Phillip Tutor: Fathers, Alabama-style
Jun 18, 2010 | 2020 views |  0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It’s Father’s Day weekend, which means the ghosts of William Wyatt Bibb and W.S. Gurnee and Eli Bynum and Dixon Hall Lewis deserve a little appreciation.

In their own ways — some of them peculiar — they’re fathers of our past, from Alabama’s historic locales to our homes on the state’s eastern side. So give them their due.

Fathers, like mothers, deserve credit.

Those men, along with a host of others we’ll soon discuss, were instrumental in many things Alabama. Without them, Alabama would be what? East Mississippi? Shudder at the thought.

Some governed the state.

Others built towns.

A few led those towns.

The wealthy financed needed projects — roads, schools, companies and industries.

One or two were bona fide leaders, great men who did marvelous things.

Many were fathers of ideas — call them ideologues, both good and bad — who cemented a newborn state’s Southern values and political tendencies.

More than a few were businessmen whose desires to make a buck were encased in equal doses of civic pride.

Individually, they were fathers of this state, of our towns, or our core beliefs, of the local world in which we live today.

So, on this Father’s Day weekend, let’s honor them as best we can.

Honor President James Monroe, a Founding Father and two-term president who is known for many things — Monroe Doctrine? — that have nothing to do with us. Yet, he signed the 1819 resolution that turned Alabama from a territory into America’s 22nd state. Nearly 200 years later, we haven’t forgotten.

While we’re at it, honor Bibb, our first governor, as short-lived as his elected tenure was. (I’ve always loved the fact that his opponent in that first gubernatorial election was Marmaduke Williams. Yes, Marmaduke.)

Likewise, honor Gurnee, whose name adorns the street on which Anniston’s City Hall and police department reside. Gurnee was a New York banker and financier and a friend to the city’s founding families. Without an infusion of his cash, the city’s initial business — the famed Woodstock Iron Co. — might have gone belly up.

Honor S.C. Williams, the first mayor of Oxford, or Lick Skillet, if you prefer. Look at Oxford now, Mayor Williams: 20,000 residents, Calhoun County’s retail leader, its high school the largest around, a future that may be unmatched in this county. He’d be pleased, I believe.

Honor Alva Woods, the first president of the University of Alabama — or the University of the State of Alabama, as it was initially called. Woods’ lofty dreams of Ivy League standards for the Tuscaloosa school proved impossible so early in UA’s history, but he did set a laudable goal for later generations, nonetheless.

Honor Bynum, who owned the land in western Calhoun County that today still carries his name. Let’s assume he’d be proud of Anniston Army Depot, which has rested on Bynum soil since the early 1940s.

Honor Dr. George Petrie, with whom we can blame for our obsession with college football. Petrie’s 1890s decision to introduce Alabama to the game by teaching it to students at Auburn sired what we have today: A wall-to-wall, 24-hour-a-day love-affair with the sport.

Honor Lewis, one of Alabama’s first influential congressmen and a mountain of a man. Lewis, according to historian Leah Rawls Atkins, was the captain of the state’s states’-right wing during the Jacksonian era. Think tea-party charisma of today: Lewis was a 350-pound character who traversed the state for speeches where he’d say that “federal aid could only bring despotic federal control that would impinge on the people’s liberty,” Atkins wrote in Alabama: The History of a Deep South State. Sound familiar?

Honor C.E. Hanna, whose leadership at Calhoun County Training School is an educational legacy that lives on today.

Honor John Hunt, who settled next to a spring in the north Alabama territory in the early 1800s. Wise move.

And honor those omnipresent names of Anniston, (Samuel) Noble and (Daniel) Tyler. They fathered a city on high-minded ideals of clean living, strict business guidelines, a closeness to God, education for both men and women — that was cutting-edge equality 130 years ago — and a Manifest Destiny-style belief that greatness would occur for Annie’s town.

That’s hardly a complete list. Too many are left out. Yet, it shows that our Alabama surroundings — our homes and dreams, our causes and concerns — were fathered by patriarchal men who left immense legacies.

Let’s not forget them.

Phillip Tutor — ptutor@annistonstar.com — is The Star’s commentary editor

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