Samford University

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Samuel R. Freeman, 1869-1871

Samuel R. FreemanLike E. Q. Thornton, Samuel R. Freeman served as president of Howard College for only a brief time (1869-1871) as the college struggled to find stable leadership after the Civil War. Freeman, an alumnus and trustee, was recommended for the presidency by a fellow trustee who had just declined Freeman's offer of the position. Though surprised by the turned-table, Freeman accepted the presidency.

The trustee who nominated Freeman for the presidency described the Tennessee native as "majestic in structure, towering in intellect, full of Holy Ghost Power." Freeman also suffered throughout his life from a debilitating eye disease but found some comfort in the home of the widow with whom he boarded while a student at Howard. Freeman married the widow, became a leading minister in the state and, as chairman of the education committee of the Alabama Baptist Convention, played a key role in persuading Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry to accept the presidency of the re-opened Howard College in 1865. Freeman joined Howard's board of trustees only a year before following in Curry's footsteps.

Freeman delighted in the new opportunity to serve the college, and dedicated his attention to increasing enrollment and re-opening Howard's Theological Department, which had ceased operation along with most other college functions during the war. He succeeded in the latter endeavor, but a one-year increase in enrollment failed to improve the college's financial picture because so many students made their way through Howard on scholarships, IOUs or irregular payments for tuition. Enrollment dropped to previous levels in Freeman's second year in office, leaving the college in ever-deepening debt.

By 1871, Freeman had seen enough of life as a college president. Deciding, like E. Q. Thornton, that his true calling lay in his original profession, he resigned the presidency in favor of full-time ministry in Jefferson, Texas. He died only a year later, just as his alma mater entered a period of dramatic and sometimes controversial transformation under the long-term leadership it had sought for a decade.

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