Making Alabama – Bicentennial Exhibit

Taking center stage in St. Clair County

Story by Katie Beth Buckner
Photos by Carol Pappas
Submitted photos

To celebrate the bicentennial of a county older than the state, officials in St. Clair knew the series of events they planned en route to November 2018, marking the county’s 200th year, had to be special.

At the heart of the county’s celebration was the state’s own bicentennial event – Making Alabama: A Bicentennial Traveling Exhibit presented by Alabama Humanities Foundation in partnership with Alabama Department of Archives and History and Alabama Bicentennial Commission. After all, a year later, on Dec. 14, 2019, Alabama would follow St. Clair’s move and become a state.

To commemorate, Alabama Humanities Foundation led a movement to assemble a traveling collection of interactive displays to retrace Alabama’s footsteps through eight periods of defining history. The exhibit features key events, people and cultures that played vital roles in shaping Alabama and is traveling to all 67 counties.

St. Clair County was one of the first stops on the exhibit’s journey through the state and was on display at Moody Civic Center April 9-22. Open to the public free of charge, it was an ideal time and venue to display historic moments, people and places in St. Clair County’s own history.

“That’s what makes these exhibit stops so amazing,” said AHF Executive Director Armand DeKeyser. “They each put their own one-of-a-kind signature on the state’s history and how their county fits into that larger story of Alabama becoming a state. St. Clair was no exception.”

“Hosting the bicentennial exhibit gave St. Clair County, the city of Moody and its civic center statewide recognition,” said Linda Crowe, a bicentennial committee member who serves as Moody’s mayor pro-tem. The St. Clair County Bicentennial Committee, a group of 34 appointed individuals, worked tirelessly to make the event successful. They devoted several hours of their time to plan, promote, set up and work this event.

“Putting on something like this takes the efforts of several folks. Fortunately, we had a wonderful committee that volunteered a lot of hours to put this event together and be a part of it while it was exhibited,” said St. Clair County District Judge Alan Furr, who chaired the committee.

The end result was an impressive display of the county’s history told through storyboards and artifacts from not only the county’s overall vantage point but from the angle of every community in St. Clair.

The county exhibit combined iconic photographs and brief overviews of historically significant events and people to create informative storyboards for each of the county’s 10 municipalities. Two additional storyboards were dedicated to the history of the county’s early modes of transportation and settlements that no longer exist.

Several of the locals were intrigued by the storyboards. According to Furr, they enjoyed the storyboard’s visual elements and easy to read descriptions.

“A lot of people were appreciative of the state exhibit, but they responded really well to what we did locally,” Furr said. “We saw people spend a lot more time looking at the storyboards.”

The St. Clair County storyboards sparked great conversation. A few locals recognized individuals and places pictured on the boards and were able to share memorable stories with others in attendance. For others, the storyboards served as educational tools, enabling them to learn about monumental pieces of their town’s history.

“Getting to meet and hear stories from folks who love and appreciate the history of the county was exciting,” Furr said. “We had several folks come through and share information about some of the photographs – how they came to be and the people in them.”

The traveling exhibit’s various displays kept visitors engaged while showcasing important pieces of Alabama’s history. A combination of artistic collages, an audio sound wall and interactive computer tablets that delved deeper into the history of each period provided them a rare learning experience.

Moody Civic Center proved to be a great location to host the exhibit. The newly built building offered adequate square footage for the exhibit’s vast layout and ample parking for guests. Its central location made it easily accessible as well.

“The civic center’s layout kept the flow of people moving, especially when we had large attendance from schools,” Crowe said.

“Despite all our efforts to promote and advertise it, the exhibit came and went with a relatively small part of our population getting a chance to see it,” Furr said. But they now have an opportunity to see portions of it in their own communities.

After the exhibit’s time in Moody ended, Furr distributed the storyboards to each respective municipality. They are currently on display at city halls, museums, community centers and libraries throughout the county for locals to view. Also, each courthouse has a storyboard on display highlighting its historical significance.

In addition to hosting Making Alabama: A Bicentennial Traveling Exhibit, St. Clair County has already held or will hold more celebratory events leading up to its bicentennial. The St. Clair County bicentennial hymn sing held in Ashville earlier this year had an impressive turnout. Since it was a success, a second hymn sing will be held Aug. 18 at 6 p.m. First Baptist Church in Moody. It’s a great opportunity for locals to fellowship and sing old-fashioned hymns with one another.

A St. Clair County Bicentennial calendar, full of historic anecdotes and old photographs, was published by the committee, and this keepsake is available at libraries throughout the county.

The crowning event will occur on November 20, the county’s 200th anniversary of statehood. A birthday type celebration will be held at each courthouse, complete with the unveiling of a commemorative plaque. Festivities will kick off at the Ashville courthouse at 10 a.m. and move to the Pell City courthouse at 2 p.m.