American Archaeology had its roots in the early days of the United States republic. Military leaders, surveyors, and other frontiersmen, compelled only by curiosity, began to investigate the ancient monumental earthworks they discovered in the frontiers of the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys, as well as other mysteries the exploration of new territory uncovered. The American Antiquarian Society, founded in 1812 by a Massachusetts primer, collected many of the reports and artifacts these men sent back east.
The year is 1831. The setting: the antebellum South. An early morning sun silhouettes the figures of two men, obviously gentlemen, standing back to back in an open field. A voice from the shadows calls, “One, two, three.” The men pace forward. “Five, six, seven.” Each man involuntarily tightens his grip on the dueling pistol carried at his side. “Nine, ten.” The two men pivot toward each other. They fire.
For over a century, the Alabama Department of Archives and History has collected artifacts that tell the story of the people of Alabama. Sometimes, single items tell multiple and multifaceted stories. Ada Chitwood Jones’s sock-top quilt, made in 1934 in the Fort Payne area, is a wonderful example of how a common object can help us explore a combination of Alabamians’ collective history, creativity, and sense of community.
It's just a pine plantation now, on the two-lane to Unions Springs. No ruined hangars, no dirt runway, not even a rusting marker noting the history that took place here more than sixty years ago. Back then it was called Kennedy Field, or to those who knew it, just "the airfield." It was where many of the original Tuskegee Airmen first learned to fly, before there was a Moton Field. It was also the place where a few African-American women trained along with them. The men went on to a certain level of fame, the subject of books, a recent documentary, even a TV movie. But the women, possibly the first African-American women licensed to fly in the Deep South, have remained in relative obscurity.
It began as a military tactic, but its name has been used to christen everything from pop records to a brand of bourbon. In the words, some hear a noble independent streak. Others recognize malicious insurrection. Still others find the echoes of a significant cultural heritage. But for most of us, these are just associations, assigned after the fact. In truth, few people understand the origins of the rebel yell, and even fewer have ever heard a bona fide version of it. In fact, to most of us, the true rebel yell remains, like the nation it represented, ghostlike, an enigmatic presence that we evoke for various purposes, but that we could not reproduce with any accuracy.
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!