For those on the outside looking in, the University of Alabama is synonymous with two things: football and the civil rights movement. Iconic images from that era include the riot on the Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library steps over the university’s inadvertent admittance of Autherine Lucy, George Wallace’s pro-segregation speech in front of Foster Auditorium, and Vivian Malone and James Hood standing side by side as they attempt to enroll for the fall 1963 semester. But there is another element to our campus’s history that is often forgotten: slavery.
In the ten years since he became head coach of the Crimson Tide football team, Nick Saban has amassed an unprecedented number of wins on every level: regular season games, SEC Championships, post-season bowls on the national level, and coaching awards. By the time I arrived at the University of Alabama in 2013, his name was already in conversation with another Alabama legend: Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant.
A native of Cleveland County, Arkansas, Bryant was known for two things: his signature houndstooth fedora and winning. During his quarter-century tenure at the University of Alabama, Bryant engineered more than three hundred wins for the program, coached the legendary quarterback Joe Namath, and oversaw the integration of UA’s athletic program in the early 1970s. I’d like to argue that many aspects of Bryant’s successful career was owed primarily to one man: Frank Thomas.
When making the choice to attend the University of Alabama, I recalled an image from my first-grade social studies book: George Wallace’s Stand at the Schoolhouse Door. Although at six years old I didn’t understand all of the complexities regarding the legacy of colonialism, the European Slave Trade, and Jim Crow-era politics, I never forgot that image. Still, this challenging history did not sway me from attending. Instead, I viewed it as a chance to face some relics and demons from another time—another world—head on.
Thousands of travelers drive under the arches of the General W.K. Wilson Bridge outside of Mobile, Alabama, but not many know the story behind its name.
Walter K. Wilson was born on August 26, 1906, at Fort Barrancas, Florida. His father, Gen. Walter King Wilson, was an artillery officer which sparked an interest in Wilson to join the military. Wilson Jr. attended the University of Hawaii for a short amount of time while his father was stationed at Fort Ruger. Later, Wilson attended the Army's West Point Preparatory School at Schofield Barracks and then entered the Military Academy in 1925. He graduated in 1929 and, due to his class standing, was eligible for commission in the Corps of Engineers. Wilson joined the corps per his father’s advice and began his career.
Many of Alabama’s cities have fascinating histories, and I would count Anniston, the Model City, among them. Anniston had its beginnings as a planned community during the Reconstruction Era. It started with a business deal between Samuel Noble, whose family owned a large iron company in Georgia, and Daniel Tyler, a railroad manager and former iron manufacturer and Union general. The Noble family had purchased a large plot of iron- and timber-rich land in east Alabama, but needed investors to develop it. Together, Noble and Tyler formed the Woodstock Iron Company in 1872. A year later, its first furnace began churning out more than 100 tons of pig iron a week, using charcoal (made from the surrounding timber) as fuel.
My love for books is equally accompanied by my love for movies. Whenever I find out one of my favorite books is going to be made into a movie, I am filled with both excitement and apprehension. In my experience, directors and screenplay writers are rarely able to do a great book justice on the big screen. Still, it is fun to see characters that you have only seen in your head come to life. Though Alabama has never been the #1 destination for movies to be filmed, several movies have been filmed on location here in recent history.
Three summers ago, I had the opportunity to intern at my congressman’s office in Washington, DC. One of my duties was to help with tours of the Capitol, and one of its many interesting features is the National Statuary Hall Collection. Throughout the building are statues from the collection representing the fifty states. Since 1864, each state has been allowed to donate up to two statues of important figures in its history to the collection, which was completed in 2005. States may still donate new statues, but they must replace an existing one. Originally, all statues were housed in Statuary Hall, but as the collection grew, statues had to be moved to other areas of the Capitol. Currently, Alabama’s two statues are Joseph Wheeler, located in Statuary Hall, and Helen Keller, located in the Visitor’s Center.
As an Alabama Heritage intern, this semester I have the amazing privilege to have my first piece of work published professionally. When Dr. Reynolds offered me the opportunity, I jumped at the chance. I knew much planning and scheduling would go into making the article come to fruition. Once it was decided that my article would be an Alabama Makers department piece, it was easier for me to narrow down about whom I would be writing. Luckily for me, it was the fall semester and the Kentuck Festival of the Arts was a couple of weeks away. Sara Martin, the Alabama Heritage marketing director, suggested I take a look at the festival lineup for a possible subject of my article.
For most of my life, I have lived within five miles of Interstate 20. If I want to go somewhere outside of a ten-mile area, my trip is probably going to include, if not consist mostly of, I-20. I have often complained about the highway, and I’m probably not the only one. I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t construction going on somewhere, causing delays and traffic jams. Right now, work is underway on widening the section around Tuscaloosa to six lanes. A few years ago, a large stretch east of Birmingham had one direction at a time completely shut down for several months for resurfacing. For a few years before that, the widening of the hilly portion between Leeds and Pell City dragged on, with traffic crawling through the area. Those are just a few of the construction projects that have gone on recently. Work on replacing bridges in downtown Birmingham is planned to begin next year and is expected to cause closures for up to sixteen months. Eventually, the highway is supposed to be at least six lanes all the way across the state. We’ll probably have flying cars by then.
One of the most vital vehicle and arms storage and maintenance facilities for the US Military is located right here in Alabama. The Anniston Army Depot (ANAD), or just “The Depot” to those of us who live nearby, had its beginnings during World War II. As the war raged in Europe, the US War Department began constructing 500 ammunition storage igloos, six standard magazines (supply stores), twenty warehouses, and administrative buildings on a more than 10,000-acre plot near Anniston, Alabama, in February 1941. In October, just two months before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the site was officially designated Anniston Ordnance Depot, with a staff of only four. With the entry of the US into the war and the rapid increase in military production, the depot expanded to more than 15,000 acres and 4,339 employees by November 1942.
Alabama Heritage BLOG
At Alabama Heritage, we owe many of our successes and smooth operations to our fabulous student interns. We hope that with this blog, written mostly by our student interns, our readers will have an opportunity to get to know the students who bring so much to the table with their enthusiasm, hard work, and expertise!
If you're interested in our internship program, check out the details here.