Marr’s Spring exists as one of the last extant markers of the pre-war campus and the slaves who helped build it. Today, the spring is tucked away in a secluded corner of campus, but upon being bequeathed to the university by William Marr in 1827, Marr’s Spring went on to play a pivotal role in the establishment and growth of the University of Alabama. Young male students, newly away from home, often brought slave companions with them to college who acted as personal aids. In the earliest days of our university, enslaved men would fetch water from the spring and haul it to the dormitories of their masters.
Notably, prior the Civil War, the university rarely purchased enslaved persons outright, instead preferring to rent them from professors and respected members of the Tuscaloosa community. The University of Alabama’s second president, Basil Manly Sr., was a Baptist minister and a staunch adherent to the morality of slavery. Having sworn in Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Manly’s legacy persists into the 21st century. The Department of Religious Studies and, in a somewhat ironic twist, the Department of Gender & Race Studies are both housed in a building bearing Manly’s moniker.
Further, at least two enslaved persons belonging to university professors were buried on this very campus. Next to the Biology building, a small cluster of nearly-ancient graves are protected by a wrought-iron gate. In front of that gate is a stone slab featuring a moniker erected by the University of Alabama in 2004, identifying the men in question and apologizing for our campus’s role in upholding America’s peculiar institution.
Almosa Pirela-Jones is a senior majoring in English with a dual minor in creative writing and African-American Studies. Born in Manhattan, she moved to her hometown of Memphis at a young age and graduated from Houston High School in 2013. Almosa serves as the editor-in-chief of Dewpoint Literary Journal and vice president of Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society. Upon graduation, she plans to pursue a career in publishing.