In 1903, a woman by the name of Mary Anderson created an invention used in every car around the world today. While riding in a trolley car during a storm in New York City, she noticed the driver could barely see out the windshield. In this moment, her idea for the windshield wiper blade was born.
“So many people have no idea who Mary Anderson was, or even that she lived in Birmingham, (Alabama,)” Laura Hill, co-chair of the Alabama Bicentennial Education Committee, said. “These are the types of powerful and influential people that have come from Alabama and deserve to be recognized during the bicentennial.”
From July 2017 until December 14, 2019, the Alabama Bicentennial Committee has dedicated three years of celebration to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Alabama becoming a state.
The 200th anniversary of a state is an opportunity look back over two centuries of history, triumphs, and failures. It is a time to appreciate the moments, both good and bad, that have molded the state from the beginning. As Claire Wilson, co-chair of the Alabama Bicentennial Lee County Commission, explained, no one knows exactly how to celebrate their own bicentennial. Celebrating 200 years of history only happens once in a lifetime.
Three Themes for Three Years
According to the resolution of the bicentennial committee, the mission of the three-year period from July 2017 to December 2019, has been divided into three thematic years. One year is dedicated to the places, both the landscapes and landmarks. The next year, for the people, from different backgrounds and cultures. The final year, to recognize the history, both ancient and recent.
Throughout the 67 counties across the state, the variety of birthday celebrations is just as diverse as the three themes: the people, the places, and the history.
“The state bicentennial committee selected these themes as a way to make the commemorations not only an opportunity to recognize events that happened 200 years ago, but also to celebrate the lives and accomplishments of Alabamians who lived during the decades between then and today,” said Hill.
Over the course of this year, and the next two years, the members of the bicentennial committee aim to bring awareness to the people, such as Mary Anderson, the places that often go unnoticed, and the moments in history, that are forgotten.
State vs. Local Celebrations
On a hot afternoon in July 2017, on the front lawn of the Lee County Courthouse, the Alabama Bicentennial Lee County Commission kicked off the three-year celebration.
“Two local Girl Scout troops provided the color guard for the ceremony (presenting the flag to mark the opening of the ceremony),” Hill said. “A choir of about 30 students from the Boys and Girls Club of Lee County sang a few verses of the state song.”
The words from the state song, “Alabama” (written by Julia S. Tutwiler and composed by Edna Gockel Gussen) filled the air surrounding the courthouse.
“Alabama, Alabama, We will aye be true to thee,
From thy Southern Shores where groweth,
By the sea thy orange tree.
To thy Northern vale where floweth,
Deep blue the Tennessee,
Alabama, Alabama, we will aye be true to thee!”
With the state bicentennial committee, as well as the local subcommittees, it gives the individual areas of the state the opportunity to celebrate the aspects specific to their area.
“On the state level, we didn’t want to impose a monolithic idea of what the celebrations should look like for every different place in Alabama,” said Wilson.
For some of the more spread out, rural areas compared to the larger, centralized cities, it becomes much more difficult to cohesively coordinate a plan of action for how exactly to celebrate.
“I have been blown away by all the planning and work that Mooresville has done for their bicentennial celebrations,” Hill said. “As a very historic town with a population of fewer than 60 people, every member of the community has been dedicated to the rollout of the celebrations.”
Alabama Bicentennial Lee County Partnerships
Along with the themes chosen by the committee, the goal during the three thematic years is to dedicate 200 tributes for 200 years. The Lee County Commission encourages groups around the county to apply for partnerships that will serve as a portion of the 200 tributes.
The application details the specific criteria for any projects or programs. Approved partnerships, such as programs or events for the community, are endorsed by the bicentennial committee with recognition on the committee website and social media coverage.
“Ideally, many of the partnerships will involve the chambers of commerce, our public library, local schools, businesses, historical and cultural organizations,” said Hill.
On July 27, just a week after the kickoff celebration, the first of the bicentennial programs endorsed by the Lee County Bicentennial Committee was held at the Boykin Center in Auburn. The event was an exhibit of art inspired by Native American culture, created by Lee County Boys and Girls Club students.
“The Boys and Girls Club was one of our first partners,” said Sid James, co-chair of the committee. “We are hoping that as the bicentennial gets more underway we will be able to endorse several more projects and groups.”
During the three-year anniversary period, one of the hopes of the local committee is to promote existing community traditions like the Cemetery Lantern Tour or the Auburn University Hotel and Conference Center Gingerbread Village, but also to encourage other creative opportunities.
Another initiative during the bicentennial period is to encourage schools to expose students to more of Alabama’s history in a creative way.
“The ‘places’ theme shaped the 12 Bicentennial Professional Development Institutes for teachers that were held this past summer,” Hill said. “Each of those workshops – one of which was held in Auburn – used local museums and historic sites to make teachers aware of the resources in their own region that could be used to teach Alabama history.”
One of the committee’s goals during the bicentennial is to bring students and the community together.
“By holding these workshops, it encourages teachers to add more history into the curriculum and lesson plans in school,” said Laura Murray, co-chair of the public relations, marketing, and recording committee for the bicentennial.
Each school across the state is urged to come up with a creative project that incorporates Alabama’s history. The hope of the education project is for schools to use creativity rather than money or resources.
Across Alabama, there is a significant gap in resources for many schools. Several schools barely have enough paper to send a note home to a parent, so the goal of this project is to encourage students to rely on their own imagination and creativity and learn more about the history of Alabama.
The committee will select one winning school and reward the students with a sign for the school, declaring it a Bicentennial School, and the project will also be featured at the ceremonies to mark the end of the three-year period on December 14, 2019.
Alabama Legacy Moments
Alabama Public Television has established a project titled, “Alabama Legacy Moments,” that spans across the entire state and incorporates the three themes. According to the program’s website, the project, “commemorates the Alabama Bicentennial with 200 distinctive radio and television spots about the people, places, and stories that have defined Alabama.”
The interactive series touches on iconic individuals, moments in history and breathtaking landscapes that are unique to Alabama and each video segment can be viewed on the Alabama Legacy Moments website.
One of the videos features Harper Lee, known for her book, To Kill a Mockingbird, and born in Monroeville, Alabama.
Other topics include the beautiful Dismals Canyon in Franklin County, the story of the Freedom Rides (the protests against segregation), and the explanation of the “Alabama Fever”: the nickname used to describe the frenzy for land claims in Mississippi territory when Alabama was becoming a territory.
Another program put in place to celebrate the decisions and turning points that have shaped Alabama is the exhibit, “Making Alabama: a Bicentennial Traveling Exhibit.”
The Alabama Humanities Foundation and Alabama Department of Archives and History created the traveling exhibit to recognize the trials and triumphs that fill the past 200 years. The program is described as, “ an epic adventure, twisting its way through the peaks and valleys of the past and taking hopeful turns for the future.”
In April of 2018, during its tour through the 67 counties of Alabama, the exhibit is scheduled to be in Auburn and hosted by The Lewis Cooper Jr. Memorial Library in Opelika.
Celebrating in Lee County
According to Will Faulkner, chair of Revenue and Finance Committee, during the next several months, Lee County plans to host both new events as well as events that have been hosted in the past.
A few of the upcoming events include the Victorian Front Porch Tour, Christmas in a Railroad Town, Rocky Brook Rocket Reindeer Express, and Back In Time history program.
“I hope this will be a time that people take pride in their state,” Wilson said. “There are a lot of things that have happened during the past 200 years, some good and some bad, but I hope people will recognize all of it.”