Dr. George Petrie wrote the Auburn Creed on Nov. 12, 1943 at age 77.
Upon the occasion of his death, then acting Alabama Polytechnic Institute president Ralph B. Draughon memorialized him in a 1947 radio address which described him as not only the author of the Auburn Creed, “but it’s living example.”
The Auburn Creed appeared in the 1948/49 official student handbook The Tiger Cub, and in every subsequent issue. Today it remains the subject of a popular fundraising campaign and can be heard and seen on TV, the walls of campus buildings and pages of publications.
In 1904, then Auburn professor of History and Latin wrote an article entitled “What will be the final estimate of Yancey?” for the Alabama Historical Society. Just three years after the adoption of the Alabama Constitution of 1901 which codified White control of state government, Petrie opined:
“The time is rapidly coming when men can think and speak of our Civil War without passion and without prejudice.”
The subject of the article was notorious fire-breather secessionist William Lowndes Yancey, who moved to Alabama from South Carolina after killing his 16-year-old nephew in a duel at a family picnic.
The article defends Yancey’s claim that the congressional prohibition of the African slave trade was invalid on constitutional grounds because “according to the State rights theory the whole question properly should be left to the several States.”
In a front-page article of the Plainsman on Sept. 4, 1930, then Dean of the Graduate School Petrie was interviewed for an article entitled:
“Dean Petrie is an excellent bicyclist startling bit of information reveals”.
Regarding the high quality of the bicycle path he and others built out Wright’s Mill Road in the 1890s he was quoted: “It was kept almost as smooth as pavement by the ‘darkies’ who traversed it packing it down with their two big dogs. By dogs, I mean the two big bare feet of the ‘n-words,’ Dean Petrie Said.”
Nothing controversial about the Auburn Creed’s values, who doesn’t “believe in hard work?”
But the author of the Creed could not possibly have fathomed what values inspired future great Auburn people like Dr. Harold Franklin, Sam Pettijohn, Josetta B. Matthews, Anthony Copeland, Tim Cook, Judge Harold Melton or Dr. Chantel Tremitiere. A defender of the African slave trade who had no problem dropping the N word on the front page of the Plainsman should not be the final arbiter of what things “Auburn men and women believe in.”
Time has come to move on to the next generation of fund-raising campaigns, and there is no shortage of other images that can capture and inspire the Auburn Spirit on walls. At a time when statues of white supremacists are being torn down, new ones should not be going up.
If Athletics is looking to erect another statue of historic contributors, how about a member of the Black community who supported the program despite being legally prohibited from the possibility of ever attending? A statue of Sponsor Bob Frazier or Hodge Drake would be brilliant.
John Varner, a graduate of the class of 1987, is a library technical specialist in the special collections and archives department at Auburn University.
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