Three "Sons of the South" Honored with Induction
From left to right; William Graham Claytor IV representing his father, Inductee William Graham Claytor, Jr., William Graham Claytor V, Professor Stacy Cordery, Monmouth College, representing Inductee Willaim Washington Gordon, and Tom Simpson, President, of the Railway Supply Institue representing Inductee Andrew Jackson Beard.
A soldier, a former slave, and a war hero were honored for their lifelong contributions to the railroad industry in a ceremony held June 22nd at Seymour Library on the campus of Knox College in Galesburg.
Executive Director Julie King told attendees, “The life stories of the inductees we honor today each comprise a piece of the history of our country, of the Southern US, and of that legendary line that will be forever be remembered by its famous slogan, “Southern Serves the South – Look Ahead, Look South.”
At its height, the Southern served virtually every state south of the Mason-Dixon Line and east of the Mississippi River. It became the most respected and arguably the best managed railroad of its day. In 1982, the Southern merged with the Norfolk & Western Railway to form Norfolk Southern, and nearly all of the former Southern lines remain an active component of Norfolk Southern today.
William Washington Gordon (1796-1842) was born on his father’s plantation in Screven County, Georgia, and later graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the first person from Georgia to do so. He was a lawyer, politician, and soldier, but his greatest contribution was as driving force behind the Central of Georgia Railway. Connecting the port of Savannah with the interior cotton-growing region of the state, the Central of Georgia was constructed to maintain the state’s competitiveness and supremacy in the export cotton trade so critical to its economy.
At its zenith, the Central of Georgia stretched from Atlanta to Albany, east to Savannah, and west to Birmingham. In 1971, the line merged into the Southern Railway, and it survives today under the Norfolk Southern banner.
Andrew Jackson Beard (1849-1921) was born into slavery on a plantation in Jefferson County, Alabama, near Birmingham. He gained his freedom at age 14 when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
Though Beard had no opportunity to go to school as a child and remained completely illiterate throughout his life, he possessed an inherent inventive genius and a curiosity for mechanical gadgets that would ultimately manifest itself through a series of patented inventions.
The most important of his inventions was an automatic coupler for railroad cars. Patented in 1897, the device employed horizontal jaws to join cars simply by allowing them to bump into each other, eliminating the dangerous practice of manual coupling. Beard’s invention saved countless railroad workers from injury and death and remains the predominant coupling system in use in North America today.
William Graham Claytor, Jr., (1912 – 1994) was born in Roanoke, Virginia, studied law at Harvard University, and began practicing law in Washington, DC. During World War II, he was awarded the Navy Cross for rescuing survivors of the cruiser Indianapolis after it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine.
In 1963, Claytor accepted an offer from the Southern Railway to become the railroad’s vice president for law. He rose to president and ultimately chairman of the Southern, transforming the railroad’s culture into a well-disciplined company that valued free thought and new ideas. Under his leadership, the Southern became one of the most competitive and efficient rail systems in the country at a time when many railroads were in severe financial straits.
Claytor went on to hold multiple posts in the Carter Administration, including Secretary of the Navy, Deputy Secretary of Defense, and a brief stint as Acting Secretary of Transportation.
In 1982, Claytor returned to railroading as the president and chairman of Amtrak. The nation’s passenger railroad had posted disastrous financial results, but he led a dramatic turnaround, bringing operational and political stability to the corporation.