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.
The University Graves Mystery
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.
From the Vault
Read complete classic articles and departments featured in Alabama Heritage magazine in the past 35 years of publishing. You'll find in-depth features along with quirky and fun departments that cover the people, places, and events that make our state great!