Southern University was the result of discussions by the Alabama Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South beginning in 1854. The school was chartered by the state of Alabama, and classes began in 1856. Enrollment dwindled with the outbreak of the Civil War, but the school survived the war and the Reconstruction. Almost closed in 1871-72 for lack of funds, Southern entered the 1880’s with its highest enrollment.
The Southron of 1917 shows a college enrollment of around 90 students. In addition, Southern had an attached academy with fifty or so students. The faculty showed expertise in traditional disciplines of languages, mathematics, science, history and philosophy. While the student body was overwhelmingly male, there was a co-ed presence after 1897. The 1916 yearbook shows twelve co-eds.
Southern University had chapters of five social fraternities in addition to several less formal social groups based on interest or geography. There were two literary societies—Belles Lettres and Clariosophic—involving most of the male students. Southern had both a band and a glee club in a music program capable of staging light opera. It also sponsored a strong Intercollegiate Oratorical Association.
As a Methodist-supported school, Southern had Bible study and mission study groups as well as a Ministeries Conference and a chapter of the YMCA.
While Southern was an Alabama Conference school, it was supported for a time also by the North Alabama Conference. However, in 1898, the North Alabama Conference opened its own school—Birmingham College. Then after 20 years the two conferences combined schools, resulting in Birmingham-Southern College located in Birmingham.
Birmingham-Southern College has digitized the yearbooks of Southern University as part of its online special collection. As the name "Birmingham-Southern" suggests, Southern University became one of the components of the present college. The Library of Congress has the photo of Southern's main building, destroyed by tornado in 1973.
Bricks and Mortar
The cornerstone for Main Hall was laid in 1857, and the building was completed in 1859. Naturally, it was the center of all administrative and academic functions of Southern University. Hamilton Hall, a dormitory, was later added; a gymnasium was built in 1907. These, along with a sports field, constituted the Southern campus at the time of the merger.
After Southern University moved out, Main Hall was converted into a private military academy. The 1973 tornado through Greensboro destroyed the building.
Colors: Purple and White
Southern eventually had a women’s basketball team that seems to have involved about every co-ed in school. More than an intramural program, the team played a schedule against other local schools.
Southern fielded men's teams in football, baseball, basketball, track and tennis. During a five–year period when Southern could not afford to play football, the school claimed that baseball was its signature sport. The yearbook also claimed that the team seldom lost a basketball game.
In 1915 football returned to Southern. The team was inexperienced, with few players having any football experience at all. Almost all were underclassmen. Nevertheless, the schedule included the likes of Alabama Reserves, Howard, Mississippi College, Birmingham, and Spring Hill. The Southron noted that the team “made credible scores in three out of the five games played.”
1915 Southern University baseball team. Some players appear to be academy boys. (Southron, Courtesy of Birmingham-Southern College (https://archive.org/stream/southron1915sout#page/107/mode/1up) accessed 2-6-2018
Main Hall (Library of Congress (https://www.loc.gov/resource/hhh.al0223.photos/?sp=1) accessed 10-9-2017