James Gazaway Ryals, Jr. 1883-1885
James Gazaway Ryals, Jr., holds the distinction of being the first president of what is now known as Jacksonville State University. Unfortunately, his tenure was brief due to his untimely death on April 18, 1885 at the age of 30. Born in 1855 and raised on his family farm in Bartow County, Ga., near Cartersville, Ryals was educated by his father, Dr. James G. Ryals, who ran a school for young men. Later, Ryals Jr. entered Mercer University in Macon, Ga., for a two-year course and graduated with honors in 1877. After spending a year helping on the family farm, he returned to school and entered the University of Virginia in the fall of 1879 to pursue a Master of Arts course, in addition to a course in mixed mathematics. In 1883, Ryals became the president of the State Normal School in Jacksonville, Ala. After his death in Jacksonville from a brief illness, he was buried in Macon.