Here He Comes, The Candidate: We Like Ike and Lunch at the Birmingham Airport

Birmingham Airport postcard
The Birmingham Airport, where Margaret Sizemore Douglas got to chat with the candidate in 1952.

Last week everyone clamored to get tickets to Yellowhammer Media’s presidential candidate forum, held in the Wright Center.  While a number of political figures have traversed Samford’s quad (Joe Biden, Jimmy Carter, Mike Huckabee, Laura Bush, and Bill Clinton to name a few), a presidential forum has never been held on site.

On Wednesday morning September 3, 1952, Major Davis was in a similar predicament hoping to catch Dwight Eisenhower during his campaign stop in Birmingham. Unfortunately for Major Davis, he was not the only person trying to get a glimpse of the candidate. According to Birmingham police chief Charles Pierce and police commissioner Eugene Connor, 40,000-45,000 people crowded into Woodrow Wilson Park to hear Ike’s speech. An additional 75,000 Alabamians lined Eisenhower’s route from the airport to Woodrow Wilson Park.

Then Dean of Women, Margaret Sizemore Douglas recounted how the Major’s best laid plans didn’t fall into place, but her lunch date with Gene Kelser at the place to eat in Birmingham – the airport – proved very fruitful.

“Major Davis was a fan of Dwight Eisenhower. Eisenhower came to Birmingham before he was President. . . .  He was campaigning, but he made a stop down on the square in… Linn Park, which was then called Woodrow Wilson Park… [The Major] came by my office one day and he often did that just to sit and talk… he said, “I’m going down to Woodrow Wilson Park and hear Eisenhower – he’s running for President.  He’s going to be our next President, mark my words.”

I had appointment with Gene Kelser, who was [the Major’s] secretary, to go to lunch.  So I declined and he went by himself… Gene came by and I said, “Let’s go the airport for lunch.” That was the place to eat.  There was a Mrs. Willis… she had a beautiful tearoom, one wing there, and it was a very elegant place. Brides had parties there. You could go up in planes for 5 dollars with real aces…

So we went there for lunch and we were eating and just as we finished, the doors flew open and in came Eisenhower. Well, he didn’t know me from Adam. I said “You’re supposed to be at Woodrow Wilson Park,” and he said, “Well, I stepped out a little early to get out of the crowd, because my flight’s out here waiting for me.”  He sat down there and chatted with Gene Kelser and me and all his people of course, Secret Service, I guess.  But we had this nice chat with him and got back to school and told Major Davis, who had not even seen him. Oh, he was so upset with us!”

This past Saturday, several candidates continued the tradition of campaigning through Birmingham.  Hillary Clinton grabbed a cappuccino at Urban Standard while Marco Rubio came to our campus for a presidential forum.  Unlike 1952, students, faculty, and administration had the opportunity to attend the event in the Wright Center without the stress of running downtown during lunch, hunting for a parking spot, and navigating paths through crowds of people.  Samford’s abiding interest in shaping its students into global citizens had made the once small college into a stop on the campaign trail.  Although, I think we are all missing out on the $5 plane rides with real aces.

Sources:

Samford University, 160 Years: For God, For Learning, Forever  by Sean Flynt

Entre Nous, 1974

Margaret Sizemore Douglas interview by Susan Ray.

The Anniston Star. September 4, 1952.