Bicentennial Exhibit takes center stage across state

All these many months, years actually, Alabama Humanities Foundation had been building to this month when Making Alabama. A Bicentennial Traveling Exhibit actually hit the road en route to an 18-month tour of the state.

Leading up to the three-year period of celebrating Alabama’s statehood that kicked off in 2017 with the 200th anniversary of Alabama becoming a territory, countless organizations on the state level and in every single county in the state have been and still are preparing to celebrate statehood in style.

AHF has played a leading role in that planning, preparing a statewide traveling exhibit that opened in Montgomery in the Old Supreme Court Library March 5 and is now traveling all 67 counties over the next 18 months.

First glimpse

On March 2, it was time to install and unveil the actual exhibit.

Representatives of communities from around the state who are hosting the exhibit in the first quarter became an installation crew that morning at the capitol, and they put together Making Alabama. A Bicentennial Traveling Exhibit for its debut.

By mid-afternoon, the exhibit was ready. A towering fabric panel perfectly blending art representing each period of history to be displayed and the exhibit’s mantra:

We all belong to a larger-than-life story, over two hundred years in the making.

As Alabamians, our story is being crafted by the moments that both define and refine who we are. A tightly woven tapestry of trials, triumphs and transformations, this vibrant tale celebrates our commonalities and honors our individualities. It is an epic adventure, twisting its way through the peaks and valleys of the past and taking hopeful turns for the future. Its plot is steeped in little-known secrets and monumental events forever carved in history. Its setting spans every county in the state and features a full and fascinating cast of local, unsung heroes and world-famous champions of change. Welcome to the unprecedented, unabridged and often unexpected story of

Making Alabama.
A Bicentennial Traveling Exhibit.

A medley of song and speech played from a speaker atop the rear of the welcoming panel – reflecting moments in time in Alabama’s history.
People wandered from panel to panel, looking up at the artwork, recognizing the symbolism of these artistic collages that represent eight periods of Alabama history – from the age of dinosaurs to envisioning the future and all the periods in between.

The panels flank kiosks equipped with oversized computer tablets with armatures attached for ease of movement and viewing, giving larger groups an opportunity to see and read about the history they contain. With the swipe of a finger on the screen, the viewer goes deeper and deeper into the history of that period.

“This is so exciting,” said a representative from Bullock County. “Isn’t this wonderful?,” said another.

They stood back to admire their own handiwork, then stepped forward to take a turn at swiping the computer screen, noting that so much history was literally at their fingertips.

Alabama Humanities Foundation Executive Director Armand DeKeyser called it “spring training” in the morning, referring to the group’s training on putting the exhibit together when it comes to their community. By afternoon, they were seasoned pros, and the exhibit surrounded them, giving them ample impetus for excitement.

They talked about their own plans, local history exhibits that will be coupled with Making Alabama to add their own signature to this signature event of the Bicentennial. They listed a litany of events they have that will coincide with the exhibit. And they stressed the impact all of it together will have on their community.

They talked of benefits like tourism, raising awareness about the history of the state and of their community and a coming together for not only a celebration, but for a common good.

On opening day, March 5, individuals and groups made their way through the exhibit. They, too, talked of awareness, tourism and understanding history. Racheal Boyd of Chapman, Alabama, was among the first to go through it. “I love it. The information is very informative, it’s interactive, I love it.”

Dave Summers of Rolla, Missouri, stopped in as part of a tour of the capitol on his way for a business trip to Birmingham. “It gets into a lot of detail, much more than it seems,” he said. A discovery about Alabama he didn’t realize? “The crater,” he said, referring to Wetumpka Impact Crater, created from a cosmic event more than 80 million years ago. East of downtown Wetumpka, it is 4.7 miles in diameter.

A family in France studied the “Struggle” portion of the exhibit for quite a while, conversing back and forth in their native tongue, apparently discussing what they were learning.

The wife was a college professor and working as a visiting professor at the University of West Alabama. Her family joined her in Alabama while they were “on holiday. We decided to stop in Montgomery. We wanted to teach our children about Civil Rights. It is important to know. We French are aware of the US in movies. It is very different when you talk about state history.”

For instance, “We didn’t know the Confederacy was here,” he said. “We are here because of tourism, culture and history.”

More specifically about their quest for learning, he noted that his family is from an area of France where wealth was amassed as owners of ships.

“Their wealth was built on slavery,” he said. “We wanted to see how this ended with the Civil Rights Movement. We French are very concerned. It is interesting to think about it as a world system. We all have a responsibility to humanity. You must be aware to stay on the right side of history. We are all concerned by that.”

Bright beginning

It marked the beginning of an exhibit. That much was obvious. But more than that, it marked the beginning of a conversation that AHF expects will be held in every county in the state.

“This whole exhibit is about engagement, enlightenment and what we hope will be a continuing conversation about where we have been as a state, the moments that have shaped us, the people who have influenced us and the places where our history resides,” DeKeyser said.

“The conversation, of course, doesn’t end there. The ongoing dialogue centers on where we are heading. The name, Making Alabama, is purposely present tense even though it’s an historic exhibit. Just like everything around us – even history – it is a work in progress.”

For a complete schedule of the exhibit tour and more about the exhibit and surrounding activities, go to our dedicated website, makingalabama.org.