Professor Samuel Clay Pelham (1874 - 1952)
Samuel Clay Pelham was born on May 31, 1874 in Alexandria, Alabama, the son of Thomas and Tirza Morris Pelham. The family lived with the Atkinson Pelhams until their home "Mahlep" (which is Pelham spelled backwards) was built in 1883 (this house recently burned in 1985). While a young child, Samuel was vaccinated by his grandfather, Atkinson Pelham, for smallpox -- it is said that he was the first boy to receive the vaccine in that part of Alabama.
In 1892 Sam entered the University of Alabama, where he was active in sports, especially gymnastics and boxing. Upon graduation in 1896 he taught for a couple of years near Fort Payne, Alabama, and came back to Anniston to be principal of the first public elementary school, Pine Avenue School. He then became principal of Anniston High School but he was dismissed in 1913 for various reasons, one which included teaching the theory of evolution. Sam took over the management of a furniture store until it went broke in 1921 and then he returned to teaching, becoming principal of Jacksonville High School until the school burned in 1925. Continuing his education, he earned a masters degree at Peabody College in Nashville. A great fan of Andrew Jackson's, his thesis was "Jackson's creek Campaign as a Factor in the War of 1812."
For six years Sam taught at the University of Georgia (including a class of black teachers) until the bank failures in the 1930s made it impossible for students to pay their tuition. Sam came back to Anniston to work in the floor refinishing business, and eventually retired to his farm. In World War II he was Anniston's Civil Defense Director. A member of the National Guard, he achieved the rank of Captain, and was on the rifle team. He loved to hunt and fish. In his retirement, many of his former students often visited him.
Sam Pelham was invited to join the Ku Klux Klan in his youth, but refused. In 1948 he expressed contempt for the "Dixiecrats" who walked out of the Democratic National Convention over the civil rights plank.
On July 30, 1910, Sam had married Aileen Douglas, the daughter of Joel Andrew and Florine Leachman Douglas, who moved to Anniston from Meridian, Mississippi in 1887. Joel Douglas was a cousin of Stephen A. Douglas. Sam and Aileen had four children: Joel Douglas, born 1911; Morris, born 1913; Mary McBride, born 1915; and John, born 1920. All the children are still living with the exception of Morris Pelham, a bomber pilot whose plane exploded during a demonstration in front of General George C. Marshall near Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1942.
Sam remained active on his farm until his death at his home on December 26, 1952. All of us in JPHA owe Sam Pelham a great debt -- it was he who placed the few letters still in existence of John Pelham's in the Department of Archives and History in Montgomery, Alabama.
This article first appeared in Volume 5, No. 1 of The Cannoneer.
Letters of J. Douglas Pelham to Peggy Vogtsberger. January 15. 1986 and July 5. 1986; The [Anniston?] Post-Herald, "Alabama Deaths," Dec. 26. 1952.