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Community Spotlight: Laura Murray’s Amazing Alabama

In Coffee County, Alabama, nearly a century ago, farmers were rapidly losing their cotton crops to a species of beetle known as the Boll Weevil. The insect fed on the cotton buds and nearly all cotton crops in southeast Alabama were depleted. In order to pay the debts that the shortage of cotton crops had created, a farmer decided to take a chance and diversify his crops by starting to grow peanuts.

The peanut plants not only paid the debt but also deterred the pest, allowing the cotton to begin to grow again. A monument was erected in Enterprise, Alabama of a woman with her arms lifted above her head, holding a boll weevil. The statue stands as a reminder that something as disastrous as the depletion of the cotton crops can result in positive change and growth.

This story is one of many that make up the incredible and often unknown history of Alabama. Laura Murray, a graphic designer and illustrator, saw an opportunity to teach the people that live in a state with such a rich history, all the amazing things that have come from and make up the nation’s 22nd state.

Amazing Alabama is a coloring book that features the 67 unique counties of Alabama with drawings of the, ‘scenic highways and byways, diverse waterways, commercial centers and rustic small towns.’

“I began working on the book in May of 2016,” Murray said. “I wanted to find a coloring book that had to do with Alabama and there really wasn’t one so my husband encouraged me to create one.”

Murray has a background in graphic design and has always loved collecting coloring books as souvenirs from her travels. She started working on Amazing Alabama in May of 2016 and the book was published in January of 2017 by New South Books.

“A lot of people don’t realize all of the neat things Alabama has, and all the things our state has accomplished,” Murray said. “Alabama is often known for some negative things, but a lot of other really amazing things have come from it.”

Alabama is currently in the first of the three year celebration to recognize the state’s 200th anniversary. Amazing Alabama perfectly coincides with the celebrations and the bicentennial committee’s mission to recognize the people, places, and stories that make up the state of Alabama.

Murray also serves on the bicentennial committee as the public relations and marketing chair. The bicentennial celebration gives opportunities to honor everything that makes Alabama the state that it is. Its mission is to encourage people to celebrate all the unique aspects in a retrospective way.

Executive director of Arts Huntsville, Allison Dillon-Jauken, described the coloring book as “an interactive way to discover our state’s rich and colorful history on our state’s bicentennial anniversaries.”

Amazing Alabama has 67 pages dedicated to each county. Each page features three to five drawings of particular buildings, landmarks, stories and people that are unique to that county.

On the Morgan County page, one of the drawings features an iconic hamburger spot known for their deep fried burgers. CF Penn Hamburgers opened its doors right before The Great Depression and sold their famous menu item, slug burgers. During this time, a nickel was called a “slug” and the deep fried burgers only cost customers a nickel, giving the burgers their name.

There are hundreds of stories, places and people that come from Alabama that often go unrecognized. The incredible thing about Amazing Alabama is that it gives people of all ages a chance to creatively interact with the state’s history.

Each county, no matter how big or small, has pieces of rich history woven into it. The black and white drawings and brief paragraphs on each page create an opportunity for more people to discover these pieces of history they might not have ever known existed.

On the Colbert County page is an outlined drawing of Helen Keller. On the Madison County page is a drawing of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center located in Huntsville. On the Morgan County page, black and white hot air balloons fill the top of the page, recognizing the hot air balloon festival held in Decatur every September. Each page and each county has a story.

“When I told my dad I wanted to create this coloring book he responded by saying that I had to include the Coon Dog Cemetery,” Murray said. “I laughed because I had never heard of the cemetery and had no idea what it was.”

The Coon Dog Cemetery is an exclusive plot of land in Colbert County that was turned into a cemetery by Key Underwood to bury his beloved hunting dog in 1937. The headstones in the graveyard mark the graves of many other beloved hunting dogs that have met the specific qualifications to be buried in the Coon Dog Cemetery.

Murray’s creative approach to recognizing and appreciating the state’s history will take readers of any age through the 67 counties of Alabama and discover the aspects that are unique to the state they call home. The black and white drawings illustrate the people, places and landmarks of Alabama’s past and await readers’ colorful interpretations of each story.

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