Physician-statesman Russell McWhorter Cunningham, Alabama’s first lieutenant governor, and Indian linguist-educator Sequoyah, inventor of the Cherokee alphabet, have been elected to the Alabama Men’s Hall of Fame at Samford University.
The two will be inducted during the annual Men’s Hall of Fame luncheon Tuesday, Sept. 26, at The Club. Tickets to the 11:30 a.m. event may be ordered by telephoning (205) 879-1076.
Founded by the Alabama legislature in 1987, the hall recognizes men "whose lives have impacted the state, nation and world." Honorees must have been deceased at least two years. The Birmingham Women’s Committee of 100 sponsors the program. HOF board members represent Alabama’s seven Congressional districts.
Cunningham (1855-1921), from Lawrence County, was appointed state physician to the Wetumpka penitentiary in 1881 and later served as physician for more than 30 years in the state’s mining community for Alabama Steel and Shipbuilding Co. and Tennessee Coal and Iron Co. He called for more stringent mine inspections, instituted reform of the convict lease system and implemented improved working and living conditions for miners.
Cunningham was elected to the state senate in 1896 and was elected the first lieutenant governor in 1902, serving through 1907. Due to the ill health of Gov. William Jelks in 1904-1905, Cunningham served as governor. He supported such policies as anti-lynching measures, funding for education and libraries, stringent regulation of child labor laws and an elected Railroad Commission.
Retiring from active medical practice in 1914, he was elected Birmingham’s first health officer.
Sequoyah (c. 1770-c. 1843), born in Tennessee, moved to northeast Alabama in about 1800, establishing himself as a silversmith, trader, entrepreneur and Cherokee leader in Will’s Town, DeKalb County. His English name was George Gist, or Guest.
About 1809, Sequoyah began to formulate his hallmark invention, a Cherokee alphabet. By 1821, he had reduced the language to a written code of 86 symbols which the Cherokees combined to form words. By this time, Sequoyah had moved to what is now western Arkansas or eastern Oklahoma, but he returned east to distribute and teach his writing system.
Using Sequoyah’s system, the Cherokees produced literature, newspapers, laws and a constitution. They also conducted business, preserved their oral traditions and produced Bibles and hymnbooks.
Sequoyah served as a paternal leader of the Cherokees, acting as conciliator between the western Cherokees and a dispossessed eastern band. He died while on a mission searching for a lost band of Cherokees in Mexico.