Alabama Academy of Honor

Pelham Jones Merrill

The following biographical sketch was compiled at the time of induction into the Academy in 1978.

Pelham Jones Merrill, former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, was born in Heflin, Cleburne County, Alabama, December 1, 1907, the son of Lilla Belle (Jones) Merrill and Walter Benjamin Merrill, who was a lawyer, state legislator, and Judge of the Seventh Judicial Circuit.

He grew up in Heflin and graduated from high school there in 1922. He attended the University of Alabama and graduated from that institution at the age of 18. During the years from 1926 to 1931, Merrill taught and coached in the schools of West Blocton, Bibb County, and also taught in Bibb County Opportunity Schools, his job being that of teaching adults in the community to read and to write. While in Bibb County he organized the Civitan Club in West Blocton.

From 1931 to 1934 Merrill attended law school at the University of Alabama, working his way through, during the years of the Great Depression. Upon his graduation with a Bachelor of Laws degree, January 20, 1934, he returned to his home town of Heflin and entered into private law practice with E. Burns Parker.

Merrill served as Deputy Solicitor for Cleburne County, 1935-1942, and was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 1936 to fill the unexpired term of Edward B. Parker. In 1938 he was elected to the State Democratic Executive Committee from the Fifth Congressional District and served until 1942.

With the advent of World War II, Merrill volunteered for service in the Air Corps in June of 1942, entering active duty as a second lieutenant at Sheppard Field, Texas. He was discharged in February, 1946, with the rank of major, but he remained in the Air Force Reserve until he retured with the rank of colonel in 1967. Upon his retirement, he was awarded the Air Medal.

Following his discharge from the Air Corps, Merrill again was elected to represent Cleburne County in the Alabama House of Representatives and was again elected in 1950. Twice he was elected to serve the House as Speaker Pro-Tem. The press named him the "Most Resourceful Member" for the 1947 session and the "Most Effective Member" for the 1951 session. His legislative career came to an end when he was elected an associate justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 1952. He subsequently was re-elected in 1958, 1964, and 1970, for consecutive six-year terms, with his retirement occurring in 1976.

Judge Merrill was an outstanding Baptist layman in Cleburne, Bibb, and Tuscaloosa Counties, and in Montgomery, for the 45 years prior to his induction into the Academy. While a law student in Tuscaloosa he was ordained a deacon. He taught Sunday School or served as Sunday School superintendent for most of those 45 years. At the time of his induction, he was teaching the largest Sunday School class at First Baptist Church in Montgomery. In 1962 he addressed the Alabama State Baptist Convention.

In addition, he was a Mason, a member of the American Legion, the Exchange Club and the Lions Club. He had long been affiliated with the YMCA and its activities, serving as member and chairman of the Alabama YMCA Youth Legislature Board of Directors. He served on the Board of Directors of the Alabama Tuberculosis Association.

Judge Merrill was the author of numerous legal articles. His opinions were highly regarded by legal scholars. He was active in striving for improvement in the judicial system in Alabama. Among honors he received from those in his profession were the Dean's Award from the Law School of the University of Alabama, July,1976, and the Cumberland Order of Jurisprudence Award, September, 1976. Judge Merrill was a member of the American Bar Association, the Alabama Judicature Society, the Alabama State Bar, and the Alabama Law Institute.

Pelham Merrill married Gladys Morrison of West Blocton, August 21, 1936. He is now deceased.