Reconstruction Period Research Forum
J.F. Drake spurred A&M's growth
J.F. Drake spurred A&M's growth
"A teacher or an executive must decide whether he wants cheap good-will or honest respect."
- Dr. Joseph Fanning Drake
Dr. Joseph Fanning Drake has been lauded as the builder and savior of Alabama A&M University.
Drake, president of the university for 35 years beginning in 1927, expanded the college physically and academically, even in the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The efforts of Drake's administration prevented the school from being closed. But after his arrival in 1927, the faculty and local residents were convinced his job was to close the school.
Drake responded frequently, "I did not come here to conduct the funeral of A&M." He served as president of the university until 1962 and remained president emeritus until his death in 1964.
During his tenure as the fourth president of the school, Drake watched the faculty grow from 30 to more than 100. The school had about 386 students when he arrived in 1927 and 1,307 by the time he retired.
It wasn't easy.
Because he was black, there were times when Drake had to stand in a broom closet while waiting to meet with Alabama governors in Montgomery about funding and other issues for A&M, said Huntsville resident Bobby Hayden, who grew up around Drake.
Hayden remembers hearing Drake talk about the racist situations he faced in Montgomery until "Big Jim" Folsom became governor in 1947.
Drake "endured those moments so that others would prosper," Hayden said.
Hayden's mother worked in the school cafeteria, and he attended a school on campus for children of college employees. Hayden can talk for hours about Drake, a man who was a major influence on his life.
Because of Drake's lessons, Hayden became one of the first five blacks to serve on the Presidential Honor Guard when President John F. Kennedy integrated the team.
Drake "wanted his students to be prepared for anything," he said.
Looking through archived photographs of Drake at the university, it's interesting to see that the man of monumental accomplishments was small in stature.
Even at a diminutive 5 feet 4 inches tall, Drake had a presence that commanded respect, Hayden remembered.
He was a man of distinction. The phrase "a gentleman and a scholar" might have been coined for Drake, as he was both, Hayden said.
Always conscious of his appearance, Drake was never seen without his suit coat in public, Hayden said.
Drake also made notable contributions in the Huntsville community, where he pioneered the organization of the Negro Division of the Tennessee Valley Council, Boy Scouts of America. In 1946, he was awarded the Silver Beaver for outstanding service to boyhood.
Among his other honors is the Humanitarian Award in 1956 from the Twickenham Chapter of the Order of DeMolay of Huntsville.
Drake was a serious, no-nonsense man when it came to education, Hayden said.
Born on the Auburn plains, Drake attended Talladega College to complete his high school and college education. He was a bright scholar who received scholarship money contributed by an Eastern philanthropist, David Hale Fanning. Fanning founded Royal Worcester Corset Co. in Massachusetts.