The Sherman Oak was a towering Oak tree located on the campus of Howard College in East Lake, on the quad facing the "Old Main". It was estimated to date from around 1800. The tree was dedicated by J. M. Shelburne at an Arbor Day event in February 1915. It was named in honor of Samuel Sherman, the first president of Howard, serving from 1842 to 1852.
In the 1950s, the Sherman Oak was given a regular weekly opinion column in The Crimson.
In February 1957 the tree suffered minor fire damage. Male students from Birmingham-Southern College burned three small crosses in front of Renfroe Hall and set fire to the tree while chanting "Down with Howard! Up with Southern!" on the eve of the rivals' basketball game. Student Quinn Kelley chased off the pranksters and a water brigade of female students extinguished the fire before it caused significant damage to the oak. The tension between the two schools escalated into an all-out brawl during the game, which was called before the second half. After the gymnasium was vacated a pair of ministerial students from Southern again set fire to the tree. They were caught by Howard students and hauled into the Old Main to stand "trial" for their crimes in an ad-hoc court of justice. The jury found them guilty and sentenced them to have the letter "H" shaved onto the backs of their heads. The rivalry was suspended until 1961.
That same year, as Howard College prepared to relocate to its new campus in Shades Valley, seedlings from the original Sherman Oak were planted around the new campus, notably in front of Samford Hall.
Meanwhile, local groups such as the Old College Station Betterment Club and the East End Chamber of Commerce lobbied to preserve the campus as a community resource. When those efforts failed, the 33-acre site was purchased by Caldwell & Elliott real estate developers, who planned a 13-acre shopping center facing 2nd Avenue South. Though it was not indicated on their drawings, the developers promised that several old trees, including the Sherman Oak, would be kept.
The East End Chamber continued to oppose the proposed shopping center. After the Old Main was demolished in 1960 the site was eventually used for an apartment complex, now the Twin Gates Apartments and Sherman Oaks Apartments. The Eastlake Plaza Shopping Center was later built to the west of the apartments.
Another group of seedlings from the Sherman Oak were cultivated and distributed to alumni during Homecoming exercises in 1996. The tree survived in the parking lot of the apartment complex until it was struck by lightning in 1998. When the blighted tree was taken down and removed, a section of the trunk was saved and donated to the Samford University Library Special Collection.
- "Crosses burned on Howard Campus" (February 11, 1957) The Birmingham News - via Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
- Beiman, Irving (September 20, 1959) "Architect's sketch of shopping center shows plans for old Howard campus" The Birmingham News - via Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
- "Our Favorite Things from the Special Collection, Part Three" (October 30, 2013) Samford University Library News - accessed February 18, 2019
- Howell, Lynn-Hollyn (March 26, 2015) "March Madness: Dead Cats and Burning Bulldogs" Bull Pup: The History of Samford University - accessed February 18, 2019
- Hathcock, Aly (November 4, 2015) "Samford Community to Join Tree Planting Project Near Campus" Samford University press release - accessed February 18, 2019