March 2017 Column: Alabama will Celebrate 200th Birthday in 2019
Alabama is well known for many historic milestones in our State’s history, but none would have been possible without the United States Congress creating Alabama as a territory in 1817.
The Alabama territory held a Constitutional Convention in Huntsville on July 5, 1819, to begin the transition to become a state by drafting and approving the Constitution to create a state government. On December 14, 1819, Alabama was approved by Congress to become the twenty-second State in the country and led by Alabama’s first Governor, William Wyatt Bibb. Alabama’s Capital Cities have evolved throughout our history beginning with St. Stephens in 1817, Huntsville in 1819, Cahawba in 1820, Tuscaloosa in 1826 and currently Montgomery for the past 171 years.
The Alabama Bicentennial Commission was created in 2013 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Alabama’s Statehood on December 14, 2019. The Commission is chaired by Senator Arthur Orr and its members include: Lee Sentell, Director of Alabama Tourism Department; Joel Anderson of Anderson Media; Representative Mike Ball; Hilary Claybourne, President of CCINC Innovative Strategies; Patricia Ford, Director of State Black Archives Research Center and Museum; Steve Murray, Director of Alabama Department of Archives and History ; Tami Reist, Director of Alabama Mountain Lake Tourist Association; Fitzgerald Washington, Commissioner of Alabama Department of Labor; and Bart Williams, Executive Director of EarlyWorks Family of Muesums. I was proud to make appointments to the Commission: Cartledge Blackwell, City of Mobile Architectural Historian, and Priscilla Hancock Cooper, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
Earlier this month on Friday, March 3rd, on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol, the Alabama Bicentennial was announced to begin the three-year celebration highlighting historic people and places to commemorate two hundred years in our State’s history. As the crowd gathered, small handheld red flags displaying the 200th Alabama Bicentennial were held and waved by all in attendance. The formal ceremony will officially launch on May 5th in the City of Mobile, the oldest city in Alabama.
Alabama has a long and distinguished history in our Nation, which includes the State’s involvement in the Confederacy, Civil Rights Movement, cast-iron, automobile industry, aviation, and NASA to name a few.
The Montgomery Convention was the formal beginning of the Confederate States of America and was held in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1861 where Jefferson Davis was elected as the President of the Confederacy. The First White House of the Confederacy is still standing on Washington Avenue in downtown Montgomery, where it served as the Executive Residence of President Jefferson Davis from February 1861 until late May 1861. Most items in the home are authentic, admission is free and tours are offered on weekdays and Saturdays.
The Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur, opened the Nation’s first flight school in Montgomery, Alabama, where Maxwell Air Force Base currently resides in the spring of 1910. The short tenure of the flight school left a legacy on the aviation industry. In 2013, the City of Montgomery placed a full-size, steel replica of the biplane. The replica plane overlooks the Alabama River and downtown Montgomery. The Wright Brothers Park is located at 544 Maxwell Boulevard and is open until sundown each day.
The Vulcan statue visibly seen overlooking Birmingham is the largest cast iron statue in the world and largest metal statue ever made in the United States. The colossal statue was designed by Italian artist Giuseppe Moretti and cast from local iron in 1904. Named for the Roman god Vulcan, the statue stands 56 feet tall has been located atop Red Mountain since the 1930s. The Vulcan Park and Museum is open daily at 1701 Valley View Drive in Birmingham.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott began the Civil Rights Movement in 1955 beginning with the historic arrest of Rosa Parks when she refused to give up her seat on the bus. Montgomery became the center of the Civil Rights Movement as African Americans protested segregated seating on city buses. The United States Supreme Court ultimately ordered Montgomery to integrate the bus system with the help of Martin Luther King, Jr., young pastor and prominent national leader of the American civil rights movement. Troy University revitalized the old Empire Theater where Rosa Parks made the historic stand as the current Rosa Parks Library and Museum’s Children’s Wing. The museum contains 7,000 square feet of stories of the bravery and courage of early civil rights soldiers, as well as a restored 1955 station wagon, replica of the public bus and historical documents loaned from the City of Montgomery. Tours are available on weekdays and Saturday for a small fee at 252 Montgomery Street in Montgomery.
Huntsville’s Saturn V launched Apollo 11 astronauts to the Moon in 1969. The Saturn V was developed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. The Marshall Space Flight Center currently employs 22,000 highly paid professionals from across the Nation generating a 3.8-billion-dollar economic impact for our State. Marshall Space Flight Center is currently managing the production by Boeing and Lockheed Martin of the Space Launch System (SLS), America’s new rocket to send humans to Mars and deep space. The Marshall Space Flight Center itself is not open to the public, but visitors are welcome at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center daily to view rockets, achievements and artifacts of the U.S. space program.
The Alabama automobile industry was born in 1997 when Mercedes-Benz began building the first ever Alabama-produced vehicle at the company’s first U.S. assembly plant in Tuscaloosa. The Tuscaloosa Production facility builds the Mercedes Benz GLE SUV, GLS SUV, C-Class for North America and the GLE Coupe SUV. Alabama is now home to Toyota Motors Manufacturing in Huntsville, Honda Manufacturing in Lincoln and Hyundai Motor Manufacturing in Montgomery. The Alabama automobile sector employs 57,000 while producing approximately one million cars and trucks per year.
Preserving and celebrating Alabama’s 200 years of Statehood is what makes our State distinct. The Alabama Voices exhibit at the Alabama Department of Archives and History gives a unique opportunity to explore Alabama’s history from the dawn of the 1700s to present day. I encourage you to spend the next three years exploring Alabama’s places, people and stories as we celebrate our 200th Birthday!
For more information about the Alabama Bicentennial, please visit http://www.alabama200.org/.