approved by the State Legislature and which recognized excellence of performance by Alabama citizens in all walks of life." U.S. Senator Lister Hill made a response for members of the 1969 class, and in his comments told something of significant work done by each inductee on behalf of the state of Alabama.

Milo B. Howard, Jr., Director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, and acting Secretary for the Alabama Academy of Honor, read the citation quoted below for each nominee and a certificate was presented to each by Dr. Carmichael.

The citation read:

"To bestow honor and recognition upon living Alabamians for their outstanding accomplishments and service, the Alabama Academy of Honor was created by the State Legislature on October 29, 1965. Each person elected to membership is a distinguished citizen of Alabama, chosen for accomplishment or service greatly benefitting or reflecting great credit on the state."

After the ceremonies attended by members of the inductees families, friends and others, the inductees and members of their families attended a delightful luncheon at the Whitley Hotel in Montgomery.

During the formative days of the Alabama Academy of Honor, Dr. Emmett B. Carmichael was vigorously pursuing the dream that had possessed his mind for many months. Among those he communicated with was Ed Ewig, Secretary to Governor George Wallace, on August 9, 1965, and August 12, 1965. On September 3 and October 7, 1965, he was in communication with Representative Malcom Bethea of Jefferson County. Senator Lawrence Dumas, Jr., of Jefferson County was the object of Dr. Carmichael's urgings on May 16, 1967, and on August 9, 1968.

Matters were beginning to take shape in a very definite way in 1968, and on August 21 of that year Governor Brewer wrote Dr. Carmichael that he was appointing a committee to nominate the inductees for the class of 1969. Howell Heflin of Tuscumbia, Alabama, was appointed sub-chairman of a group to enact rules and procedures for the election of persons to be so honored. This having been done, the machinery was oiled and in running condition so that the Alabama Academy of Honor could be a going concern and elections continue until such group consisted of 100 living members.

It is a matter of record that only one person has ever declined the honor of being elected to the Alabama Academy of Honor, and that person was Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Hugo L. Black. Justice Black, in declining the invitation, wrote that upon his elevation to the U.S. Supreme Court he made a vow that he would not accept honors, memberships on committees, or other activities of this nature throughout his Supreme Court career and though he deemed ita great honor to be so selected he could not make an exception in this case of the Academy of Honors.

In the course of time former Governor John Patterson, Chairman, and Milo B. Howard, Jr., Secretary of the Alabama Academy of Honor, began preparations for choosing the next class. After recommendations had been received ballots were prepared and sent to the existing members of the Alabama Academy of Honor. As a result of this voting five prominent Alabamians were selected. They were: Dr. Tinsley R. Harrison, nationally renowned heart specialist at the University of Alabama in Birmingham; head coach J. Ralph Jordan of Auburn University, recognized as a leader of national scope in his field; General John C. Persons of Birmingham, soldier, financier and civic leader; Dr. Harry M. Philpott, President of Auburn University, a leader in the field of education and religion; and Albert M. Rains, former Alabama Congressman, who had contributed greatly in the legislative councils of our nation.

Due to delays of various kinds, the second class of the Alabama Academy of Honor was not inducted until May 30, 1972. At this meeting, held in the chamber of the Alabama House of Representatives at Montgomery, Dr. Robert Strong, of the First Presbyterian Church of Montgomery, gave the invocation, and the Honorable Albert Rains made the response for the class of 1972.

Milo B. Howard, Jr., read the citations for which the five distinguished Alabamians had been so recognized, and former Governor John Patterson, representing Governor George Wallace, presented the certificates. The luncheon for the inductees, members of their families, current members and others, was held at the Whitley Hotel.

The third class of the Alabama Academy of Honor induction ceremonies were held in the chamber of the House of Representatives at the State Capitol in Montgomery on September 17, 1973. Nine persons had been tapped for this signal honor. This Monday morning meeting was filled with anticipation by the nominees, their loved ones, friends and neighbors, as well as a number of interested persons from all walks of life. The decision exercised in choosing the nominees was difficult because of the prominent Alabamians who had been suggested for such an honor. Nine worthy person had been selected and seven were present for the impressive affair. One had died since being elected and another was prevented from being present because of the death of a near relative in his wife's family.

The nine persons inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor on this occasion were Emmett Bryan Carmichael, a biochemist in the field of higher education; Paul Grist of Selma, who had made an outstanding record as a leader of youth; Forest David Mathews, President of the University of Alabama; Thomas Dameron Russell, an Alexander City industrialist and philanthropist; Frank Edward Spain, attorney, businessman, and philanthropist of Birmingham; Mervyn Hayden Sterne of Birmingham, investment banker and philanthropist (Mr. Sterne had died prior to the ceremony.); Ernest Stone, President of Jacksonville State University; Joseph F. Volker, President of the University of Alabama in Birmingham; Leslie Stephen Wright, President of Samford University (Dr. Wright was unable to attend because of the death of a close relative of his wife.).

Former Governor John M. Patterson, Chairman of Alabama Academy of Honor, presided at the meeting. The invocation was offered by the Reverend Charles H. Douglass, Rector of St. John's Episcopal Church, Montgomery. Milo B. Howard, Jr., Secretary of Alabama Academy of Honor, read the citations and Governor George Wallace presented the certificates.

Following the induction ceremonies in the Chamber of the House of Representatives the honorees and members of their immediate families together with current members of the Academy, were guests of Governor and Mrs. George C. Wallace at the Governor's Mansion for a delightful and delicious luncheon.

This being the third class of the Alabama Academy of Honor more and more attention was being accorded this affair by the news media of the state. There were greater numbers of photographers, news reporters, and representatives of television and radio on hand. There was wide reporting of the selectees and what contribution each had made to their fellow man in the State of Alabama and throughout the Nation. One could see the evidence of more editorials commending the various inductees for the services they had rendered to make the state of Alabama a better place in which to live.

Former Governor John Patterson as chairman, and Milo B. Howard, Jr., as secretary of the Academy have done yeoman service since the first operational days and these two gentlemen, together with former U.S. Senator Lister Hill and Dr. Carmichael, have been willing to count ballots and prepare statements for the news media as to who the nominees are and what contributions they have made. It should be recorded here that Milo Howard and the Department of Archives and History of Alabama have been the vehicle through which much of the work has been channeled.

With the third class of the Alabama Academy of Honor now history, it became necessary to begin work for the fourth class of this prestigious organization. In earl August 1974, announcements were forthcoming from the Alabama Academy of Honor that ten people had been chosen to be inducted into this select group. They would be honored for services they rendered to their fellow man in Alabama and elsewhere. Again, the meeting place for the induction ceremonies was the chamber of chamber of the House of Representatives at the State Capitol in Montgomery. The meeting began at 11:00 in the morning with the Honorable John M. Patterson presiding. The invocation was given by the Reverend Father Francis Cusack. Milo B. Howard, Jr., secretary, read the citations and Governor Wallace presented the certificates. Remarks were offered by Dr. David Matthews, President of the University of Alabama and a member of the Academy of Honor. Judge C. J. Coley responded for the members of the class of 1974. Those of the 1974 class inducted on this auspicious occasion were Clinton Jackson Coley, Alexander City Banker, civic leader, and historian; Donald Comer, Jr., President of Avondale Mills, financier and industrialist; Luther H. Foster, President of Tuskegee Institute; Howell Thomas Heflin, of Tuscumbia, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama and advocate of judicial reform in this state; Samuel Richardson Hill, Jr., Vice-President for Health Affairs, University of Alabama Medical Center, Birmingham, a proponent of extended health services in this state (Dr. Hill was unable to be present as he was out of the country at the time); John Webster Kirkland, world renowned vascular surgeon and teacher at the University of Alabama School of Medicine in Birmingham; Thomas Seay Lawson, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama and a leader in the field of higher education of this state; J. Craig Smith, Chairman of the Board of Avondale Mills, leader in the field of textiles and a fighter for good government; Hudson Strode, author, University of Alabama Journalism teacher and world traveler (Dr. Strode was unable to be present because of illness); and Luther Leondias Terry, former Surgeon General of the United States, renowned physician and surgeon and leader in world health organizations.

September 8, 1975, was the date set for the induction of the Fifth Class of the Alabama Academy of Honor. The ten person chosen for this honor were selected from a large number of nominees who had distinguished themselves in many ways.

Eleven o'clock was the hour set for the installation ceremony held in the chamber of the House of Representatives and presided over by former Governor John Patterson. Dr. Emmett B. Carmichael acted as secretary, inasmuch as Milo B. Howard, Jr., was one of the inductees on this occasion. Mr. Howard has served as Secretary at the four previous ceremonies. There was wide spread interest in the choice of the ten distinguished Alabamians whose careers had been marked by notable achievements and who well deserved recognition.

Governor George C. Wallace entered the chamber promtly at eleven o'clock. The large number of people present stood and applauded. The Revered Albert D. Perkins, III, curate of St. John's Episcopal Church, Montgomery, gave the invocation. The Honorable John Patterson continued the meeting with a warm welcome and introduced Alabama Supreme Court Justice Thomas S. Lawson, who offered pertinent comments defining the purpose of the Alabama Academy of Honor. He spoke representing the membership of the Academy.

The press, radio, and television were well represented. Dr. Carmichael read the citations and Governor Wallace presented the plaques to: Rucker Agee, Birmingham investment banker, historian, and civil leader; James Browning Allen, junior United States Senator from Alabama, and long time worker for good government; Joseph Linyer Bedsole of Mobile, industrialist and philanthrophist; Ben Screws Gilmer, of Atlanta, Georgia, communications executive, civic leader, and churchman; Milo Barrett Howard, Jr., historian, author, and churchman; Charles D. McCallum, Jr., dental school dean and physician, teacher and author; Earl Mason McGowin, business executive and political leader; Julia Waker Russell, educator and philanthropist; William James Rushton, soldier, business executive and churchman.

After the last inductee was presented Chairman Patterson introduced Mrs. Julia Walker Russell of Alexander City, who offered observations as to the responsibilities of the ten person who had been admitted to membership. Her words were well chosen and meaningful.

After the benediction by Reverend Perkins all the members of the Alabama Academy of Honor present, together with members of their immediate families went to the Governor's Mansion to accept the hospitality of Governor and Mrs. Wallace for a delicious luncheon.

This concluded another memorable chapter in the history of the Alabama Academy of Honor.