A Unique Perspective On The Iron Bowl

While the rest of the country considers this the week of Thanksgiving, in Alabama it is known as the week of the Iron Bowl.  My son Kevin, who writes for the weekly Mobile newspaper Lagniappe, came up with the following concerning this rivalry between Auburn and Alabama.  It is an interesting and entertaining history lesson.  (And obviously written by someone who prefers orange and blue to crimson and white.)

“The bitter roots of the Auburn-Alabama rivalry are based in opposing perspectives. All Auburn folks ever wanted was freedom. Alabama wanted Auburn’s eradication.

The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 made Auburn University possible. Public lands were apportioned for the establishment of higher education dedicated toward agriculture and the mechanical arts: architecture, engineering and the like. Most of the modern-day SEC – Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas A&M – sprang from this act as the nation recovered from the Civil War.

The University of Alabama felt sure they should determine the fate of land-grant opportunity. As expected, the state legislature was rife with Bama alumni. They wanted to sell the 240,000 acres of Morrill Act land scripts or have them held in conjunction with the Tuscaloosa college.

Meanwhile Auburn was successful in offering up the remains of the East Alabama Male College for the new plan. In 1872, the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama was founded but its new board of trustees and the state mismanaged the endowment. The new school was in danger of collapse.

The state legislature’s failure in due diligence seemed beyond coincidental to some. Were the school to go belly up, the University of Alabama would benefit by assuming the remaining land scripts.

Bama continued to vex the land-grant school. They lowered tuition and graduation standards to siphon off students. Auburn President Isaac Tichenor beseeched the state to make his school’s rates comparable so they could compete.

In 1892, the land-grant school became coed and its name soon changed to Alabama Polytechnic Institute. Its struggles remained the same.

In 1907, a proposal arose on Goat Hill to move the land-grant school to Birmingham. In that same session, Auburn finally was awarded its first state appropriation after 35 years of existence. However, they only gained receipt of a third of the $800,000 dollars as it seemed the Bama alum-packed legislature was aided in attempts to “dry out” the east Alabama upstarts.

In 1912, new University of Alabama President George Denny – the same man who openly voiced plans to turn the university into a football factory – penned a piece for newspaper publication. He wrote “choice young men and women” of the state wanted to attend the University of Alabama because it was known throughout the country, not within the “narrow confines” of a single state.

From before World War I through the Great Depression, further Auburn appropriations were regularly withheld. Instead, the state attempted to fund Auburn through a portion of a tax on agricultural equipment and fertilizer. Remaining funding was from federal sources.

In 1922, Auburn weathered an attempt to have the college moved to Montgomery.

In 1932, Bama forces tried having Auburn defunded after a Brooking Institute report showed API had higher per-student expenditure than the Capstone. API countered that scientific courses cost more than liberal arts programs.

Bama’s perceived superiority culminated in a 1945 address to state entities wherein they maintained that the University of Alabama’s responsibilities for higher educations were undercut by the establishment of “the normal schools, higher education for blacks,” the women’s college at Montevallo and the land-grant college at Auburn. They tried to paint the schools’ founding with endemic hatred for the Reconstruction era. They claimed their founding as the results of “the illogic inherent in the evolution of a democratic government.”

The report’s haughty tone drew a sharp response from Auburn President Luther Duncan who said he had never seen “a bolder, more deliberate, more vicious, or more deceptive document.” He predicted if the friends of Auburn and Montevallo did not rise up to combat “this evil monster,” it would consume them “just like the doctrine of Hitler.”

With the G.I. Bill at the end of World War II, Auburn’s enrollment doubled between 1944 and 1948. Bama’s hopes of starving the cross-state school and absorbing its resources died.

In the Heart of Dixie, Faulkner’s observation – “the past is never dead; it isn’t even past” – reigns supreme. This historic friction has filtered down to contemporary residents and institutions.

That’s what fueled the gridiron rivalry. It’s what drove the passions of 1989’s “First Time Ever,” when the Crimson Tide’s arrival in the Loveliest Village was their disgruntled admission of equality. It’s what fed David Housel’s oft-scoffed comparisons of Bama to historic villains and dictatorial adversaries.

I have listened as Bama alums admitted their university is “just better” than Auburn, with no logic or reasoning, just a fact of existence like gravity or entropy. To me it comes from a perspective rooted in the Old South and its feudal system, where the womb that fostered you determined your lifelong worth.

It’s the mindset of oligarchs and oppressors. It’s antithetical to the best of America. The only cure for this kind of bullying is well established: rise up and punch it right in the kisser.

And that’s what Bama’s about to find out in less than a week’s time.”

Kevin, your old pappy sure hopes you are correct.

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