The Academy of Honor was created by the state of Alabama “to bestow honor and recognition upon living Alabamians for their outstanding accomplishments and service.” The bill establishing the Academy was passed in the 3rd special session of the Alabama Legislature in 1965 and signed into law by Governor George Wallace on October 29, 1965.
Dr. Emmett Carmichael, chairman of the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, first proposed the idea of an academy of honor in Alabama. Other organizations in the state honored deceased individuals, but no formal program existed for recognizing living citizens. A few other states had similar programs of recognition, and Dr. Carmichael’s proposal drew in part on those models.
Three years passed before the Alabama Academy of Honor was formally organized. Lieutenant Governor Albert Brewer acceded to the Governor’s Office in May 1968 and soon began working with Dr. Carmichael to organize the Academy. As provided by the enabling legislation, Governor Brewer appointed a sixteen-member Nominating Committee, with two members from each congressional district, to elect the members of the first class. Dr. Carmichael served as the acting chairman of the Nominating Committee, and its first meeting was held at the Capitol on October 25, 1968.
The law creating the Academy stipulated that all governors would automatically be considered elected to membership. Up to one hundred additional members could be elected, but the number of members “from the political field” was limited to no more than twenty-five percent of the membership.
The first class was truly an extraordinary group of Alabamians: U.S. Senators Lister Hill and John Sparkman; Winton Blount, Postmaster General of the United States; Dr. Wernher von Braun, Director of the Marshall Space Flight Center; Paul W. Bryant, football coach at University of Alabama; Dr. A. G. Gaston, a Birmingham businessman; Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, Chief of U.S. Naval Operations; Dr. Frank A. Rose, President of the University of Alabama; Frank P. Samford, President of Liberty National Life Insurance Company of Birmingham; and Bertha Smolian, a Birmingham philanthropist. Governor Brewer and former governors James Folsom, John Patterson, and George Wallace rounded out the first class of fourteen members.
Robert Inman, press secretary for Governor Brewer, served as the Governor’s liaison with Dr. Carmichael in convening the Nominating Committee, but Inman asked Milo Howard, director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, to assist in arrangements for the Academy’s first induction ceremony. That ceremony was held in the House Chamber of the Capitol on August 25, 1969. Senator Lister Hill offered a response on behalf of the members, in which he summarized the significant work done by each inductee on behalf of the state.
That ceremony was also the Academy’s first business meeting. The members elected former governor John Patterson to be their new chairman. Milo Howard was elected the non-member secretary. With Howard’s election, the responsibility for providing administrative support for the Academy shifted from the Governor’s Office to the Archives. After the first meeting adjourned, members gathered for a luncheon at The Whitley Hotel in downtown Montgomery.
Since that first meeting, the selection of new members and the annual induction ceremony and luncheon have followed a similar pattern, but all the subsequent members have been elected by the Academy membership. In the course of the Academy’s history, over 260 members have been elected, recognizing men and women from a wide variety of backgrounds and areas of achievement for their outstanding service to the state and the nation.