Rufus Rhodes

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Rufus Rhodes in 1904

Rufus Napoleon Rhodes (born June 5, 1856 in Pascagoula, Mississippi; died January 12, 1910 in Birmingham) was the founder and managing editor of The Birmingham News from its beginning in 1888 until his death.

Rufus was the son of Rufus Randolph Rhodes, an attorney, and Martha Fisher. He was educated in New Orleans, Louisiana; Cluster Springs, Virginia; and the Southwestern University at Clarksville, Tennessee. After reading law at the office of James Bailey in Clarksville he was admitted to the Tennessee State Bar on his 19th birthday.

In 1877 Rhodes was elected City Attorney of Clarksville and represented Montgomery County in the Tennessee Assembly. In 1882 he married the former Margaret Smith. The following year, he and his wife moved to Chicago, Illinois to practice law.

The couple moved to Birmingham in 1887, where Rhodes began his interest in journalism. He initially took a position as editor of The Daily Herald, but was opposed by the paper's president when he wished to campaign to build a bridge over the railroad tracks dividing the city. He resigned on March 11, 1888 and immediately founded the News, its first edition published on March 14, 1888. He used the new paper and his frequent public lectures to advocate for civic progress, order and good morals.

Rhodes, commissioned a Brigadier General in the Alabama National Guard by the authority of the Governor of Alabama, was a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions of 1892 and 1904. He helped organize and later became the second president of the Birmingham Commercial Club. He was a two-term president of the Alabama Press Association (18991901) and served as president of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association. He also served as a director and second vice-president of the Associated Press. He was a vestryman at the Episcopal Church of the Advent,

In 1908 Rhodes built a mansion at 2827 Fairview Circle near Highland Avenue. The circle and the nearby Rhodes Park were later named in his honor.

In 1909, the childless Rhodes, the News' sole owner, announced the sale of a portion of News stock to Victor Hanson. Rhodes died the following year and is buried in Birmingham's Elmwood Cemetery. In 1913 a plaque honoring Rhodes was installed in the reading room at the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce. At the dedication, it was remarked by Joseph Babb that, "He believed in Birmingham not with a fatuous ignoring of its deficiency, but with an abiding optimism in the ultimate splendor and sublime destiny of this community. 'Greater is Birmingham' was even on his lips."

Preceded by:
Birmingham News Publisher
Succeeded by:
Victor Hanson