In 1960, a young art instructor at the University of Alabama discovered a book that changed his life. The instructor was William Christenberry, now a national known artist as well as a professor of art at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, DC. The book was Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, first published in 1941. It combined the photographs of Walker Evans, along with the text of James Agee, to chronicle the lives of three tenant families in Hale County, Alabama. The text, Christenberry later said, affected him first. “I had never run into a writer who described so clearly, so beautifully, the things I had experienced as a child.” The photographer, Walker Evans, would later become “one of the greatest influences” in Christenberry’s life.
Buried here are Jack Rudolph (d. 1846) and William "Boysey" Brown (d. 1838), two slaves owned by the University of Alabama faculty, and William J. Crawford, a university student who died in 1844. In 2004, the UA Faculty Senate apologized for the predecessors' role in the institution of slavery and erected a monument at this gravesite to commemorate the contributions of slaves to the building of the university. (Photo courtesy Rebecca Minder)
The University of Alabama had only been in existence for eight years when an acre of land on the perimeter of the campus was set aside for a cemetery. The burial ground was deemed necessary after student Samuel James died on campus, and embalming and travel limitations prevented his corpse from being returned to his home immediately. When his family was able to retrieve James's body, another student, William J. Crawford, was placed in the empty grave after his death from typhus fever. James and Crawford are the only two university students known co have been buried in the cemetery during the antebellum period. However, other bodies were buried there during that time.
Following the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814, Alabama’s Native Americans ceded millions of acres of land in the Treaty of Fort Jackson. Although the treaty was designed to bring peace to the war-torn Alabama territory, it did not make everyone happy. One Native American who appears to have been particularly disgruntled because of the change of events was Savannah Jack. Having lost his property along Line Creek near Montgomery in the land concession, Savannah Jack made threats that he would continue to fight the white settlers, and he kept his word.
Although less known today than William Weatherford, Savannah Jack was considered “one of the bloodiest villains that ever infested any country” during his own time. Yet so much mystery surrounds Jack’s background and legacy that he has become the stuff of legend.
In the years after the Civil War, the court systems of northwest Alabama and southern middle Tennessee struggled to maintain law and order as murderous guerillas and bushwhackers terrorized the countryside. The most notorious gang in the area was the Clifton Shebang, known to Lauderdale County residents as “the Buggers.” Thomas “Mountain Tom” Clark (1821-1872), a deserter from both the Union and Confederate armies, was one of the leaders of this gang.
The first record of Tom Clark and the Clifton Shebang comes from an 1865 report by Captain Lot Abraham of Co. D, Fourth Iowa Cavalry, USA. Reporting to his superior about robberies by Union troops stationed near Florence, Alabama, Captain Abraham stated: “Several citizens told me they believed most of the robbing had been done by men who were with Lieutenant Thrasher.” Among them, he listed Tom Clark.
It was raining late in the evening of March 3, 1956, when brothers Billy Howard and Robert Earl Dye and their older cousin, Dan Brasher, left a relative's house in the rural backwoods of northern Jefferson County. They drove off in Billy’s 1947 green Ford for a party in Robinwood, just outside Morris, then disappeared into the Alabama night.
Theories regarding the disappearance abound-from the men being murdered at the party to an execution-style shooting in a Blount County cave. A few strands of human hair fished out of an abandoned coal shaft led to speculation the men had been dumped there. The one constant in every theory was that moonshine played a pivotal role.
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