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.

Honoring Samford’s Veterans

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(Samford paid tribute to the faculty, staff, and students who served our nation in the armed forces in the dedication of the 1948 Entre Nous.)

Samford has a rich history of military participation. At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Howard College president Henry Talbird and many Howard students left Marion, AL, to organize a regiment of Independent Volunteers in 1861.   Future Howard President Harwell Goodwin Davis, along with many other Howard faculty members, served in WWI, where he was promoted to Major, wounded in action, and received a citation for gallantry. Later during WWII, “The Major,” recognizing the needs of the struggling Howard College, invited the Navy to host a V-12 training unit at Howard’s East Lake campus, which ultimately played a huge role in saving the struggling school. Countless men and women from Samford’s ranks have proudly worn the uniforms of our nation’s armed forces, and many continue to do so today.

Several Crimson articles paid tribute to those who served, like the following article that listed the Howard men (and women) in uniform:

Howard Men are Doing Their Share for Freedom 

Ex-football Stars, Profs, Crimson Editors—They’re Fightin’ All Over the World.

From the Solomons to Suez – from Africa to Australia – and right here in the good ol’ U.S.A., Howard men and women are showing the world how to fight for freedom. They’re everywhere in every phase of the war effort, doing their share and more. Ex-football stars, professors, pharmacists, doctors, chaplains, public relations officers, physical instructors – battling the Japanese in the jungles of New Guinea, dueling the Germans over the African desert, teaching physical fitness to future aviators in Texas. Here are som [sic] typical Howard men who are serving:

  • (jg) Ernest H. Dunlap of the U.S. Navy, wounded in action and awarded the Navy Cross.
  • James Stuart (Coach Jim to you) physical instructor at the Naval Reserve Air Base in Dallas, Texas.
  • Amasa B. Wingham, director of public relations for the Navy in Alabama.
  • Osce M. Bentley, an “All-Southern” drum major and a campus tradition, in the Naval Reserve.
  • Josiah Bancroft, died in service of the U.S. Army Medical Corps.
  • Ensign Olivia Philabert, only Howard girl in uniform. She’s in the WAVES…

– Howard Crimson, December 4, 1942

One Howard student, who preferred to write under the initials H.R.L., put everything in perspective in a touching opinion piece for the Crimson.  For Thanksgiving 1941, he or she reminded fellow Howard students just how much they had to be thankful for because of the bravery of every American soldier:

Alabama’s Hills Are Beautiful With No Machine Guns to Mar the Foliage

Howard’s campus and the mountains around East Lake are in the height of one of their full dress parade. The Beacon Mountains toward the east with its beautiful array of fall colors was a scenic background for the Howard-‘Nooga game last Friday evening. Many times during the game our eyes would wander from the field where boys in red and blue and yellow and black were fighting for possession of the ball and gaze at nature’s colors across the way. To our left was stately Main, standing in all her lofty whiteness against a background of a setting sun.

Due, perhaps, to the fact that we have had a few frosty nights followed by balmy days, the colors of the leaves are blended with a skill more than human. The roads out of Birmingham are bordered by trees of reds and yellows and browns and appear to have been planned to mix most effectively with the dark green of the pines.

It is not unusual for us to forget to see and enjoy the little things of beauty about us, but when out most inward thoughts and feelings are wrapped up with our personal problems, we find a release when we turn them outward and view the handywork of Mother Nature’s brush.  During this season in which we give thanks for a harvest of blessings, we think of fields beyond these seas that yield little but broken plows and bodies of men. We know not what another Thanksgiving may be like, but whatever the coming days may have in store for us, we hope we may still be alive to give thanks. The hearts of men in other lands may be slow to give thanks this year, but but here where our roads are not filled with fleeing women and children and aged fathers; where our barns and bins and warehouses are stored with the harvest of the year; where we can look at the colors of nature without being afraid that a machine gun lies beneath the foliage, we are thankful–H.L.R.

-Howard Crimson, November 21, 1941.

Happy Veteran’s Day, and thank you.

 

Adapted from:

Howard Entre Nous and Howard Crimson

Sigurd Bryan

Bryan and Kessler
On May 1, the Department of History honored Dr. Sigurd Bryan with the Distinguished Alumnus Award. Dr. Bryan graduated from Howard College with a B.A. in History in 1946 and served as a much beloved professor in the Department of Religion.   In recognition of his recent award, the staff of the Office of University Historian decided to feature Bryan in our inaugural post.

Born in Barbour County in 1924, Dr. Sigurd Franklin Bryan spent his early years moving from town-to-town in rural areas of Alabama and Florida, living wherever his father found work in the furniture business.  During Bryan’s teenage years, the family settled in Dothan, Alabama and joined the Headland Avenue Baptist Church.  It was there he made a public confession of faith and felt God’s calling to the ministry.  After graduating high school, Bryan moved to Birmingham to attend Howard College (now Samford University) in August 1942.  He moved into Renfroe Hall on the old East Lake campus and settled into the first semester as a freshmen, but that routine was interrupted in winter of 1942 when the U.S. Navy chose the Howard campus as one of the sites for its V-12. Suddenly, the semesters became trimesters (to expedite the time to graduation for the Navy men), and Bryan and other residents were expected to find living arrangements off campus. Thanks to the efforts of Major Harwell Davis, Howard’s president, the V-12 program would be the only major disruption that WWII caused for Bryan. In order to keep his ministerial students out of the draft, Davis sent letters to the local draft boards and insisted that the United States would be better served by letting Howard continue their ministerial training.   Due at least in part to Davis’s solicitation, Bryan remained at Howard through the war and studied under the watchful eye of William Pratt Dale in the Department of History.  He graduated Howard in 1946 with a double-major in History and English and a minor in Religion.

Bryan continued his education at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he earned a bachelors and a doctorate in theology. His plans to lead a church were interrupted in 1956 when Major Davis asked Bryan to return to Howard College as a professor in the Department of Religion.  He agreed to a one-year contract and planned to become a pastor at the end of his tenure of service.  Forty-six years later, in 2002, Bryan retired following an illustrious career.  Over the course of Bryan’s tenure, the duties of Samford faculty changed dramatically.  In his early days, Bryan’s course load was five classes per semester, including the required Old and New Testament survey.  When students were given a choice of taking either the Old or New Testament course, his teaching load was reduced from five to four—each a three-semester-hour course.  With the implementation of the “Core Curriculum” in 1997, the course load dropped to three classes—each a four-semester-hour course.  For Sigurd Bryan, the old Bible courses he taught for over forty years were replaced with a class entitled “Biblical Perspectives.”  He later recalled that the course description was so vague that he continued to teach the class as a chronological Bible survey.

In his forty-six years as a professor, Bryan became an integral part of the Samford story. Beloved by his students, he served as faculty sponsor of the Baptist Student Choir, headed the Samford Sunday ministerial program, and was a recipient of the John H. Buchanan award for excellence in classroom teaching. His commitment to academic excellence and his ability to minister to students’ needs left a lasting impression on the thousands of undergrads who took his courses.  Dr. Bryan left a significant mark on Samford’s commitment to Christian education.