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A. D. 1903



an Address by
Edwin Anderson Alderman

a. D. 1903


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J. L. M. CURRY, D. C. L., LL. D.


By Edwin Anderson Alderman, LL. D.,

President of the Tulane University, of New Orleans, La., delivered at Rich-
mond, Virginia, April 26, 1903, under the auspices of

The Conference for Education in the South.

It is altogether proper and beautiful that this
great Conference, after a session of singular in-
terest and meaning, should come together, in its
closing hours, to do honor to the memory of a
man who helped to form and direct its history,
and who stood for its highest ideals; and like-
wise to gain from a study of his purposeful life,
fresh strength and will for the work that lies be-
fore us, and will lie before those who are to come
after us. Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry, who
passed out of this life on February 12, 1903, lived
a long, full, varied life of service, of devotion, of
struggle and achievement. We mourn, therefore,
no young Lycidas, dead ere his prime, but we
come, rather, to take to heart the lesson of the
life of a splendid Ulysses, who had never known
rest from travel and work, who had drunk hon-
orable life to its lees, and whose spirit at the last

still yearned in desire "to strive, to seek, to find,
and not to yield." J. L. M. Curry had been a
soldier in two wars, a maker of laws in a state
and nation, a preacher, a writer of useful books,
twice the representative of his government at the
court of Spain, and a statesman of that truest
sort whose faith in the perfectibility of men was
unfailing and whose ambition was to give to all
men a chance to inherit the beauty, the richness
and power of life.

Dr. Curry was born in Lincoln County,
Georgia, on June 5, 1825. During his early
childhood, his father, a wealthy planter, emi-
grated from Georgia to Alabama, and settled
about six miles from Talladega in that State.
His academic training was received at the Uni-
versity of Georgia and his legal education at
Harvard College, from which he was graduated
in 1846 at the age of twenty-one. In 1847, he
was elected to the Legislature of Alabama from
Talladega County and began his great career as
a public servant. For twenty years he served
the State of Alabama with singular ability and
distinction, as legislator, congressman, soldier and
teacher, and though his later life was passed
elsewhere, and his services belonged to the
nation, his heart and mind constantly reverted
with tender loyalty to that great state, as the
land of his young manhood and his home.

The intense, rich life of our leader and friend
covered an equally intense and rich period of his

country's history. His thoughtful boyhood looked
out upon a crude, healthy, boastful nation, drunk
with a kind of democratic passion, and getting
used, in rough ways, to the shrewd air of popular
government, and yet clinging to the concept of
orderly nationality. His young manhood was
passed in the isolated lower South, amid the
storm of a great argument, as to the nature of
this Union, made necessary by the silence and
indecision of the Constitution. To our minds,
cleared of the hot temper of the time, that age
seems an unhappy, contentious, groping age ;
but I believe that it was a good age in which to
be born, for men were in earnest about deep,
vital things. It was indeed an age of passion,
but of passion based on principles, and enthusi-
asms, and deep loyalties. The cynic, the political
idler, the self-seeker, fled before these fiery-eyed
men who were probing into metaphysical, gov-
ernmental theories and constitutional interpreta-
tions, and who counted their ideas as of more
value than their lives. The time had its obvious
faults, and was doomed to fall before the avatar
of progress ; but there lived in it beauty and
force and a great central note of exaltation of
personality above social progress. To this was
due the romantic beauty of many of the person-
alities of this period and section, and also the
industrial inefficiency of the total mass. Around
the fireside, in that frontier world of his, the talk
did not fall so much upon the kind of man who

forms the syndicate or corners the stock market
or who wages the warfare of trade around the
world, but rather upon simple, old questions
which might have been asked in the Homeric
age: Is he free from sordidness or stain? Has
he borne himself bravely in battle ? Has he suf-
fered somewhere with courage and dignity ? Has
he kept faith with ideals?

The best and most lasting bequest of the time
to the whole nation was the conception of poli-
tics as a lofty profession, to be entered upon by
the best men for unselfish purposes. The old
South sent her greatest, truest men to represent
her in national councils. The new South has
sent unpurchasable men at least. I believe that
the whole nation has been taught a lesson by
this custom which will prove an unceasing good
in this great democratic experiment of ours. Dr.
Curry had reached his prime when the great
drama, fate determined and fate driven, passed
from argument into war, and he, himself, caught
in the grip of that same fate, with all his gentle-
ness and tenderness, became of those whose
"faith and truth on war's red touchstone rang
true metal." In the strength of middle life and
in the serene wisdom of old age, this fortunate
man found himself living in another world, and
with sufficient strength of heart, which is courage,
to live in it and of it and for it with a spirit un-
spoiled by hate or bitter memories, with a heart
unfretted by regrets and with a purpose unshaken

by any doubt. A great soul is needed to pass
from one era to another in such fashion as this.
The strand of every revolutionary epoch is lined
with the wrecks of pure and lovable men who
had not the faith and courage to will to live and
serve another time. Dr. Curry possessed this
quality of courage in high degree. Indeed, for
the first time he had sight of the possibility of an
undivided country, rid of sectionalism and pro-
vincialism and hindering custom and tradition,
conscious of its destiny, assured of its nationality,
striving to fit itself for the work of a great
nation in civilization. He had sight, too, of
his own section, idealized, to him, by fortitude
and woe, adjusting itself in dignity and suffer-
ing and power to the spirit of the modern world.
What is there for a strong man to do? — we
may fancy himself asking himself in the silence
of his soul. There could be no bickerings for
such men as he, no using of his great powers to
find place for himself by nursing the feeling of
hatred and revenge in the breasts of proud and
passionate races. There could be no crude, racial
scorn, no theatrical pettiness, no vain, fatuous
blindness, or puerile obstinacy. "Not painlessly
had God remoulded and cast anew the nation."
The pain had indeed smitten his soul, but his
eyes were clear enough to see God's great hand
in the movements of society and to realize the
glory of new-birth out of pain, and his desire was
aflame to be about the work that re-creates and

sets in order. Like all sincere, unselfish men to
whom life means helpfulness, he saw his task lying
before him — like a sunlit road stretching straight
before the traveler's feet. He was to walk in
that path for all his remaining days. The qual-
ity of his mind, the sum of his gifts and graces,
the ideals of contemporary civilization suggested
political preferment, but no consideration of self
or fortune could swerve him from his course.
There dwelt in him a leonine quality of combat
and struggle, a delight of contest, a rising of all
his powers to opposition that had only one mas-
ter in his soul, and that master was the Christian
instinct for service. I once heard him declare to
an audience that it was the proudest duty of the
South to accomplish the education of every child
in its borders — high or low, bond or free, black
or white. The only response to his appeal was
silence. He shouted, "I will make you applaud
that sentiment." With strident voice and shak-
ing of the head, after the manner of the oratory
of the olden time, he plead for human freedom.
He pictured to his audience the ruin that may be
wrought by hate, and the beauty of justice and
sympathy until he awakened in them the god of
justice and gentleness that lies sleeping in the
human heart, and the applause rolled up to him
in a storm.

Over at Lexington, by the quiet flowing river,
and the simple hills, Robert E. Lee saw the same
vision, because there dwelt in him, too, the same


simplicity, sincerity and unselfishness. The philo-
sophic student of our national story will one day
appraise and relate how much it meant to that
story that the vision of Lee was not disturbed nor
distorted by dreams or fancies that in all ages have
beset the brain of the hero of the people. This
quiet man at Lexington had led mighty armies to
victory, and had looked defeat and ruin in the
face with epic fortitude. He had stood the
supreme figure amid the fierce joys and shoutings
of a mighty war. His name rang around the
world foremost in the fellowship of the heroes of
the English race ; but the vision that appeared to
Lee, the conqueror and warrior, was the same
that appeared to Curry, the scholar, and student
and orator. It was a vision of many millions of
childhood standing impoverished and untaught
amid new duties, new occasions, new needs, new
worlds of endeavor, appealing with outstretched
hands to the grown-up strength of their genera-
tion, to know why they should not have a country
to love, an age to serve, a work to do, and a
training for that work. Alien to this new gene-
ration were the subtleties of divided sovereignty,
or the responsibility for the presence of the Afri-
can in our life, and strange to their eyes and ears
the fading fires and retreating noises of battle
and of war. The vision was life — unconquered,
tumultuous, beautiful, wholesome, regenerative
young life — asking a chance of its elders to live
worthily in its world and time. The elders had

had their day, and had had acquaintance with
achievement and sadness and defeat, but here
stood undefeated youth, coming on as comes on
a fresh wave of the sea, with sunlight in its crest,
to take the place of its fellow just dashed against
the shore. " Life is greater than any theory !
We ask the right to live !" said this vision. And
it touches my heart when I recall that I was of
that appealing company.

The Good Master once set a little child in the
midst of His warring disciples and declared to
them that that pathetic little figure prefigured to
men forever the kingdom of heaven. Again and
again in the long, dark story of the struggle of
the race, that figure has appeared, and real great-
ness of soul has never failed to catch the mean-
ing of the radiant presence. We may be sure
that it was present to William the Silent, and
that the German has seen it in his dark hours,
and the Frenchman and the Englishman, and the
Greek and all the great races which have brought
things to pass. Lee and Curry saw it, and
thousands of like souls followed their leading and
found their work and were happy as we are to-day
with our work lying before us and our hearts
asking no other blessedness. Let all Americans
be grateful to the God of nations that He had us
enough in His care to choose for us such leaders
as these, " whose strength was as the strength
of ten, because their hearts were pure." Lee
gave his great example and a few years of noble

service to the nation, and passed, like Arthur,
" while the new sun arose upon a new day." A
happier fortune befell Dr. Curry. There was left
to him over two decades of time in which to
strive for the realization of his dreams and the
fulfillment of his plans.

Our democracy, with its amazing record of
achievement in the subduing of the continent,
has nothing finer to show than the example of
these two men in a time of great passion and
headiness, save perhaps the example of another
American. Away off in Massachusetts — that
great commonwealth from which the nation has
learned so much of order and moral persistence
— a private citizen — George Peabody — was be-
thinking himself of his country, bleeding from
the red stripes of civil war, and wondering what
he could do to heal its wounds. I hail him as
the pioneer of that splendid army of "volunteer
statesmen" who do not hesitate to undertake any
work for their country's good. It did not matter
to him that the states of the South had stood to
him for four years as the enemy's country. His
patriotism was not the patriotism of the Cossack,
but the patriotism of the Christ. What he saw
was youth which the nation needed for its health
springing up untrained and sorely burdened —
the sons of brave men, men who knew how to
die for an idea, and who did not know how to
compromise. What he did was to rise clearly
above all small passions and to pour his great

fortune into those stricken states for the benefit
alike of the former master and of him who had
been a slave. Lee, Peabody, Curry ! We will
do well never to tire of mentioning their names !
An industrial democracy threatened constantly
with vulgarity and coarse strength will have
increasing need of the example of their noble
calmness and patient idealism.

The General Agency of the Peabody Board
and later of the Slater Board, two of the noblest
creative forces which have ever been set to work
upon the life of the Republic, came to him as the
opportunity of his life, and his last years were to
be years of unfailing youth wherein he was able,
in the service of these boards, to think clearly, to
will resolutely, to work joyfully toward high,
national ends. The task that confronted him, in
its larger lines, was to democratize the point of
view of an aristocratic society, to renationalize its
impulses and aspirations, to preach the gospel of
national unity to both sections, to stimulate the
habit of community effort for public ends, to
enrich the concept of civic virtue, to exemplify
the ideal of social service to young men, and to
set the public school, in its proper correlation to
all other educational agencies, in the front of the
public mind, as the chief concern of constructive
statesmanship. His task, in its more technical
aspects, was to reveal the public school as it
should be, actually at work in a democratic so-
ciety, with all of its necessities — trained and cul-

tured teachers, varied curricula appealing to hand
and eye and mind, industrial training, beautiful
surroundings, nourished by public pride and
strengthened by public confidence. The first ten
years of his work were years of battle for the
development of public opinion, and it was to be
a great struggle, for many heresies were afield.
He was told by those who sat in high places
that public schools were godless, and that the
state had no right to tax one man to educate an-
other man's child; that it was dangerous to
educate the masses, and that the educated negro
or poor white meant a spoiled laborer, and many
other musty things dear to the heart of the con-
scientious doctrinaire. His reply to all this was:
"Ignorance is no remedy for anything. If the
state has a right to live at all, it has a right to
educate. Education is a great national invest-

And so, that solemn, majestic thing, called
public opinion, got born, and a few men as ear-
nest as death became somehow what we call a
movement, and the movement, led by this splen-
did figure, wherein was blended the grace and
charm of the old time with the vigor and freedom
of the new, became a crusade, and young schol-
ars had their imaginations touched by it and their
creative instincts awakened by it, and the preach-
ers saw their way clear to push it along, and the
politicians, ever sensitive to the lightest wind of
popular desire, felt its stirrings in the air. Above


it all, and energizing it all, stood this strong,
gifted, earnest man — I had thought to say old
man, but there never was any suggestion of age
about Dr. Curry. Like the president of this
Conference, he met youth on its own ground and
asked no odds — impulse for impulse, strength for
strength and heart for heart. I thank God that,
as the things of sense faded from his sight, he
saw that supremest good of life — an honest bit
of creative work well done and bearing fruit. At
the moment of the establishment of the Peabody
Fund, it should be remembered that not a single
Southern State had a system of free public
schools. The angry gusts of war had blown out
all the lights burning in their ancient seats of
learning, save in the University of Virginia,
Washington and Lee and a few other struggling
colleges, which burned steadily on, giving light
and heat to the darkness and coldness of the still
land. The splendid system of private academies
was being slowly re-established. Only in a few
cities were to be found the semblance of a public
school system. There were no normal or indus-
trial schools. The Peabody Fund came into the
field of helpfulness, and during a period of thirty
years, under the wise administration of great
American citizens, and directed by the energy
and insight of Barnas Sears and J. L. M. Curry,
expended, in stimulating ways, the sum of
$2,478,527.13, No more impressive evidence
of the influence of this fund and of the monu-


mental work of Curry and Sears can be found
than in a plain recital of these facts :

In every one of the Southern States to-day
there is a public system of schools more or less
complete. To bring this to pass a war-stricken
region has expended one hundred and sixty-five
millions of dollars. Normal and industrial
schools for both races, sustained by general and
local taxation, exist in every state. Thirty great
institutions of higher learning have been revived
and established. Five thousand Southern boys
are studying technological subjects where ten
studied them in 1873. Practically all cities or
towns of three thousand population maintain a
school system from which boys and girls may
pass into college. The percentage of illiteracy
for the white race in the twelve Southern States
has been reduced from 25 per cent, to 12.5 per
cent., and the colored race from 87 per cent, to
47.5 per cent And greater than all this, a gen-
erous and triumphant public sentiment has been
aroused that will make these performances seem
feeble in another decade. Can it be claimed that
ever before in the history of the Republic so
much good was accomplished as has been ac-
complished by the expenditure of this $2,478,-
527.13 plus the heart and brain of men like
Curry and Sears and their colleagues and fol-
lowers? I do not claim, of course, that all this
wonderful achievement was due solely to these
boards and to their agents. That would be ab-


surd. The efforts of these boards would have
been farcical if they had not been projected upon
the spirit of a self-reliant and unconquerable
people. It was simply the meeting of a great
idea with a great people and there followed a
great result.

The most impressive thing about Dr. Curry
was his intense Americanism. One could not
think of him as an Alabamian or a Virginian, but
always as an American. He had believed in his
youth in the theoretical ethics, at least, of Seces-
sion. He did not change that belief in his old
age. Calhoun was second only to Aristotle in
this regard, and yet he was the most ardent
American I have ever personally known. The
flag stirred his highest eloquence, and our great
unrended nation, with its dreams, its needs, its
perils, its ideals appealed to him like nothing else
on earth. In the summer of 1898, on July 4th, he
was making the annual address before the Uni-
versity of Chicago. At the same moment, in the
waters about Santiago, American warships were
thundering out the knell of Spanish rule on this
continent. His subject on that occasion was the
"Life and Character of John C. Calhoun." He
was defending the constitutional orthodoxy of
that great exponent of the compact theory of our
government, with all the power and passion of
his mind and heart. Every now and then a mes-
senger boy would arrive with a telegram, and the
proceedings would be interrupted to read the


announcement of the destruction of another Span-
ish ship and to hear the outbursts of frantic, pa-
triotic applause. Whereupon, Curry would turn
to the American flag, draping the platform, and
make it the basis of an appeal for unity and
nationality, and then when the applause would
die away, back again to Calhoun without a lost
note. And so, the morning passed with Calhoun,
Santiago and the American flag vividly entwined
before the face of a Chicago audience. The inci-
dent was something more than amusing or dra-
matic, else I should not pause to relate it. An
essential characteristic of the man stood revealed.
His real genius and passion were for adaptability
to environment, for sympathy with his time, for
service on the side of its better forces. He had
the grand manner and the social instincts of the
aristocrat, but at bottom he was an individualist
in the structure of his mind. Thomas Jefferson —
that great spiritual force which the Lord God
sent to this democracy that it might have fair
trial, to teach it patience with common men and
faith in their unfailing rectitude — claimed his
deepest heart

His was the first voice to declare that there was
no place for a Helot in our system and that the
negro must be trained properly for life in this
nation. He was among the first to urge common
sense as against sentimentality in the education
of the negro. He denounced vehemently the
proposition to divide taxes for educational pur-


poses, on the basis of race, as un-American, un-
democratic, un-Christian, unwise. He • it was
who first pointed out that the strategic point of
the whole educational battle was the untaught
white man and his child. He was the first to
thunder out to colleges and universities that edu-
cation was one whole thing, and that the colleges
and universities must come out of their isolation,
and, under the operation of the principle of
noblesse oblige, lead the fight for the education of
all the people. He sent home to our people
their share of responsibility, and he also made
the world know something of the courage and
patience and self-reliance of the Southern struggle
for self-realization, and he made the world believe
that there was strength and purpose enough in
this people to solve their own problems with
justice and wisdom. In the discharge of all of
these duties of the pioneer and the propagandist,
no man in America, since Horace Mann, has
shown such energy and enthusiasm as J. L. M.
Curry. He had the genius for giving himself
out, and the equipment of intellect and tempera-
ment necessary for his many-sided duties. Before
the legislatures of every state, from the Potomac
to the Gulf, from college platforms, in great
national gatherings, by country cross-roads, and
in little villages wherein some impulse stirred a
community to better its life, his voice was heard
for twenty years.

I saw him for the first time in 1883. A thriv-


ing North Carolina town was proposing to tax
itself for adequate school facilities. This was
not then an every day occurrence in North Caro-
lina. Curry stood before them and plead with
passion and power for the children of the com-
munity. I remember how he seized a little child
impulsively, and with dramatic instinct placed his
hand upon his curly head, and pictured to the
touched and silent throng the meaning of a little
child to human society. It was the first time I
had ever heard a man of such power spend him-
self so passionately in such a cause. I had seen
and heard men speak in that way about personal
religion and heaven and hell, and struggles and
wrongs long past, but never before about child-
hood. It seemed to me, and to all young men
who heard him, that here was a vital thing to
work for, here indeed a cause to which a man
might nobly attach himself, feeling sure that,
though he himself might fail, the cause would go
marching grandly on.

And now what is the lesson of this sincere in-
spiring life, for we are not here to mourn Dr.
Curry or to recount in formal fashion the details
of his life or to enumerate his specific achieve-


Online LibraryR.L. Polk & CoPolk's San Francisco (San Francisco County, Calif.) city directory (Volume 1967) → online text (page 1 of 2)