We all came from somewhere else. Even Native Alabamians—the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Alabamas (“clearers of the thicket”), and Creeks—emigrated from some pre-Columbian home to settle here. And there wasn’t much here to eat—at least not of the health food variety. Sure, the woods and streams teemed with deer, mussels, and fishes. But fruits and veggies were scarce. Blackberries, persimmons, hickory nuts, and an assortment of tiny grains (like the most unpleasant-sounding sumpweed) were all that natives could muster from those thickets. So they planted corn, squashes, pumpkins, and several types of beans, all of which originated in Mexico. Later, enslaved Africans smuggled black-eyed peas, okra, and sweet potatoes from their own continent, thus rounding out the Alabama smorgasbord.
Striding confidently down Main Street of Roanoke, Alabama, in the early 1920s, a cape flowing loosely around her, a hymn-singing parrot perched on her shoulder, Ella Gautt Smith must have cut quite an imposing figure. Most states denied patents to women until the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, yet Ella Smith accumulated eleven of them before her death in 1932. Though most of her patents were issued for innovative doll designs, a few of them described unrelated inventions whose exact uses remain a mystery, such as a washable beach shoe, a "baby navel band," and a "support for the obese."
This year marks a year-long centennial celebration of the Rosenwald rural school building program. This program has been described as “one of the most ambitious school building programs ever witnessed in the United States.” And it all began in Alabama as a collaboration between a nationally renowned educator and a prominent businessman.
My wife had news when I called her from the Best Western in Monroeville, Alabama. I was attending a literary conference, where writers pondered, among other things, how being Southern had shaped who they were and what they wrote. Such ruminative gatherings are a minor industry for our region, and the local community college was eager to capitalize on Monroeville's claim to Harper Lee and other notable local writers.
For 125 years she lay, inconspicuous, her final resting place marked with only the simplest of stones: a sandstone rock with no name, no dates, no epitaph—no inscription at all.
From the Vault
Read complete classic articles and departments featured in Alabama Heritage magazine in the past 30 years of publishing. You'll find in-depth features along with quirky and fun departments that cover the people, places, and events that make our state great!