Cumberland - Chapter 11: The Law School

Let’s kill all the lawyers.
- William Shakespeare

     It’s impossible to tell the story of Cumberland University Law School without looking at it through the lens of Judge Nathan Green Jr. If it were ever said someone had given their life to a school, Judge Green would be that man. He was born on February 19, 1827 and died on February 18, 1919 - just one day short of his ninety-second birthday. In between those dates, was a lifetime almost entirely devoted to the Cumberland School of Law. Like Coach John Heisman in regards to football, Judge Nathan Green Jr. found a calling at an early age that he would dedicate his entire life to.

     Coach Heisman and Judge Green, as different as they were as university men, were similar in many fundamental ways. Both were revered and adored by the young men under their guidance and returned the same genuine affection. Both considered themselves makers of men, one on the football field, the other in the classroom. Just as Heisman was the heart and soul of his football program, Judge Green was the heart and soul of the law school. Green recognized the same honor and artistry in the law that Heisman recognized in football. They both saw the same beauty and purity in their chosen professions others seemed to overlook.

     Nathan Green Jr. enrolled at Cumberland University at the age of fifteen where he joined the initial 1842 class of only 45 students. “Cumberland University had its beginning in a church house,” wrote Winstead P. Bone in A History of Cumberland University. “There was no other place to go. There is indeed something beautiful in the fact that Cumberland had its beginning in a house of prayer.” By 1847, Green received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the school at the young age of twenty and immediately enrolled in the new Cumberland School of Law that had been established the same year. According to the university president “This was the first attempt toward the establishment of a Law School in Tennessee or in the Southwest.” There, Green again joined the school’s inaugural class of law students who amounted to “seven young men sitting with Judge Abraham Caruthers in his brother’s little brick law office.”

     In his life, Judge Green was a student, lawyer, trustee, soldier, professor, judge, chancellor, dean and a trusted friend to all he taught and worked with. “He was the noblest Roman of them all,” wrote the Nashville Banner after his death seventy years later. “Judge Green was about the grandest and most extraordinary old man Tennessee ever produced, and no institution in the State has done more for its credit than the Law School of Cumberland University. Judge Green's memory deserves the highest honor at the hands of Tennessee and such a historic, widely known institution over which he so long presided is an asset to the State, which its people should take care to preserve. His continuance in active work was longer than that of Gladstone, 'the grand old man of history.'”

     Judge Green’s father, it should be noted, also dedicated much of his life to Cumberland University and the study of law. Judge Nathan Green Sr., called a “pillar of the judicial system” by the Middle Tennessee bar in an official memorial resolution, would teach law from 1848 right up until his death in 1866. The senior Judge Green had been elected to the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1831, serving there for twenty years until he finally stepped down from the bench in 1852 to focus exclusively on the law school. His son, Nathan Green Jr., meanwhile, earned his law degree from Cumberland in 1849, and for the next seven years practiced law, quite successfully mind you, with a law partner by the name of Robert Hatton. Hatton was a fellow Cumberland Law School graduate who passed the bar a year after Green in 1850. A statue of Hatton now stands prominently in the Lebanon town square due his time in the Tennessee State Legislature and United States Congress as well as his distinguished, and costly, service as Confederate General during the Civil War. Just eight days after being promoted to brigadier general, Hatton was shot in the head and killed in the Battle of Fair Oaks up in Henrico County, Virginia at the young age of thirty-five.

     In the years leading up to the terrible war between the states (while his former law partner Hatton was involving himself in the world of politics) Judge Green Jr. quit his law practice to join his father at Cumberland, accepting an appointment as professor of law. After having already served as a trustee of the university since 1850, he taught at the school for the next 63 years, interrupted only by the war. When the Civil War began in the spring of 1861, the Law School discontinued operations and the students enlisted to fight in the war for whatever side the state they had come from was fighting on. In 1863, a year after the death of Green’s former law partner, the war would be brought even closer to home for the folks in Lebanon.

     Prior to the war breaking out, Hatton, then in his role as Congressman, argued for 2 ½ hours for compromise and to avoid hasty action in regards to going to war. Less moderate heads prevailed and after a late-night exchange between Hatton (in sleeping attire) and an angry mob, pistols were fired and Hatton’s advice to his constituents was formally rejected. The town of Lebanon was ready for war. On September 5, 1864 (although it would remain a question as to whether occupying Union troops had committed the act or if it was orchestrated by a retreating Confederate officer), The Nashville Daily Press reported the college buildings of Cumberland University, including the magnificent University Hall, designed by noted architect William Strickland, who was also responsible for the Tennessee State Capital, had been burned to the ground.

     “It was about this time, Dr. W. E. Ward, an alumnus of the College of Arts, and later President of Ward Seminary, of Nashville, visited the ruins of the buildings destroyed by fire in 1863 and wrote on one of the columns still standing at the time the word ‘Resurgam’ (I will arise),” recalled Bone in A History of Cumberland University. “He was voicing the faith in his own heart, and the incident gave birth to the watchword, ‘E Cineribus Resurgo’ (I arise from the ashes). This Latin motto, coupled with a figure of the phoenix, the bird of immortality, was placed upon the seal of the university, where it still remains, ever reminding the students who go out from the institution of the immortal influence of their alma mater.”

     The moment would provide inspiration for Cumberland to rebuild again and the mythical Phoenix emblem was permanently adopted to signify the school’s ability to rise from the ashes like the immortal bird. “At the close of the war the buildings were in ashes, two of the professors were dead, and there seemed little prospect of successfully re-establishing the law school,” wrote Lucius Salisbury Merriam in his book Higher Education in Tennessee. “Judge Green, now in his seventy-third year and in very feeble health, was averse to any attempt to revive it. Nevertheless, the attempt was made. Judge Green consented to lend the influence of his name, but the labor of instruction was expected to fall mainly on his son.”

     Nathan Green Jr., then only thirty-eight years of age, stepped forward to lead the law school through this difficult time. “When the guns fell silent in 1865,” university historian G. Frank Burns wrote, “only the determination of young Nathan Green Jr. caused classes in law to resume.” Although the elder Judge Green would not survive the following spring, all four university departments of the school (preparatory, college, theological and law) were back up and operational by 1866.

     While the law school survived the war, there were still many challenges ahead for the school. Prior to the war, Cumberland was “the largest school of law in the United States, and was respected throughout the profession” wrote G. Frank Burns in his one-and-a-half-century commemoration. “The law was a profession highly esteemed in the South, perhaps more highly than in other sections, and oratory was a gift greatly admired below the Mason & Dixon line.”

     To return to the glory the school had achieved in the past, Cumberland made some daring decisions. This included a decision to turn the law school into a one-year program in 1871. “This was not long after the war,” wrote Lucius Salisbury Merriam in Higher Education in Tennessee. “The country was still impoverished. Most young men could not afford to spend more than one year at a law school.”

     The university also made the decision to erect a new building in 1878 to house the school of law. The stately structure was named Caruthers Hall, after one of the school founders, but to many generations of law students it would be known as “The Law Barn”. The building included a large auditorium where plays, recitals and commencements were held. The auditorium featured rows of wooden seats and stain glass windows. Beginning in 1897, chapel services were held there as well. The acoustics were said to be excellent and the seats unbearable.

     “Young gentlemen,” Nathan Green Jr. said to his students, “I am giving you food for your journey; where you go is up to you.” As the law school went back to its old habits of producing judges, governors and congressmen, Green, named Dean of the Law School in 1882, put his regards for the university, and the fine young boys it produced throughout the years, to song:

Old Cumberland is marching on, 
Cumberland, my Cumberland.
And many a victory she has won, 
Cumberland, my Cumberland. 

Her sons are known in all the land,
Her sons are true, her sons are grand,
Her sons for God and right do stand, 
Cumberland, my Cumberland.

Her noble boys have made a name, 
Cumberland, my Cumberland.
And filled the country with their fame, 
Cumberland, my Cumberland.

They teach and toil in college walls. 
And speak and vote in senate halls, 
And ever heed their country's calls, 
Cumberland, my Cumberland. 

     By the end of the decade, intercollegiate athletics began at Cumberland with Laban Lacy Rice travelling to nearby Nashville to compete in a track and field day at Vanderbilt in 1889.  Along with his brother, poet and dramatist Cale Young Rice, Laban would one day be inducted into the Cumberland sports hall of fame for his exploits on the baseball field. Graduating with a BA, MA and PhD from Cumberland, he became a professor of English at Cumberland, served as headmaster of nearby Castle Heights Military Academy and replaced Samuel Andrew Coile as president of Cumberland University in 1916, only to resign the position before ever serving, paving the way for Dr. Homer Hill to step in as acting president.

     The embarrassing misstep of being left at the altar by Laban was the result of financial troubles at the university that had snowballed for a number of reasons. There was the “Ball Insurance Scheme” of 1871, the “flawed union of churches” in 1906 and the university was still dealing with the lingering effects of the war, and complete destruction of the school, a half century earlier. But the real guilty culprit, in the burgeoning economic crisis, was expanding too quickly.

     Cumberland had kicked off the new century by adding some much-needed youth to the university in the hiring of 26-year old Pennsylvanian David Earle Mitchell as president back in 1902. The school expanded rapidly under Mitchell. A Museum of History and the Nisbet Biological Laboratory was established. He added faculty, abundantly so, including nationally recognized teachers for the new Conservatory of Music and School of Oratory. A $50,000 men’s dormitory was constructed. As was a college library. But the biggest change, according the university’s own accounts, was the “enormously increased emphasis on intercollegiate athletics.”

     Football had been around, on and off, since 1894 at Cumberland. Mitchell’s addition to the university, however, breathed new life into the sport, as it did with all athletics at the school. In 1903, Cumberland assembled what is still regarded as the best football team the school has ever produced. The “SIAA Championship Game” against Heisman’s Clemson Tigers, in fact, was listed number one in the list of Great Moments in Cumberland University Sports in the book Phoenix Rising!, documenting the first 150 years of the school. Both teams were coming off exceptional seasons. Clemson embarrassed Georgia Tech by the score of 73-0. The Cumberland team was known for its size and rolled over Vanderbilt, Alabama and LSU. A playoff game was set up by Heisman for Thanksgiving Day to decide a southern champion.

     According to an account of the Clemson team’s “First Bowl Game” on the official website of the Tigers, “The average height and weight of the Clemson starting 11 was 5-foot 9½-inches and 163½ pounds. Cumberland was the heavier team, as the average height and weight was 5’ 11” and 172 pounds.” Marvin O. Bridges and his brother M. L. Bridges, both standing 6-foot 4-inches, were each named as lineman by Heisman on his 1903 All-Southern team. They made up the left side of the massive line. Their Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity described left guard Marvin Bridges as being “as handsome as the gods”, while describing his brother left tackle M. L. Bridges as a “great big, six-foot, fat, unwieldy looking, beer drinking fellow.”

     Tackle Wallace Suddarth, guard William Cragwall and center Frank “Red” Smith joined Marvin Bridges in the Cumberland Sports Hall of Fame. Red Smith, the most celebrated of the players, joined the Bridges brothers on the All-Southern team following the season. Marvin Bridges later became a minor league pitcher, playing for such teams as the New Orleans Pelicans, Fort Worth Panthers and the Lancaster Red Roses.

     Size won out over speed in the first half of the 1903 title game, with Cumberland jumping out to a 11-0 lead to take into halftime with the mammoth Cumberland linemen holding Clemson scoreless. But Heisman must have had some words for his Clemson players in the locker room during halftime, as the Tigers returned the kickoff 100 yards for a score to open the second half. Despite growing tired as the game wore on, Red Smith and the Bridges brothers continued to hold Clemson until the final minute of the game. With Cumberland expecting one of Heisman’s patented trick plays, a Clemson player ran the ball straight up the middle of the Cumberland line 35 yards for the score.

     The game ended in an 11-11 tie and Heisman, ever the sportsman, conceded the SIAA title to Cumberland since it was he who’d arranged the playoff game. Relinquishing the title had to be a difficult thing for Heisman. His Clemson team was forced to share the conference championship with Vanderbilt the season before. Sole ownership of the 1903 southern title would have put an exclamation point on this chapter of his coaching career. Ties, after all, were like kissing your sister.

     Cumberland University continued to thrive in sports under the Mitchell administration with a strong baseball season in 1904, boasting eleven wins to only one loss. The baseball team went undefeated in 1908 and was named Southern champion by sportswriter Grantland Rice. The baseball team would go undefeated again in 1909, repeating as Southern champion in 1909 and then again in 1910. Cumberland had all the makings of a sports powerhouse.

     At the same time sports were thriving at Cumberland, the distinguished parade of law alumni the university was producing cemented the school’s reputation as one of the top law schools in the country and the envy of the South. The sons of Cumberland already included three U. S. Senators, a U. S. Congressman, two Governors, three federal judges, countless state judge and two members of the United States Supreme Court. There was one problem. In 1906, the ill-fated reunion of the two Presbyterian churches in Lebanon would soon raise its ugly head at Cumberland, throwing the future of the theological school in question, and the next ten years would feature lawsuits, financial setbacks and layoffs according to historical accounts.

     “The suits against the University were never brought to trial,” wrote Winstead P. Bone in A History of Cumberland University. “The litigants who brought the suits made several proposals for a settlement. They finally came with a proposal to release all claim to the property of the University or any Department of it on the condition the Trustees of the University pay $37,500 to the legal representatives of those claiming to be the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.” The Cumberland School of Law continued to produce profits, but the rest of the university was a hot mess when it came to finances. The theological school would be lost and the engineering school discontinued, resulting in more layoffs and changes in leadership.

     By 1916, the school was teetering on the brink of insolvency. Despite all the cost-cutting moves made by the newly appointed acting president Homer Hill, the school was looking to finish the school year deep in debt. Then came the fateful news of the football game against Georgia Tech, and the $3,000 forfeiture penalty. The news had assuredly come down on the university like a stake through the heart. As dean of the law school, Judge Nathan Green Jr. understood what was at stake. If the university was forced to pay such a penalty, it would not only be devastating to the school’s athletic department, it would strike a serious blow to the future of the law school.

     His father, Judge Nathan Green Sr. had helped establish the program back in 1842. That was over seventy years ago. Nathan Green Jr. himself, had contributed half a century of his life to Cumberland. Now 89 years of age, he’d attended the university as a teenager and spent most of his life teaching law at the school. He had witnessed the university survive economic hardships, deadly fires and even a war. It would be a shame, to say the least, if its ultimate demise resulted over a game of football.

     Everywhere you looked on the picturesque Lebanon campus there were testaments to the excellence of the Cumberland School of Law. The foyer of the Law Barn was lined with class pictures representing decades of exceptional law graduates. There was the magnificent Art Nouveau ceiling of the Memorial Hall auditorium, painted by a German artist in 1903, featuring four pair of cherubs, each holding a symbol (globe, scales, astrolabe and chemical retort) that represented the four colleges of the university. And then there was the celebrated “Honor Roll” of Cumberland alumni that demonstrated better than anything else the exceptional influence of the law school upon the country. The names and accomplishments on the list were remarkable and seemingly endless:

A. B. Neil, Judge, Tennessee

A. C. Allen, Judge, Texas

A. C. Randall, M. C, Texas

A. G. Merritt, Chancellor, Tennessee

A. G. Norell, Judge, Utah

A. G. Sharp, Circuit Judge, Alabama

A. H. Carrigan, Judge, Texas

A. J. Abernathy, Chancellor, Tennessee

A. M. Byrd, M. C, Mississippi

A. M. Stephens, M. C, Texas

Alex. W. Campbell, General, Confederate Army, Tennessee

Andrew Price, M, C, Louisiana

B. A. Enloe, M. C, Tennessee

B. B. Battle, Supreme Judge, Arkansas

B. D. Bell, Supreme Judge, Tennessee

B. J. Tarver, Chancellor, Tennessee

B. T. Kimbrough, Chancellor, Mississippi

Benj. H. Rice, Judge, Texas

Benjamin F. Looney, Attorney-General, State of Texas

C. B. Smith, Judge, Alabama

C. D. Clark, U. S. District Judge

C. K. Wheeler, M. C, Kentucky

Charles C. Crowe, Governor, New Mexico

Charles P. Clint, Judge, Texas

Cordell Hull, Judge and M. C, Tennessee

D. A. Nunn, M. C, Tennessee

D. B. Hill, Judge, Texas

Dana Harmon, Judge, Tennessee

Daniel Hon, Judge, Arkansas

David D. Shelby, U. S. Circuit Judge

Department, United States Government

Duval West, U. S. Judge, Texas

E. B. Kinsworthy, Attorney-General, Arkansas

E. G. Mitchell, Judge, Arkansas

E. I. Golladay, M. C, Tennessee

E. S. Hammond, U. S. District Judge

Edgar P. Smith, Judge, Tennessee

Edward H. East, Chancellor, Tennessee

Emory Fisk Best, Assistant Attorney-General, Interior

Ernest L. Bullock, Judge, Tennessee

F. P. Hall, Judge Court of Appeals, Tennessee

Foster V. Brown, M. C, Tennessee

Francis Fentress, Jr., Judge, Tennessee

G. W. Hewitt, M. C, Alabama

George Anderson, Judge, Mississippi

George E. Seay, Chancellor, Tennessee

Grafton Green, Supreme Judge, Tennessee

Grant Green, Judge, Arkansas

Granville Ridley, Judge, Tennessee

Grover C. Keck, Judge, Arkansas

H. C. Snodgrass, M. C, Tennessee

H. C. Speake, Judge, Alabama

H. J. Livingston, Chancellor, Tennessee

H. M. Somerville, Supreme Judge, Alabama

H. N. Hutton, Judge, Arkansas

H. O. Head, Judge, Texas

H. W. Lightfoot, Judge, Texas

H. Y. Riddle, M. C, Tennessee

Harry A. Hammerly, Judge, Oklahoma

Henry A. Sharp, Supreme Judge, Alabama

Henry McCorry, Judge, Tennessee

Hiei Fukunoka, Professor of Law, Japan

Horace H. Lurton, Judge Supreme Court, U. S.

Houston McCurtain, Judge, Indian Territory

Howell E. Jackson, Judge Supreme Court, U. S.

Hugh L. Muldrow, M. C, Mississippi

I. E. Riddick, Supreme Judge, Arkansas

I. H. Goodnight, M. C. and Judge, Kentucky

I. T. Carthell, Judge, Tennessee

Ira Landrith, President Ward-Belmont College, Tennessee

J. B. Gerald, Judge, Texas

J. B. Grider, Judge, Kentucky

J. B. Lamb, Attorney-General, Florida

J. C. Kyle, M. C, Tennessee

J. C. McDonald, General, Confederate Army, Indian Territory

J. D. Cole, General, Confederate Army, Tennessee

J. D. Conway, Judge, Arkansas

J. D. Tillman, Minister to Ecuador

J. E. Halsell, Judge, Kentucky

J. H. Acklen, M. C, Louisiana

J. J. DuBose, Judge, Tennessee

J. L. Rogers, M. C, Texas

J. M. Lindsay, Judge, Texas

J. M. Taylor, Judge Chancery Court of Appeals, Tennessee

J. R. Byrd, Judge, Mississippi

J. R. Flippin, Judge, Tennessee

J. S. Buckley, Judge, Mississippi

J. S. Gribble, Chancellor, Tennessee

J. T. Blair, Judge, Missouri

J. T. Dunn, Judge, Mississippi

J. T. Watkins, M. C, Louisiana

J. W. Bonner, Judge, Tennessee

J. W. McBroom, U. S. District Judge, Virginia

J. W. Phillips, Judge, Missouri

J. W. Ross, Chancellor, Tennessee

Jack Taylor, M. C., Tennessee

James B. McCreary, Governor, Kentucky; U. S. Senator

James Breathett, Judge, Kentucky

James D. Porter, Governor, Tennessee

James Hurt, Judge Court of Appeals, Texas

James Perkins, Judge, Florida

James T. Policy, Judge, Texas

James W. Swayne, Judge, Texas

John A. Fite, Judge, Tennessee


John A. McKinney, Judge, Tennessee

John Mills Allen (“Private”), M, C, Mississippi

John C. Ferriss, Judge, Tennessee

John Caruthers, Judge, Oklahoma

John E. Richardson, Judge, Tennessee

John F. House, M. C, Tennessee

John H. Stephens, M. C, Texas

John S. Cooper, Chancellor, Tennessee

John Somers, Chancellor, Tennessee

John W. Burgess, Dean Columbia University Law School, New York

Joseph M. Hill, Chief Justice, Arkansas

Joseph W. Bailey, U. S. Senator, Texas

Judson Clements, U. S. Commerce Commission

L. B. Valliant, Chief Justice, Missouri

L. G. Gause, M. C, Arkansas

Levi S. Woods, Judge, Tennessee

Lucien Earle, Judge, Kansas

Lucius P. Little, Circuit Judge, Kentucky

Lysander Houck, Circuit Judge, Kansas

M. B. Talley, Judge, Texas

M. C. Butler, M. C, Tennessee

M. C. Givens, Judge, Kentucky

M. E. Benton, M. C, Missouri

M. H. Mabry, Supreme Judge, Florida

M. H. Meeks, Judge, Tennessee

M. M. Neil, Judge Supreme Court, Tennessee

M. M. Smith, Chancellor, Tennessee

M. R. Cox, M. C, North Carolina

Morgan C. Fitzpatrick, M. C, Tennessee

N. N. Cox, M. C, Tennessee

P. Frank Grievner, Judge, Texas

Park Trammell, U. S. Senator, Florida

Payne T. Prim, Judge, Oregon

Pierre H. Branning, Judge, Florida

R. C DeGraffenreid, M. C, Texas

R. C. Simpson, Supreme Court Judge, Alabama

R. H. Powell, Judge, Arkansas

R. M. Milburn, Professor of Law, University of Indiana

R. P. Caldwell, M. C, Tennessee

R. S. Anderson, Judge, Texas

R. T. Shannon, Law Author, Tennessee

R. W. Simpson, District Judge, Texas

Reuben R. Gains, Chief Justice, Texas

Richard Morgan, Judge, Texas

Riebo Warner, M. C

Risden Tyler Bennett, Judge Supreme Court and M. C, N. Carolina

Robert B. Green, Judge, Texas

Robert B. Seay, Judge, Texas

Robert E. Houston, General, Confederate Army, Mississippi

Robert Hatton, General, Confederate Army

Robert McMillan, Judge, Oklahoma

Robert R. Butler, Judge, Oregon

Rutherford Brett, Supreme Court, Oklahoma

S. A. Rogers, Judge, Tennessee

S. Arakawa, Professor Imperial University, Japan

S. F. Wilson, Judge Court Chancery Appeals, Tennessee

Samuel R. Sells, M. C, Tennessee

Sidney Y. Catts, Governor, Florida

Sterling Cockrell, Judge Supreme Court, Arkansas

Sterling Pierson, Chancellor, Tennessee

T. C. Lyons, Chancellor, Mississippi

T. C. Randall, Judge, Kentucky

T. D. Starnes, Judge, Texas

T. E. Whitfield, General, Confederate Army

T. P. Gore, U. S. Senator, Oklahoma

T. U. Sisson, M. C, Mississippi

Theodore Brantley, Chief Justice, Montana

Thetus W. Sims, M. C, Tennessee

Thomas A. McClellan, Chief Justice, Alabama

Thomas Harsh, Judge, Tennessee

Thomas S. Flippin, Judge, Tennessee

Thomas W. Ford, Judge, Texas

Tilman D. Johnson, U. S. Judge, Utah

Virgil Bourland, Judge, Arkansas

W. B. Rogers, U. S. Attorney, Montana

W. B. Turner, Judge, Tennessee

W. C. Caldwell, Judge Supreme Court, Tennessee

W. D. Frazee, Chancellor, Tennessee

W. E. Ward, founder of Ward Seminary, Tennessee

W. F. Kirby, Supreme Judge, Arkansas

W. G. Taliaferro, Judge, Texas

W. H. Andrews, Judge, Texas

W. H. Gill, Judge Court Civil Appeals, Texas

W. H. Gill, Judge, Texas

W. H. Slemmons, M. C, Arkansas

W. H. Swiggart, Judge, Tennessee

W. M. McDowell, Judge, Tennessee

W. P. Caldwell, M, C, Tennessee

W. S. Hill, M. C, Mississippi

W. S. McLemore, Judge, Tennessee

W. W. Venable, M. C, Mississippi

W. Y. Pemberton, Judge Supreme Court, Montana

Walter Simpson, Judge, Texas

Warren Coleman, Judge, Mississippi

Wharton J. Green, M. C, North Carolina

William A. Roane, Judge, Mississippi

William B. Bate, U. S. Senator, Tennessee.

William B. Beard, Chief Justice Supreme Court, Tennessee

William H. Williamson, Judge, Tennessee

William L. Martin, Attorney-General, Alabama

William M. Hart, Judge, Tennessee

William Poindexter, Judge, Texas

William W. Whitesides, Judge, Alabama

Willis Reeves, Judge, Kentucky

Xen Hicks, Judge, Tennessee


     Included in this illustrious list are a few names of particular note. There is the, aforementioned, General Robert Hatton. The man Judge Nathan Green, Jr. shared a law practice with went on to serve as a U.S. Congressman and Confederate General during the Civil War. Hatton was shot in the head and killed in the Battle of Fair Oaks.

     Dr. W. E. Ward, who scrawled “Resurgam” into a piece of charred wood and inspired the Phoenix emblem and university motto, later founded a seminary and authored A Short History of Ghana in 1957.

     Graton Green was the son of Judge Nathan Green, Jr. and, as Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court, wrote the opinion that ended the famous Scopes “Monkey Trial” in 1925.

     Cordell Hull, one of the most prestigious Cumberland graduates of all, served 11 years as Secretary of State under Franklin D. Roosevelt and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945 for his role in establishing the United Nations.

     And then there was “Private” John Allen who, in addition to serving as uncle to George E. Allen, was a beloved member of the United States House of Representatives from Mississippi.

     After all they had been through, however, the Cumberland University would not go down without a fight. Cumberland at the time had used moot courts to teach law to their students. The law professors, like Judge Green, held simulated court proceedings (set up in Caruthers Hall in the main auditorium) that involved the preparation of a brief and the presentation of oral arguments. This proceeding was on the subject of contract law, focusing on one in particular. They put their expertise as practitioners and adjudicators of the law to use in finding a legitimate means of withdrawing from their contractual obligation. Not finding one, they instead invested their focus on a loophole.

     “One day a little group of us senior law students were called over to the law dean’s office and told about the agreement with Georgia Tech,” recalled Charlie Warwick, the Cumberland left end. “A committee was appointed to study the exchange of letters and determined where the $3,000 actually had to be forfeited in case the game wasn’t played. We on the committee decided that it was a binding contract. So, the next thing was to get together a football team - a team, mind you, just to ‘place on the field’ against Tech in Atlanta. We put lots of faith in that clause, ‘PLACE ON THE FIELD.’ There was nothing in the contract requiring the team to play.”

     As student manager of the football team, the responsibility fell on George Allen to convince Heisman that Cumberland was living up to the contractual obligations by merely showing up for the game. Admittedly, the argument seemed thin, but if anyone could talk Heisman out of forcing them to play, it was the general feeling that Allen could. Judge Nathan Green, Jr. did what he could to help replace some of the players who quit the team after their dreadful performance against Sewanee the Saturday prior. Judge Green heard about the team’s “choir rehearsals” and offered to provide them with a few more “singers”. The team only hoped he provided them with more baritones, they already had enough sopranos.

     The tale of the tape was not pretty. The big city, state-sponsored engineering school was set to face off against the small-town, church-sponsored law school. The game matched engineers up against lawyers and science versus religion. The Georgia School of Technology was the face of the New South. The university opened its doors after the Civil War to lead the South into the technological age, almost a half of a century after Cumberland University opened her doors. Situated in a big cosmopolitan city known as the “Gate City of the New South” and aided by $65,000 in state funding, the upstart technological school quickly outgrew tiny Cumberland in size and certainly in athletics, particularly on the gridiron.

     As the school’s first full time head coach, John Heisman assembled the greatest team of his already storied career and the team had its sights set on Cumberland. David would be required to face Goliath on the battlefield or else pay a forfeiture penalty that would cost them their law school.

     The population of Atlanta was approaching 200,000. The city was ambitious and cosmopolitan. In the path of this whirlwind of progress was tiny Cumberland University with nothing to gain and everything to lose.

     In a little over one year, Judge Nathan Green, Jr. would die the day before his 92nd birthday. This predicament with Georgia Tech would be his final fight of his long, storied career. As the big game drew close, Judge Green found himself in almost the exact same position his father had been in a half century earlier. Back then it was his father who was in advanced age and declining health. Nathan Green, Sr. had looked to his son to save the university from ruin. Now here he was, similarly, in advanced age and declining health. His hope, unfortunately, rested on someone much less reliable than he was back then. His hope, and the hope of the entire school relied on George Allen, a final year law student whose classroom attendance was only slightly less impressive than his classroom performance. And it would all come down to him to avoid a forfeiture penalty that could ruin the school. Lord give him strength.

Written by Scott Larson
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