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BIOGRAPHY and GENEALOGY
(b. 1856 – d 1910)
Jefferson County, Alabama
Rufus Napoleon Rhodes , founder, editor and owner of the Birmingham News, was born near Pascagoula, in Jackson County, Miss., on June 5, 1856. His parents were Rufus Randolph Rhodes and Martha Fisher. His father was a lawyer and practiced his profession in Washington City and New Orleans.
His father was commissioner of patents of the Confederate States and served under Lee and Joseph E. Johnston the last years of the war between the States. Rufus N. Rhodes was educated by his mother; and in the high school of New Orleans; Dr. J. B. Shearer’s grammar school at Cluster Springs, Va.; and the Southwestern Presbyterian University at Clarksville, Tennessee. He read law in the office of Hon. James E. Bailey in Clarksville, and was admitted to the practice on his nineteenth birthday, Jan. 5, 1875.
In 1876 and 1877 he was private secretary of his law preceptor, Mr. Bailey when the latter was one of Tennessee’s United States senators. In the fall of 1877, Rhodes was elected city attorney of Clarksville and was re-elected four consecutive times. While city attorney he represented Montgomery County in the general assembly of Tennessee, the sessions of 1881 and 1882. He voted against the repudiation of the State debt (as his father had done forty years before, when a member of the general assembly of Mississippi), being known at the time as one of “The Twelve Apostles of Tennessee’s State Credit Democracy.”
On June 27, 1882, in Clarksville, he married Margaret Smith, the daughter of Christopher H. and Lucy Dabney Smith. He held military commissions from the Governors of Tennessee, Illinois, and Alabama and was “Brigadier General of the Ninth Congressional District of Alabama.”
He was always a Democrat, and was a member of two National Democratic conventions, having represented the Hermitage district in Tennessee at Cincinnati, when Hancock and English were nominated; and Alabama at large in the Chicago convention that nominated Cleveland and Stevenson. He belonged to the Grover Cleveland school of Democrats. He was a tariff reformer, an advocate of the gold standard, a friend to civil service reform, and after the Spanish-American war, a believer in “Expansion.”
Rhodes practiced law in Chicago for four years and moved to Birmingham in 1887 when he at once engaged in journalism. The brash Rhodes had served as the editor of Birmingham’s Daily Herald but quit in a disagreement with that newspaper’s president, who did not share Rhodes’ dream of building a bridge over the city’s railroad tracks. So, just three days later, on March 14, 1888, he founded the Birmingham News, which became one of the most influential and successful papers in the South. Rhodes started his own newspaper, The Evening News, which eventually became known as The Birmingham News. And yes, his dream of building a viaduct over the railroad tracks came true, too, in 1891.
One hundred and eighteen years after that first edition of The Evening News, The Birmingham News continues to carry on the tradition that Rhodes, the paper’s first publisher, started with $800 in the bank and two reporters on his staff.
The paper is just 17 years younger than the city for which it is named, and as Birmingham has grown and adapted to changing times, so has The Birmingham News. The News persistently advocated good morals; honesty in personal and official life; the maintenance of credit, private and public; the enforcement of the law; fair elections; the preservation of order; protection of life and property rights; the improvement of the public school system; and every principle, practice, and policy that tends toward the aggrandizement, the elevation and happiness of the people of Alabama and the entire country. He was president of the Associated Press and President of the Southern Publishers’ Association.
General Rhodes enjoyed since he was a boy, the reputation of being a clever public speaker, and scored considerable success on the lecture platform. Starting life without a dollar, he earned by hard work a comfortable fortune. He was always a generous giver to charitable, religious and educational causes. He was an Episcopalian and a vestryman of the Advent church of Birmingham. He died January 12, 1910, after a lengthy illness of Bright’s disease and arterial trouble and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Birmingham, Alabama. His wife Margaret died in October 1929.
Rhodes Park, located at 28th Street South and Highland Avenue in Birmingham, Alabama, was named for Rufus Napoleon Rhodes. The mansion he built and lived in on Rhodes Circle is no longer standing.
- Notable Men of Alabama: Personal and Genealogical, Volume 2 edited by Joel Campbell DuBose
- History of Alabama and dictionary of Alabama biography By Thomas McAdory Owen, Marie Bankhead Owen
- Find a grave.com # 64939643 # 51994973