Print VersionEducator and Lieutenant Colonel (Confederate States of America)
For a man to have honor in an age of honor is commonplace. For a man to instill honor into unformed youth is a far greater feat. Such a man was Colonel James Thomas Murfee, who both taught and exemplified integrity, duty, and virtue at three of Alabama's cornerstone institutions of higher learning.
Education was Colonel Murfee's major contribution to his adopted state. Born in Virginia, September 13, 1833, and educated at the Virginia Military Institute, he began his career at the University of Alabama in 1860, as professor of mathematics. During the Civil War, he served as lieutenant colonel of the Forty-first Regiment, CSA- notably commanding the University's Corps of Cadets against the federal troops who later burned the University of Alabama. Following that futile effort to defend his school and community, Murfee undertook the formidable challenge of rebuilding the campus from the ashes.
In 1871, Colonel Murfee was named President of Howard College, a Baptist affiliated institution at Marion, in Perry County. When the school removed to Birmingham in 1887, he chose to remain behind and, upon the abandoned site, established the Marion Military Institute. For another two decades, first as president (until 1900) and then as advisor, he inspired and shaped many of the men who led Alabama for the next half-century. Retiring in 1907, he spent his remaining years in Tuscaloosa, the family home of his wife, the former Laura Owen whom he had married on July 11, 1861. They were the parents of four children.
For his achievements in education and leadership, Colonel Murfee received a Carnegie Foundation grant in 1906 and was appointed by President Benjamin Harrison to the Board of Directors of the United States Military Academy at West Point. Marion Military Institute stands today as an ongoing testament to the character, discipline, citizenship, and patriotism that is the measure of a man's worth, just as Murfee taught.
James Thomas Murfee was inducted into the Alabama Men's Hall of Fame in 1997.