Thanks to a big decision made by a small but committed group of state historians decades ago, a drive down an Alabama highway has become an education in our past. At its first meeting in 1948, the Alabama Historical Association (AHA) embarked on a plan to commemorate historic sites in the state with roadside markers. Today, a sign labeled “Ellicott’s Stone” on Highway 43 north of Mobile marks the path to the stone laid by surveyor Andrew Ellicott in 1799 to identify the U.S. border with Spain. In downtown Huntsville, a marker at the site of “The Big Spring” tells the story of the city’s birth. Every year there are new treats for the traveler. After sixty years and some seven hundred historical markers, this program continues to be a vital part of the AHA’s efforts to promote interest in and the study of Alabama’s past.
In early 1962, while campaigning for governor, George C. Wallace vowed to stand in schoolhouse doors to block federally mandated school desegregation. By October, following the violence accompanying desegregation at Ole Miss, the University of Alabama clearly was next.
In 1870 a Civil War veteran from Pennsylvania settled in Selma, Alabama. By profession he was a jeweler, but by avocation he was a photographer. His name was Silas Orlando Trippe, and it is because of his hobby that we know him today.
Matt Pitt overdosed at a University of Alabama football game. “I’ll never forget what happened one night,” he said as he relayed his history to a Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) audience. “I had had a long night of drugs and alcohol, and my parents called me the next morning and said, ‘Matt, we’re coming to see you.’” He had told his parents (especially his mother, whom he describes as a “prayin,’ Jesus-freak lovin,’ I’m talkin’ about she woke up eatin,’ breathin’ Jesus” woman) that he had been attending Bible studies and was a good student, when in reality drugs had become “like, a lifestyle.” Pitt collapsed while climbing the steps of the stadium, and his parents had him rushed to the closest emergency room where doctors revealed the severity of their son’s condition—he could have died if he had not made it there in time. He awoke in the hospital and thought: “How did I go from there to here?
On a warm evening in August 1934, Faye New, a coed at Birmingham’s Howard College, now Samford University, and her friend, Bessie Reaves, were driving along First Avenue when a tire on Reave’s car was punctured. Searching for help, New walked to a nearby filling station. There she met a young man named Harold Taylor and, later in the evening, agreed to take a ride alone with him. When New did not return home that night, her mother and Reaves drove to Taylor’s house to question him. He explained that he had not seen New since she left his car the night before, and they notified the authorities. Within hours, several hundred Boy Scouts, law enforcement officials, and volunteers began combing the area where she had been seen last. Their search ended the next afternoon when the nineteen-year-old was discovered with her throat slit in a clay ditch at the edge of an isolated cornfield outside the city. Although the family had found its daughter, the search for clues to her murder was just beginning.
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!