On Saturday, December 14, 2019, the Capitol’s grounds hosted a bicentennial festival. A parade down Dexter Avenue kicked off the festivities. Throughout the entire day, the downtown Montgomery bustled with vendors, reenactments, dance performances, and other entertainments. That afternoon, Governor Ivey held a dedication ceremony of Bicentennial Park, leading into the evening’s main event, performances by some of Alabama’s most talented musical artists. The night ended with a stunning 3-D light show projected on the Attorney General’s building, courtesy of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
These events capped off an extremely successful multi-year commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Alabama’s admittance into the Union as its 22nd state. None of the commemoration would have been possible without several hundred volunteers and the Alabama Bicentennial Commission.
The Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) recently added 16 cubic feet of permanent records from the Alabama Bicentennial Commission to its government collections. These documents chronicle the work achieved by the Bicentennial Commission and include drawings, photographs, correspondence, and much more. Read on to learn more about the Bicentennial Commission’s work and the new records in the ADAH’s collection.
In February 2013, Governor Bentley signed a Senate Joint Resolution, creating the Alabama Bicentennial Commission. The twelve-member commission supported and guided the commemoration of Alabama statehood. In accordance with its mission, appointed members of the committee boasted diverse backgrounds, including historians, museum professionals, editors, and communication directors. In addition, an advisory committee of volunteers assisted the Bicentennial Commission in their planning. The Bicentennial Commission determined that the celebration of Alabama’s statehood anniversary should not start on the anniversary of statehood; instead, it should begin with the act of Congress designating Alabama as a territory on March 3, 1817. The celebration could then build over two and a half years, culminating in the celebration at the Capitol in December 2019.
Planning for the celebration would encompass three large categories: education, local activities, and statewide projects. Minutes from the Bicentennial Commission’s meetings, where members planned the concepts and details of the bicentennial celebration, were one type of record transmitted to the ADAH.
The Bicentennial Commission vowed to adopt a broad-reaching perspective regarding the area’s history, including peoples who historically or presently call the geographic region of Alabama home. With this in mind, the Commission spent 2015-2016 hosting informational workshops in every state region. These workshops led to several education initiatives and programs held between 2017 and 2019. Some records generated by these programs include training files for Alabama Teachers, genealogy conference presentations, publicity records, and booklets produced for the bicentennial.
The Bicentennial Committee outreach efforts were a success, and local entities readily took up the mantle of celebrating the bicentennial. Some highlights of the local events during the two-and-a-half-year bicentennial commemoration include Mobile hosting the bicentennial launch on May 5, 2017, complete with a firework show, Huntsville hosting the debut of the Alabama forever United States Postal Service stamp, and Level Plains creating several time capsules. Across the state, restorations of historic buildings and cemeteries took place, testifying to a swelling of state pride. Traveling museum exhibits toured the state, stopping at cities both large and small, literally bringing Alabama history to the people.
Alabamians of all ages partook in bicentennial projects and celebrations. Alabama K-12 students carried out projects to celebrate the bicentennial, include planting vegetable gardens and planning river clean-ups. Whether planting sweet potatoes like George Washington Carver or powering themselves into environmental clean-up projects, children of all ages joined in the fun.
In addition to the much-needed and greatly appreciated local support, the Bicentennial Commission relied on partnerships with state agencies and non-profit organizations. A small sample of partners who contributed to the successful two-and-a-half-year commemoration includes the Alabama Tourism Department, Alabama Humanities Foundation (AHF), and the Alabama Historical Commission. Many of the bicentennial partners are also grant-making organizations, and for such a large-scale celebration, investments through grants for communities, individuals, and projects were crucial to success. Administrative and grant files were transmitted to the ADAH as part of the new collection, documenting the important work achieved by state and local partners.
The Alabama Tourism Department assessed historical markers throughout the state and began a rehabilitation initiative for damaged markers while assisting communities in placing new historical markers. The Alabama Department of Tourism also promoted Alabama’s music scene, including organizing the bicentennial concert at the Capitol on December 14, 2019. Alabama musical artists who performed at the concert included Eddie Floyd, John Paul White, Martha Reeves, and Allison Montgomery. The ADAH collection contains several photographs taken during the show.
The Alabama Humanities Foundation proved an integral partner in the bicentennial commemoration as an extension of their work connecting Alabama communities to the humanities. The AHF supported several traveling exhibits and curated “Making Alabama: A Bicentennial Traveling Exhibit,” displayed in all of Alabama’s sixty-seven counties. Exhibit guides were transmitted to the ADAH as part of the Bicentennial Commission’s collections.
The Alabama Historical Commission, with the assistance of university interns scanned their collection of historic architectural files and began work on a Register of Historic Places GIS Map. This Bicentennial project will serve Alabamians for decades to come.
Another bicentennial project that inspires perpetual reflection and serves Alabamians is the Bicentennial Park in Montgomery which captures, in bronze, the rich tapestry of Alabama’s history. The park’s sixteen bronze relief sculptures represent every region of the state and the backgrounds of many Alabamians. The new collection of transmitted records includes draft plans for the park, mock-ups of the sculptures, and even a children’s coloring book.
Paper and electronic documents were not the only records transferred to the ADAH by the Bicentennial Commission. Promotional souvenirs, including patches, toys, baby bibs, Christmas ornaments, tote bags, and enamel pins, are a small sample of the artifacts transmitted alongside the Bicentennial Commission’s records.
If the collection of materials from the Alabama Bicentennial Commission has piqued your interest, schedule a visit to the ADAH Research Room to access records onsite. Additional information is available on the department’s website under the Research tab: https://archives.alabama.gov/research/reservation_requests.html