Major, Attorney General, College President
For Harwell Goodwin Davis, the moral values, strong work ethic and love of learning instilled by his parents were traits he inspired in others throughout his long career. A native son, born in Marengo County and educated at South Alabama Institute, he received a law degree from the University of Alabama in 1903.
He practiced law in Thomasville and Gadsden before being appointed Assistant Attorney General in 1916. When America entered World War I, he resigned his post to enlist in the US Army. He was commissioned a captain in 1917 and married Lena Vail of Mississippi later that year. He served with distinction in France, rising to the rank of Major. Wounded in action, he was cited for gallantry by General John G. Pershing. The title "Major" followed him the rest of his life.
After a medical discharge, Davis served two years as Assistant Attorney General and six years (1921-1927) as Attorney General of the State of Alabama. In addition, he gained recognition for campaigning against the convict lease system which had been labeled "a relic of barbarism, a species of human slavery." In 1933, he was appointed Collector of Internal Revenue for the district of Alabama.
The election of Major Davis in 1939 to the presidency of Howard College allowed him the opportunity to promote his educational ideals. On the brink of bankruptcy, the college, under his leadership, became financially and academically sound and in favor with the Alabama Baptist Convention. He dreamed the dream of a new campus in Homewood and oversaw the transition, setting a high standard of Georgian Colonial architecture. He personally enlisted individuals able to provide guidance and support for what was to become Samford University. The library of the University is named in his honor. Upon his retirement in 1958, he was named Chancellor.
As an active churchman, he taught men's Bible classes and served as deacon and deacon chairman. A staunch believer in Baptist higher education, he served on the Board of Trustees of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and was the first elected president of the Association of Southern Baptist Colleges and Schools.
In his later years, he wrote a novel, The Legend of Landsee. The book, a story set in rural Alabama, incorporated his early recollections and was published at the time of his 94th birthday.
Harwell Goodwin Davis was inducted into the Alabama Men's Hall of Fame in 1994.