Students in Dr. Giggie’s HY 400 – Southern Memory: Lynching in Alabama course visited the Equal Justice Institute in Montgomery, Alabama on October 18th as part of their work to better understand and encourage awareness of racial violence during the post-Reconstruction era in Alabama.
The students, who are researching ten African-Americans lynched in Pickens County between 1883 and 1933, presented their findings to the officials at EJI. The students have been working in a variety of sources – newspapers, journals, census, wills, deeds, birth and death records – to recover the lives of the victims.
They are also building a digital humanities website meant to educate the public about these events and to serve as a database for other researchers. The students have previously worked with EJI to erect a memorial to these lynching victims in Tuscaloosa County, which was unveiled last year.
This article appeared originally on The University of Alabama’s Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility’s website.
by Erin Mosley and Jamon Smith
Dr. John Giggie describes the eras most Americans refer to as Reconstruction, the Gilded Age and the Roaring Twenties as periods of racial terror for a significant portion of the country’s population. “At a time when the United States was in fact growing and prospering, many African-Americans feared for their lives,” says Giggie, associate professor of history and African American studies at The University of Alabama and director of the Summersell Center for the Study of the South.
More than 4,000 black people in 12 Southern states were lynched between 1877 and 1950, according to the Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery, Ala.-based nonprofit human rights law firm whose mission includes challenging racial and economic injustice. And these are just the cases EJI has documented. At least 360 lynchings took place in Alabama, and at least 10 Tuscaloosa County men were murdered in this way.
Giggie took the Equal Justice Initiative’s baseline data on lynchings in Tuscaloosa County and asked his students to delve deeper. After exploring the history of lynching in America, students learn the research skills they need to find important documents and share them through a digital humanities website.
Fifteen UA students enrolled in HY 300/AAST 395 Southern Memory: Lynching in the South collectively spent more than 1,000 hours documenting the lives and circumstances surrounding the deaths of 10 Tuscaloosa County residents who were lynched between 1884 and 1933. They created a digital humanities website to share their findings with the public and serve as a database for lynchings in the South.
Students also worked in partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative to advocate for a historical marker commemorating victims. On March 6, 2017, the marker was erected in front of the old Tuscaloosa County Jail. After the unveiling, more than 1,000 people attended a ceremony hosted by UA students, EJI representatives and community members at First African Baptist Church to honor the victims. Students Maruka Walker and Ellie Bowers were among the speakers, and discussed their research.
To continue reading this story, visit the Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility’s website.
The Dixie’s Great War symposium, hosted by the Summersell Center for the Study of the South, “is considered to be the largest conference in the country on World War I and the South,” says John Giggie, Associate Professor and Director of the Summersell Center for the Study of the South at The University of Alabama.
This program, cohosted by Professor John Giggie and Professor Andrew Huebner, will feature internationally renowned scholars of the First World War from around the country:
Panels will focus on the war’s political, social and cultural impact on the South in general as well as Alabama in particular.
The symposium is free and open to the public, though registration is required. A reception will follow the closing of the last session, and books by the participating scholars will be available for purchase.
The 1918 campus of the University of Alabama would be a strange sight for the modern observer. Familiar classroom buildings such as Morgan and Smith Halls would be present; however, the students filing out of them would be wearing strange, round brimmed caps and earth toned uniforms. The quad that now serves as a field of festivity and recreation was instead witness to the precision of military cadence and the spectacle of bayonet drills.
The University of Alabama Reserve Officers’ Training Corps was established by War Department Bulletin on 4 December 1916 to train Officers in anticipation of American involvement in what was at the time referred to as “The Great European War.”1 On 6 April 1917, the war became an American conflict. The War Department’s scramble to raise a military force of over four million men and women defined the following months. The University began to produce military officers for the new army, and many of her alumni were commissioned as officers.
War was the status quo for the University for the next year. Herbert Hoover called University President George H. Denny away to Washington D.C. and appointed him as head of the Cotton and Seed Department of the U.S. Food Administration. As the importance of the R.O.T.C. increased and the national emergency began to expand, commandant of cadets Captain Fitzhugh Lee Minnigerode was reassigned and the higher-ranking Colonel George LeRoy Brown was called from retirement to command Alabama’s cadets, which now made up 75% of the men on campus.2
In the spring of 1918, the War Department called upon universities to launch special programs to train enlisted men in the “various mechanical arts.”3 Alabama saw itself as the perfect fit for the new program, citing ample engineering equipment and laboratories, and the recent establishment of the school of vocational education. A pair of military inspections of the campus declared Alabama’s facilities “excellent,” and, as such, one of the nation’s first Student Army Training Corps, or S.A.T.C. units, was established.4 On the morning of 16 May, 200 enlisted men reported to the campus to begin instruction in automobile mechanics using a pair of specially constructed garages in Comer Hall. The gymnasium was converted into a barracks.5 The troops took their meal in the normal mess hall, and the government and several private citizens in Tuscaloosa provided automobiles and trucks for student mechanics.6 The President’s report made very clear that the presence of the S.A.T.C. would not interfere with the normal operations of higher education at the University. Their commander had different ideas.
Sometime around the establishment of the S.A.T.C. in 1918, a mysterious name appeared on the campus. Referred to in the Crimson White and Corolla only as “Major Ord,” this figure would soon find himself in University memory only as a vilified ghost. A search of congressional records on the promotion of officers identified “Major Ord” as Major Edward Otho Cresap Ord, II, U.S.A. Ord came from a family of military tradition, his father being the famed Major General Edward Ord, commander of the Army of the James during the Civil War and namesake of Fort Ord, California. His brother was First Lieutenant Jules Ord, credited with starting the “spontaneous” charge of the Buffalo Soldiers up San Jaun Hill during the Spanish-American War.7 Major Ord’s son was Major General James Garesche “Garry” Ord, commander of the 28th Infantry Division and Chairman of the Joint Brazil-U.S. Defense Commission during WWII.
Major Ord himself had extensive military experience with the 22nd Infantry Regiment and Seminole Indian Scouts during the Indian Campaign in Texas in 1880 and the Ghost Dancer revolts of 1891-1892. He contracted yellow fever in Cuba during the Spanish American War and participated in the Philippine Insurrections against the Moros. Medical complications forced his retirement from active service in 19038, although he would serve as a special police officer in San Francisco to assist with the recovery from the 18 April 1906 earthquake. In 1908, he took a position as a professor of military science at St. Matthew’s school in San Mateo, California. In 1915, he served as a military aide to the governor of Arizona. There he saw some degree of border service, preventing incursions by Pancho Villa and his banditos into Arizona. Ord once again slipped into retirement until the United States entered the Great War in 1917.
The endorsements presented to the Senate in his promotion report point to Ord being a model military officer, a seasoned commander, and a son of military aristocracy. This is the exact type of figure that the University of Alabama would like to remember when commemorating her service to the nation in the First World War. However, in this case, the opposite is true. No available official University record mentions him, and he is notably absent from the portraits of military officers on campus in both the University R.O.T.C.’s Duco Library and Corolla issues from the era. In fact, the only mentions of Ord are negative, and he apparently gave birth to a neologism, “Ordism,” to describe his administration on campus, where he seemed to frequently overstep his authority.
Unfortunately, the sources on the details of Ord’s rise to power are scarce. Nonetheless, by the early fall of 1918, Major Ord had managed to instill a sort of martial law over the University. Intercollegiate athletics – including the football program – were cancelled, much to the outrage of the student body. Compulsory study hours set forth by Ord to all students, military and civilian, led to the death of many clubs and societies on the campus.9 The non-S.A.T.C. men remaining on the campus were forced into menial labor. In one example, university officials assembled them in the middle of a class day, marched them to the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house, and made them empty ankle-height sewage from the basement using buckets.10 A dispute emerged between the University Supply Store, predecessor of the modern Supe Store, and the Major when he wished to seize the store’s property to set up a sort of Post Exchange or canteen for his men. The Supply Store and faculty pushed back, resulting in a lengthy dispute that did not appear to be settled by the war’s conclusion on 11 November 1918. Reportedly, during the dispute, the editors of the Crimson White are said to have drafted an open letter to Major Ord, reminding him that he was “Not the Kaiser.” This earned the editors a stay in the Barnard Hall stockade, courtesy of the Major.11
In response to Ord’s assault on campus life, the non-S.A.T.C. students filed a formal petition to the University administration, protesting to the forced labor, compulsory study and hygiene regulations, and inferior quality food compared to what was being served to the troops on campus. The students cited that they were in no way associated with the Military, and paid for tuition, room, and board, therefore believing themselves exempt from military discipline.12 It would seem the president’s promise that the military would not interfere with the normal operations of the institution was not kept. The question regarding Ord’s rise to power leaves more puzzles than answers. During his time here, it would appear that Colonel Brown was still present and in command of the R.O.T.C. cadets. Though Colonel Brown would not have direct authority over Major Ord despite outranking him, Brown could have brought Ord’s overextensions to his chain of command, potentially assuaging some of the suffering of the University’s remaining civilians. There also seemed to be no action from the University administration on the matter. The void of records regarding him is remarkable, and raises the question as to whether there may be some nefarious cause. For a man that had such influence on the campus, it would seem logical that there would be at least some official mention of him in the institutional memory of the University. Yet aside from Crimson White articles, the only references uncovered are poems written in jest, found in the 1919 Corolla.
Despite Major Ord’s iron fist, the resilience and patriotism of the University’s students cannot be ignored. While it would be understandable for some students to harbor negative feelings towards the military, what happened instead is remarkable. Nested in the Crimson White columns, in between the various stories of forced labor and disputes brought about by Major Ord, is a call for the “Alabama Spirit Once More,” asking for donations to support the needs of the troops in camps across the country and fighting overseas with the American Expeditionary Forces.13 2,254 students and alumni served in the Great War, and twenty-six men and women from the University gave their lives, a staggering 3% of the student body during the period. The memory of the war, though long forgotten by the average student moving about the campus, is omnipresent. As University Boulevard cuts through the heart of campus, it is lined by oak trees. A small, oft ignored marker just west of Denny Chimes bears forty-five names, one for each tree, memorializing the residents of Tuscaloosa who died or were killed during the war. Jones Hall, Foster Auditorium, and the Gorgas House bear the names of veterans of the conflict.
Stone and bronze markers stand silent testament to the sacrifice and triumph of the era. However, it is hoped that the current World War I Centennial Commemoration projects on campus will serve to connect the University of today to the one of a century ago. The Veteran and Military Affairs Office on the third floor of Houser Hall is currently presenting “Lafayette, We Are Here: America Enters the First World War” in their lounge, an exhibition partnership with UA Museums produced by interns from the Department of History. UA Museums is also presenting “William C. Gorgas and the Great War” on the first floor of the Gorgas House Museum. UA Libraries currently has a WWI centennial display in the foyer of Gorgas Library, and a display of sheet music from the era in the lobby of the W. S. Hoole Special Collections Library in Mary Harmon Bryant Hall. The Veteran and Military Affairs Office is also publishing a monthly blog on social media, written by the author, following the war and University month-by-month until the end of the centennial period on 11 November 2018. Hopefully, more exhibits and articles are to come, and this pivotal period in University and world history will continue to capture the imagination of modern students and visitors.
1. Order of Battle of the United States Land Forces in the World War: Zone of the Interior, CMH Publication 23-4, United States Army; Crimson White dated 12 Oct 1916 mentions arrival of Captain Minnegerode and commencement of organization.
2. President’s Report, Minutes of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, 27 May 1918.
5. The “Gymnasium” referred to is most likely present-day Little Hall.
7. Jules was killed in the charge and replaced by Lieutenant John J. Pershing, sparking the events that earn Pershing the nickname “Blackjack.”
8. Senate Report No. 2423, 23 April 1904.
9. “Societies Killed by Authorities” Crimson White, 6 November 1918.
10. “Non-SALC [sic] Men Forced to Perform Menial Tasks, Clean Basements of Houses” Crimson White, 6 November 1918.
11. Suzanne Rau Wolfe, The University of Alabama, a Pictorial History, University of Alabama Press, 1983, pg. 139; Wolfe does not list her source for this account, and a search did not produce the letter from the Crimson White or any evidence of the incident. Nonetheless, it is believable that it occurred. If it did not, the account further reinforces the negative perception of the Major in the University’s memory.
12. “Non-S.A.T.C. Men Protest Strongly” Crimson White, 6 November 1918.
13. Crimson White, 6 November 1918.
I went on my first house tour when I was in the eighth grade. I toured The Hermitage in Nashville, Tennessee. I can almost remember every detail about that tour and was blown away by the fact that someone, albeit a very important someone, had their house turned into a museum. From that point on, it has been a wish of mine to be involved with a house museum of some sort. With that in mind, and knowing that desire was bubbling near the back of my mind, when the opportunity to work at Gorgas House in some respect presented itself, I could not help but jump at the opportunity! This was the opportunity I had been waiting for!
However, that’s getting a little ahead of myself. In the fall of 2016, I found myself in the Public History course being offered by Dr. Giggie. I was interested because I had never really considered Public History as line of work. To be honest, I did not know what Public History meant. As far as I knew, it could have been a course on writing books that appealed to the public, hence Public History. Whatever the reason, it caught my eye. At the very least, I could add it as a line on my Curriculum Vitae. Besides, what could it hurt? After a session or two, I realized that Public History was really just the idea of how the public interacts with history, whether that be through museums, publishing, digital humanities, or archival work. I could see myself in any of those disciplines, but still in the back of my mind was this desire to work in a house museum. Then Gorgas House opened as a possibility. I was hooked.
Now that I was on at the Gorgas House, the question turned to what I would make of my time there. When I had visited the house at an earlier date, I noticed that the mention of William Gorgas was contained almost exclusively to his time in the military. The remarkable thing is that Gorgas was much more than just a soldier. He oversaw sanitation in the Panama Canal zone, served as president of the American Medical Association, and most importantly was on the team that discovered that mosquitoes carry yellow fever! Yet none of this was being told. This rich history was shut up somewhere and I felt it my duty, if you will, to dig it out of the doldrums. My hope is that by the end of my time at Gorgas House, there will be a fully functional, online exhibit tracing the importance in the medical field of a man whose only accolade on this campus is as Surgeon General. While this is a noble title and a singularly important position, it only tells a very small portion of the story.
Lastly, having talked with Lydia Ellington Joffray, director of the Gorgas House, we both believe that this project is a great example of the mission of Gorgas House: to illuminate the lives of the Gorgas family and to educate people about this very important Alabama family. This project, as previously mentioned, will shine a light into the background of William Gorgas’ medical achievements.
In the end, I am excited to have the opportunity to work with the house and Hoole Library in illustrating this man’s background and how important he is, not only for the University of Alabama or United States military history, but also his great impact in the history of medicine.
For the spring of 2017 I am working with the Gorgas House Museum to curate and display an exhibit commemorating the 100th anniversary of American entry into the First World War. I chose this internship to compliment my prior experience in military museums, as well as have the opportunity to serve in a “leadership” capacity during exhibit curation, which will afford me invaluable experience in the curation process.
I picked the subject of WWI based on my prior experience of working with US Army museums, particularly research pertaining to the World Wars. Normally my focus has centered around logistics, and this internship is allowing me to expand on military operations, considering medical work as well as combat roles, and of course more logistics. By the end of the semester, I hope to have successfully curated and exhibited an intriguing collection of macro artifacts, photographs and documentation telling the story of the University, the state of Alabama, and the United States at war. I hope to gain firsthand experience in curation that I can carry forward into a potential museum career.
The Gorgas House hopes to provide a valuable source of education into the role of Major General William Crawford Gorgas, the University, and the state of Alabama’s contribution to the First World War, highlighting a period of history that is quickly fading from public memory.
the materials in the collection would give me the best experience for that type of work. Lewis and I met with Dr. Kate Matheny, the Reference Services and Outreach Coordinator for Special Collections at Hoole, in mid-December 2016 to discuss what materials are available to work with. She presented us with three ideas. First, was an exhibit on industry in Birmingham using the Woodward papers and the Working Lives interviews. Second, was an exhibit using papers from a Harvard psychologist who used and experimented with LSD. Finally, she indicated that Hoole had a collection of old church hymnals. We decided that the Birmingham project would work best because of the interest it would have to the local population and a wide audience.
Having looked through much of the material, Lewis Whilden and I are going to create an exhibit displaying a “Day in the Life of a Miner” with focus on the types of work available, how much miners were paid, how miners used strikes and membership to labor unions to leverage pay and benefits, what kinds of risks were involved in mining (including accidents and health risks), and what miners did for entertainment (including baseball). In looking at these aspects of miner’s lives we will also have some focus on race relations and segregation since race affected what kinds of jobs one could get and thus how much one was paid.
From this experience I would like to gain a better understanding of the process of creating exhibits in museums and libraries. I hope that this will make me better able to read displays and exhibits when I go to museums in the future and will cause me to think more about what went into creating these exhibits. Finally, I hope that this experience will help me to be a better communicator since I will not be able to explain my findings in pages worth of print but instead must condense my findings into comprehensible snippets in a display case.
Our creation of this display furthers the mission of Hoole because it advertises to the public what is available in their collections. Several research papers could be written from the information in our exhibit. Further, one of Dr. Matheny’s goals is to have a well-researched academic exhibit displayed. This showcases how students in particular can use the library’s materials and can help get people into the library to use such material available in their collections.
I became interested in this project because of the time period spanned by the Church. The Church has its beginnings in some very unique times in American history. Not only was it a product of the second great awakening, but it also comes about during Alabama fever, and the establishment of a slave economy in what was then the American Southwest. Early America through the Civil War is my area of interest, so this project provides a chance to really examine these times on a local level.
I am particularly interested in seeing how the Church reacted to the Civil War itself. The University was essentially an officer training school, and members of the congregation almost undoubtedly fought for the South. It would be great to know who went, and why, and how the congregation dealt with the war. How did they feel about the cause? Were they pushing for secession beforehand? Was the Church political at all?
As for this semester, I plan on working mostly with the Church’s roll book from the 1830s. This is an amazing primary source document that could really shed light on who attended the church and what their lives were like. I would like to try to match the names to census records and tell some of the biographical stories of these early members. Additionally, the book can serve as a great view into the world of antebellum religion. The Church had slave members and they are listed on the roll. What was it like to be in the Church then? How did things change post-Nat Turner? What was the socio-economic status of the people in the Church, and how did they interact with each other? The court cases also give insight into the nature of the law in what was still largely frontier Alabama. The book as a whole is a tremendous piece of information, and it will be harder to narrow down options than to come up with them.
I really would like to build research skills during this project. The book will require some archival research to be sure, and the sources might be scant. It will be a challenge to synthesize these stories with the little information I will have. I also want to work on writing for a lay audience. Most people will not care about the broader historical implications, but they will want to feel connected to their Church ancestors. I want to be able to connect with them in a way that will leave a lasting impact.
Ultimately, that is the goal for the whole project. I want to situate the Church of 1831 with the congregation of 2018. This is their history, and it is my job to help them learn and understand it. They have given us free reign with the project, and I would like to see it be something they will reference and something that will anchor them in the past as they look towards the future. I want the average Church member to feel a connection with the past, even if they do not fully understand the full historical context.