The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation was founded in 1934, but its roots go back nearly 80 years earlier, when Algernon Sydney Sullivan himself was a young lawyer in Indiana. He used his legal talents and personal wealth to help those in trouble in his community, sometimes at great personal cost.
When Algernon and his wife Mary Mildred Sullivan moved to New York in 1856, they remained dedicated to the cause of helping people in trouble. Both of the Sullivans were decidedly anti-slavery, but they cared about the South and advocated for the humane treatment of Confederate prisoners during and after the Civil War. A believer in equality for all, Algernon also sponsored the first African-American member of the New York Bar Association.
Algernon founded the law firm Sullivan and Cromwell, which eventually grew into an international firm and is still highly respected today. He built a reputation for taking on clients who could pay him little or nothing when he believed their cause was just. By the end of his life, Algernon was so respected that all courts in New York were closed in his memory upon his death in 1887. He remains the last private citizen to receive such an honor.
The honor that Algernon would have appreciated the most, however, was the one he received when the New York Southern Society—an organization he himself founded—established the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award in 1890, just a few years after his death by pneumonia in 1887. The award was created to recognize college students in the South for “excellence of character and service to humanity.”
Algernon and Mary’s only son, George, continued and cemented the Sullivans’ legacy when, in 1934, he created the Sullivan Foundation to ensure the continued existence of the awards. The Foundation remains as strong as ever today and has grown to expand the reach of the Sullivan spirit far beyond what Algernon and Mary would have ever thought possible.