Skip to content

University of South Alabama Celebrated 60th Anniversary and Announces $20 Million Gift to Build New Performing Arts Center




The University of South Alabama celebrated its 60th anniversary Friday, May 5, 2023, with a ceremony on campus and announced it will receive a $20 million gift for construction of a new performing arts center.

University President Jo Bonner made the announcement that philanthropist and long-time South supporter Abraham “Abe” Mitchell is adding to his legacy of generosity with this transformational gift. Mitchell has now given the University $120 million, making him one of the largest donors to a public university in the state of Alabama.

“It gives me great happiness to see the impact that my support – and that of my family – has brought to the University of South Alabama,” Mitchell said. “The impact it has had on our students, on their ability to attend and graduate from college, and their ability to pursue their dreams and establish dreams for their future generations.”

The site of the future performing arts building is yet to be determined, and further fundraising is ongoing. Once completed, the state-of-the art facility will complement the current Laidlaw Performing Arts Center, serving the University and the entire Mobile community.

“World-class cities feature world class event venues,” said Jo Bonner, University of South Alabama president. “Mr. Mitchell’s generosity allows us to take the next big step toward advancing the arts both on campus and throughout the region.

Today’s ceremony on campus kicks off a year-long 60th anniversary celebration with events focused on remembering the many milestones achieved and looking ahead to growing its mission of serving students, the region and the state as the “Flagship of the Gulf Coast.”

“We are here today as a thriving University and healthcare system, the product but not the final story of all who came before us. This is your University,” Bonner said. “While it is important to look back and reflect on our first 60 years, you will help determine our future. Where will we be at 75?”

South’s story began in the early 1960s, when Mobile’s civic leaders saw the need to improve access to higher education in southwest Alabama. Realizing the region had outgrown the small extension program that operated out of a building downtown, they formulated plans for a four-year, degree-granting institution. On May 3, 1963, a bill creating a new, independent university successfully passed the Alabama Legislature, and the University of South Alabama was born.

Classes began in June 1964 at a new, $1 million building in west Mobile with an initial enrollment of 276. The extent of the pent-up demand for education became obvious when the first fall semester began, enrollment leaped to 928 — and it continues to grow. Today, South enrolls more than 13,500 students annually and has awarded more than 93,000 degrees.  


Scroll To Top