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Established in 1830 by Mobile’s first Catholic Bishop, Spring Hill college stands as one of Alabama’s oldest places of higher education. Spring Hill College is notable for being one of the first institutions of higher education in the deep south to desegregate after the ruling of Brown vs Board of education. Their early desegregation caused ripples in the Mobile community, prompting retaliation from the KKK. The school has many buildings around the college quad that make up the center of the college campus, most of which were rebuilt after a fire in 1869 burned most of the campus to the ground. Of the original buildings on Spring Hill campus, only Moore Hall is from before the fire.

The Old College Building

The Old College Building

Spring Hill College Quadrangle, New Main building

Spring Hill College Quadrangle, New Main building

In 1830 Bishop of Mobile Michael Portier purchased the land for the school from the city of Mobile, totaling nearly 300 acres of land to be set aside for the school. Initially, the school was intended to follow a traditional European model of schooling. Similar to other Jesuit colleges at the time, students were to begin attending the school around age nine and would be placed starting at a secondary school level. The education provided at Spring Hill would progress from secondary, through high school levels, and serve as a full college. Initially, this was the schooling plan that Spring Hill provided to Mobile. In the 1920s the school dropped the secondary level schooling and then expanded the high school program to ensure compliance with increasing accreditation standards for high schools at the time. Eventually, however, the high school would close in 1935, leaving Spring Hill as primarily a higher education institution.

During the period of the Civil War, the college’s population grew as Confederate officers sent the sons to Spring Hill in an attempt to escape conscription. As the population grew, more students sought to join the war effort. Eventually, Spring Hill college formed two military companies for the Confederacy.

The college would continue to grow in population until 1869 when a fire broke out on campus. In February 1969 a fire was discovered in the main building of the college, destroying it. The fire spread to other buildings on campus, burning all except for Moore Hall. After the fire, many members of the college moved classes to St. Charles College in Grand Cobean, Louisiana. Some other members of the faculty remained at Moore Hall. Later that year on December 8th, 1869, the college had rebuilt the main building and reopened. 

In 1909 the St. Joseph’s Chapel was constructed after the previous chapel burned to the ground.

Before the ruling of Brown vs Board of Education in 1954, Spring Hill College has been a white only college for the first 124 years of its existence. Despite this, Spring Hill became one of the first colleges in the deep south to desegregate after the Supreme Court Ruling and in September of that same year Andrew Smith, president of the college at the time, presided over the enrollment of nine African American students to the college.

Eventually on May 29th, 1956, Fannie Motley became the first Black graduate of the previously white college. For the next ten years, Spring Hill was the only desegregated college within the state of Alabama, making it a landmark within the deep south. The college received praise from Martin Luther King Jr. in his writing “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in 1963, commenting on the significance of Spring Hill’s desegregation.

“I want to commend the Catholic leaders of Alabama for desegregating Spring Hill College several years ago.” -Martin Luther King Jr. 1963

One of the most significant events that occurred at Spring Hill College was the intrusion and refuting of KKK members that harassed campus. In 1956 Albert Foley, a professor of sociology at Spring Hill, created a survey of Mobile residents and thoughts about the Klan. Results from the report showed that 85% of residents considered the Klan a grave threat to their community. In October of 1956 the results were published and the Klan Imperial Wizard, E. C. Barnard, publicly denounced Foley.

On Jan 21st, 1957 a dozen Klan cars drove onto campus late at night to burn a cross at the college. During that time the students would have normally been asleep, however, many students were still awake studying for finals. Students poured out of their dormitories, reportedly having grabbed whatever weapons they could find to repel the intruding Klansmen. The Klan retreated and the next evening quickly established a burning cross outside the college and fled before students could stop them. The following day, students had hung an effigy of a Klan member at the college gate with the sign “KKKers are CHICKEN.”

In 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald spoke at the college, only a short few months before the Kennedy assassination. In his talk to the students, he spoke about his time living abroad in Russia, speaking about life there, and the perspectives he gained working there.

Fitzpatrick, Robert J.. Summary of a Speech by Lee Harvey Oswald, The Lee Harvey Oswald Research Page. Accessed October 13th 2020.

Floyd, Warner W.. Spring Hill College Quadrangle, National Register of Historic Places. August 17th 1973. Accessed October 13th 2020.

History of Spring Hill College, Spring Hill College. Accessed October 13th 2020.

McDermott, Jim. A Professor, a President and the Klan, America The Jesuit Review. April 16th 2007. Accessed October 13th 2020.

Padgett, Charles Stephen. Spring Hill College, Encyclopedia of Alabama. February 22nd 2007. Accessed October 13th 2020.

Spring Hill College, Original Building, Old Shell Road, Spring Hill, Mobile County, AL, Library of Congress. January 1st 1933. Accessed October 13th 2020.

The Mission Statement of Spring Hill College, Spring Hill College, The Jesuit College of the South. April 5th 2001. Accessed October 13th 2020.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Image obtained from the Library of Congress:

Image obtained from the National Register of Historic Places: