Samuel Ullman

Businessman, Poet, Humanitarian

Samuel Ullman, born in Hechingen, Germany, in 1840, immigrated with his family to the United States in 1851 and settled in Port Gibson, Mississippi. He attended Mississippi schools and received further education in Louisville, Kentucky.

When the Civil War began, Ullman enlisted in the Mississippi Claiborne (County) Rifles of the Sixteenth Mississippi Regiment. He fought with the armies of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, and was twice wounded. Returning home to Port Gibson, he recuperated and moved to Natchez to enter the mercantile business. In 1867, Ullman married Emma Mayer, a teacher in the B'nai Israel Sunday school program and the subject of many of his poems. Their family grew to eight children, six of whom lived to maturity.

The Ullman family came to Birmingham in 1884. Ullman established a retail hardware business and was associated briefly with a land company. With his prior leadership in business and education in Natchez, he was soon appointed to various city boards and was elected a city alderman. He also held a seat on the Birmingham Board of Education from 1884 to 1900, serving a president from 1893 to 1900. His influence and interest in African-American education resulted in the creation of the Industrial High School in 1900. Although small, this school served as a model for other schools like it in the South. In 1901, the Ullman School opened, named in his honor.

Ullman and his wife helped create Hillman Hospital, which began as a charity institution for Birmingham. They served on the hospital's board of managers. Ullman also helped establish one of the first humane societies in the nation.

A leader in the religious life of his community, Ullman promoted the building of Temple Emanu-El and was elected president of its congregation. In 1890, he was elected the temple's rabbi, a position he held until 1894.

Ullman was also a poet. One of his poems, "Youth," was framed on General Douglas MacArthur's office wall in Manila. MacArthur took it to Tokyo, where it was widely read and appreciated, as it was in the United States. "Youth" so impressed the Japanese people that many considered it a credo for living. Kenji Awakura, a Japanese businessman working in Alabama, was so influenced by this poem that he brought together Japanese and American financial resources to purchase Ullman's Birmingham home to preserve it as a museum. The Ullman School is now part of the University of Alabama at Birmingham campus.

On March 21, 1924, Samuel Ullman died. His entire life was devoted to education, community service and faithfulness to his religious beliefs. Although most of his life and work concentrated in Birmingham, his influence is global.