Regardless of where you’re from or what your occupation is, there are two things most people love to celebrate: birthdays and the South. In 2019, the two will collide in a glorious celebration – Alabama is turning 200 years old.
Most agree that a bicentennial is a milestone – one of the most important birthdays, if not the most important birthday, thus far. Alabama agrees. The state isn’t settling for a few balloons, a clown and an ice cream cake. For its 200th birthday, Alabama is throwing a birthday bash that will extend across next three years.
The Alabama 200 is an event with the mission to “support, create and execute events and activities that commemorate” Alabama’s history to becoming a state and its story since. Over the next three years, schools, communities and citizens across 67 counties “from Shoals to the shores” will come together with activities and initiatives to educate and teach about the state. This is a birthday that will make history.
The Alabama Bicentennial Commission began planning the statehood celebration in 2013. Since the celebration stretches from the north of Alabama to the south, their first step was to establish committees across the state “to plan and coordinate events and activities centered on education, statewide, initiatives and local activities.” The Commission consists of four committees: Advisory Committee, Education Committee, Local Activities Committee and Initiative Committee.
The Advisory Committee is headed by chairman Edwin Bridges, a committed volunteer historian advisor to the commission since its establishment. The committee’s main goal is to unite leadership and members of other committees to ensure clear and cohesive plans for Alabama 200.
“We coordinate the work of all the other committees,” Bridges said. “We try to ensure that all the different groups who are helping with Bicentennial programs work together to avoid duplication and increase mutual support.”
The Education Committee will be “developing educational content in projects” to further students’ history education from kindergarten to 12th grade. They are also seeking to work with higher education universities.
The Local Activities Committee is essentially the main contact for cities wanting to be involved in the bicentennial. They will get to work directly with “communities, counties and organizations” to plan Alabama 200 events. The Statewide Initiative Committee is serving the state as a whole – they are executing “traveling exhibitions, statewide commemorations… and other initiatives” serving Alabama.
Jay Lamar, the Executive Director of Alabama 200, has been looking forward to the three-year celebration since the commission began planning in 2013.
“A state will only have one bicentennial in history,” Lamar said, “Just as the nation celebrated the 200th, Alabama will take the opportunity to look back at how the state came to be and the milestones of its history.”
Lamar believes that it is important to celebrate and learn from the state’s past, but more importantly, to plan for the next hundred years: the state’s future. Alabama 200 is more than a birthday party; it’s an opportunity to grow and develop together.
It will “provide resources and professional development to teachers on history, social studies, civics and geography,” according to Lamar. She believes the education initiative is the one of the most important, as well as one that will leave a lasting impact, because “teachers touch so many lives through their students and colleagues,” she said. “And that means their impact is truly extensive and long lasting.”
Improvement and growth is one of the main goals of the education initiative. The education initiative will focus on three areas: existing curriculum, professional development for educators and supporting school projects for all students.
Bridges agrees that the education initiative is one of the most vital.
“My biggest hope is to find ways to improve educational programs across the state in history and social studies,” he said.
The first part of the education initiative is Alabama Bicentennial Summer Institutes, debuting this summer. Each summer from 2017-2019, 12 Masters Teachers from across the state will train over 300 teachers in third through fifth grade in “history-focused professional development.” Sessions in the Institute will cover topics such as a period in Alabama history or a specific theme. The Summer Institutes are provided alongside the Alabama State Department of Education and the Alabama Department of Archives and History.
Though Alabama 200 events began in December 2016, the official launch was Friday, May 5, 2017 in the state’s oldest city: Mobile, Alabama. Gov. Kay Ivey raised the flag for the first official, of many, celebrations for the birthday bash. The free event included music and food, but Lamar said that she “will never forget the fireworks on the river,” declaring that “they were the best part of the launch.”
With 36 months to fill, Lamar believed that it would be a challenge to find enough events to fill the time. However, the opposite proved to be true.
“When we began, it seemed as though three years to commemorate gave us almost too much time to fill,” Lamar said, “Now the challenge will be to fit everything in!”
The Commission is based in the state’s capital – Montgomery, Alabama – a city rich with history of civil rights. Though the county hasn’t planned an event yet, Montgomery County’s Superintendent of Parks and Recreation promises events are in the works.
“We haven’t planned anything concrete yet, but we are definitely having discussions about Alabama 200,” he said.
In the midst of activities, events and initiatives to be involved in, it is important to remember the reason we are able to celebrate a bicentennial at all: the citizens who love and contribute to Alabama. Committees have been formed from Autauga County to Winston County and many counties in between.
Without the county committees, Alabama 200 would not be possible. To help inform and encourage community members to join a committee, the Local Activities Committee will host community workshops across the state including cities such as Dothan, Demopolis, Opelika and Gadsden. The commission views it as an opportunity to meet with the people who will make Alabama 200 a success.
“So far, the most rewarding aspect of the commemoration has been discovering wonderful people in every corner of the state who have the heart and dedication to make Alabama the best it can be,” Lamar said.
Many events have already occurred, and several more are listed and upcoming on Alabama 200’s event calendar. Upcoming events include the USS Alabama 75th Anniversary Celebration in Mobile on Aug. 12, an Alabama Bicentennial Tea in Huntsville on Aug. 13 and Fairhope Museum of History’s Bicentennial Lecture Series beginning on Aug. 19. More events will be posted as they are announced during the next three years.
Though according to Lamar, the best is yet to come.
“When we wind everything up, we’ll be able to name the greatest things,” she said. But her biggest hope for Alabama 200 is to see “more and more people become aware and become a part of the commemoration.”
Over the next three years, communities will “host events and undertake special projects ranging from historical markers to reunions to festivals,” Lamar said, “Schools will get involved via the Alabama Bicentennial Schools of Excellence and statewide projects such as the Alabama Humanities Foundation’s traveling history exhibit, Making Alabama, will serve every county.”
The events, projects and initiatives will together educate and inspire Alabama residents. Lamar feels honored to be a piece of the commemoration and hopes that residents of the state feel the same.
“This truly is an unprecedented opportunity,” she said. “We hope it helps to create a foundation for building the future.”
Alabama residents hoping to get involved with Alabama 200 are encouraged to begin by contacting their local bicentennial committee – and if one doesn’t exist, to start one! Lamar then encourages that everyone visit the bicentennial website at Alabama200.org. Events can be found on the Events Calendar and signing up to receive newsletters will ensure the most updated knowledge.
“We of course welcome calls and emails to share more information and find out what we can do to help make connections,” Lamar said.
Alabama is rich with history, culture and full of residents who love it. Alabama 200 is sure to be filled with joy and memories over the next three years. Joining in Alabama’s 200th statehood birthday is an experience that won’t be experienced again after 2019. As Lamar said, “A state only has a bicentennial once.”