Basil Allen

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This article is about the attorney and judge. For others with similar names, see B. M. Allen (disambiguation).

Basil Manly Allen (born December 20, 1859 in Carolina County, Virginia; died February 3, 1924 in Birmingham) was a Birmingham attorney and judge.

Allen was the son of Reverend Littlebury Woodson Allen and the former Harriett Ann Martin of Virginia. The family was residing in Louisville, Kentucky when the Civil War began, at which time Reverend Woodson resigned from the pulpit and returned to Virginia to raise an infantry regiment. He served throughout the conflict and was present at Appomattox Courthouse when Lee surrendered. Harriet died in 1865 and Basil was raised and educated by his older sister, Hattie.

Allen graduated at the top of his class at the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College in 1876, and began reading law under E. C. Moncure in Virginia. In 1878 he moved to Hale County and continued his studies under Judge Thomas Roulhac in Greensboro. He was admitted to the bar in Hale County in 1880 and opened his own practice in 1881. He was elected to the Commissioners' Court and to the office of Justice of the Peace that same year, and also raised livestock at a large plantation in the area. In January 1882 he moved to Birmingham, where he was appointed Justice of the Peace in March, and elected for a full term in 1884.

In January 1920 Allen was retained to defend a Black U.S. Army Sergeant, Edgar Caldwell, who had shot and killed a streetcar driver in apparent self-defense in Anniston. Caldwell was convicted by an all-white jury in Hugh Merrill's court, and sentenced to death. The NAACP took up Allen's appeal, but was unsuccessful, and Caldwell was hanged on July 30.

Allen co-founded the Birmingham Lodge No. 79 of the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks in 1888 and served as its first Exalted Ruler. He was elected Grand Exalted Ruler of the national order at St Louis, Missouri in 1899. Following the convention on June 26, a delegation from Birmingham met his train at Blount Springs, where a grand celebration was held.

Allen was also a leader in the Phoenix Lodge No. 25 of the Knights of Pythias, and a member of the International Order of Foresters and Improved Order of Red Men. He reigned as Rex Vulcan II during Birmingham's 1897 Mardi-Gras festivities.

Allen married the former Carolyn Dyer and had two children, Walter and Peter. Sometime between 1913 and 1919 the family moved from a home at 1008 20th Street South to the a new residence at 2230 Highland Avenue.

Allen kept offices in the Kessler Building at 1924–1926 3rd Avenue North, and also owned property a block east, where the Majestic Theatre was built in 1906. On October 8, 1918, Allen appeared before the health committee established by the Birmingham City Commission, representing the management of the Lyric Theatre. Allen urged the commission not to take the "hasty action" of passing a shutdown ordinance during the 1918 influenza pandemic. The Lyric was well ventilated, he argued, and doing "war work" by showing newsreels and honoring the government's wishes that, "the people be kept amused."

Allen died at home in 1924 and is buried at Elmwood Cemetery, where his monument takes the form of a curved pentastyle Doric colonnade and entablature.


  • Ellis, Charles Edward (1910) An Authentic History of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. self-published
  • Owen, Thomas McAdory and Marie Bankhead Owen (1921) History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography. 4 volumes. Chicago, Illinois: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co.
  • "All Alabama Mourns Death of B. M. Allen" (February 4, 1924) The Birmingham Age-Herald
  • Burden, Greg (2014) Blount Springs: Alabama's Fountain of Youth. Blountsville: Fifth Estate. ISBN 9781936533404

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