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23 January 2008

Bibb Graves: Namesake for Public University Buildings

By Doris Metcalf
Retired Educator
Times Daily

Reprinted here in its entirety.

Alabama has a long history of higher education, beginning in 1918 when the federal government authorized the Alabama territory to "set aside a township for the establishment of a seminary of learning."

On Dec. 18, 1820, a seminary was established and named The University of the State of Alabama.

In 1827, Tuscaloosa, then the state's capital, was chosen as the university's home. On April 18, 1931, inaugural ceremonies were held, and Alabama's first university opened.

Currently there are fourteen public universities: Alabama A&M University, Alabama State University, Auburn University, Auburn University at Montgomery, Jacksonville State University, Troy University, University of Alabama, University of Alabama at Birmingham, University of Alabama in Huntsville, University of Montevallo, University of North Alabama, University of South Alabama, University of West Alabama and Athens State University.

On each of these university campuses, there is at least one academic building, complex or structure named for Bibb Graves.

These campus structures were named in honor of the Bibb Graves family who was instrumental in the development of government and public education in Alabama.

William Wyatt Bibb was Alabama's first governor. His main accomplishment was the establishment of the government and the framing of the state's constitution.

Wyatt Bibb died at the early age of 39. The centrally located Alabama Bibb county is named in his honor.

Upon his death, his younger brother, Thomas Bibb, by virtue of his position as president of the Alabama Senate, automatically became governor.

Thomas Bibb served as governor of Alabama from July 1920 to November 1821.

During his administration, the establishment of the government continued and the capital of the state was moved from Huntsville to Cahaba. During legislative sessions, numerous acts concerned with local municipal government were passed.

Thomas Bibb served in the Alabama House of Representative from 1828 to 1829.

Thomas Bibb's cousin David Bibb Graves was elected the 40th and the 42nd governor of Alabama (1927-1931 and 1935-1939).

David Bibb Graves was known as the education governor, who did more than anyone else in promoting education in the state.

Despite being a member of the Ku Klux Klan and being elected to office by their endorsement, David Bibb Graves instituted a progressive program of reforms especially in the field of education.

During his first term as governor, funds for schools and teachers salaries were increased, the price of textbooks decreased and several new schools were built.

To fund these programs, taxes were levied and tolls were collected on the state's bridges.

When president Woodrow Wilson created the Muscle Shoals Commission to recommend methods of disposing of or utilizing the nitrate plants that were built in 1918 to produce needed ammunition and explosives for World War I, Gov. David Bibb Graves appointed Florence native W. F. McFarland to represent Alabama.

During David Bibb Graves' second term in office, educational reforms continued in the form of free textbooks for first through third grades, and the school term was lengthened from four to seven months.

Bibb Graves attracted national attention during his second administration during the Scottsboro Boys era.

In 1938 after four trials, Bibb Graves, anxious for the spotlight to be reflected from his state, agreed to pardon the defendants. But after an interview with the young men, Graves reversed his decision.

On Dec. 7, 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt wrote a letter to Gov. Bibb Graves urging him to go forward with the pardon.

Chief Justice of the United States Hugo Black also urged Graves to grant the pardon.

Despite the pressure, Graves refused to reconsider the pardon and left office in 1939 without granting it.

This action came as a surprise to some because when the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that the Scottsboro Boys were unfairly convicted on the grounds that blacks had been "systematically excluded from the jury roll," Gov. Bibb Graves reacted positively by sending a copy of the Supreme Court decision to every judge in the state with this note:

"Holdings of the U. S. Supreme Court are the Supreme laws of the land. Whether we like it or not, it is our patriotic duty of every citizen and the sworn duty of every public officer to accept and uphold them in letter and in spirit This decision means we must put the names of Negroes in jury boxes in every county."

In 1937, when Franklin D. Roosevelt named Sen. Hugo Black to the U. S. Supreme Court, Graves appointed his wife Dixie Bibb Graves (who also was his cousin) to serve the remainder of Black's term, making her Alabama's first woman senator.

For their role and contributions, especially in the area of education, Alabama schools, university buildings, streets, bridges and even an Alabama county have been named in honor of the Bibb Graves.

Some Bibb Graves university campus structures serve as classrooms, dormitories and auditoriums, others such as the University of North Alabama Bibb Graves Hall, houses administrative offices.

UNA's Bibb Graves Hall was constructed in 1930 during the administration of

Dr. Henry Willingham. In addition to functioning as the administrative headquarters for the university president, vice president and offices of admission and financial aid, it also serves as classrooms for history and English.

About Doris Metcalf

Doris Metcalf, a retired educator, is the author of 13 resource books. She received a bachelors degree at Stillman College, Tuscaloosa; a master's degree at Ohio State University, Columbus; an EdS degree at the University of North Alabama, and gifted education certification at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.

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