Historical markers or, more frequently, monuments had been placed by various groups in the state for years. Women’s patriotic societies, such as the Daughters of the American Revolution and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, were especially active, as were community preservationists who sought to promote local history. In launching their new historical marker program, the leaders of the fledgling AHA were careful to explain that they did not intend to supersede those traditional efforts, but they did seek to bring some standardization to the commemoration activities and to encompass the history of the entire state.
Toward this end, the AHA’s marker committee set about compiling lists of deserving sites, then composing texts and soliciting funds for the proposed signs. Creek War and Civil War sites figured prominently in the early selections, with early industrial sites and academic institutions recognized here and there. After a period of experimentation, the AHA settled on a standard design pattern for the markers by 1952. The post-mounted, double-faced cast aluminum plate displayed gold text contrasted against a deep blue background and featured the red and white Alabama state flag in the crest. The distinctive design remains the standard to this day.
The AHA’s marker committee no longer draws up lists of deserving sites, nor does it claim to be the final arbiter in determining if a site is “historic” enough to qualify for an AHA-sponsored marker. Reasoning that a local community can best decide what is of historical significance to the area, the committee focuses on ensuring that proposed texts are as accurate as possible. It then acts as a liaison between the local groups that pay for and erect the markers and the fabricators.
In 1948 an AHA-sponsored marker cost $90; today, the minimum price is $1,650.
In the run-up to America’s bicentennial celebration in 1976, the state government initiated its own marker program under the auspices of the Alabama Historical Commission (AHC), the agency responsible for preserving and interpreting state-owned historical sites. One of the AHC’s continuing tasks is to oversee state and national register recognition of historic places and structures deemed worthy of preservation. Sites added to either register are then eligible for an AHC-sponsored historical marker, which features the Alabama Great Seal in its crest.
While the AHC and the AHA have the only marker programs that seek to embrace the history of the entire state, the Historic Chattahoochee Commission began a regional historical marker program in 1978 to serve Alabama counties that border that eastern river. The program is conducted in cooperation with a sister organization representing the counties on the Georgia side of the Chattahoochee. All three organizations maintain websites to make their historical marker texts available online. These sites also include contact information and instructions for placing a marker.
The proliferation of historical marker programs attests to the continuing relevance of this form of historical promotion. The enduring popularity of this tangible way of honoring important moments in a community’s past also testifies to the vision of the founders of the Alabama Historical Association, who pioneered the effort.
This feature was previously publish in Issue 91, Winter 2009.
About the Author
Norwood A. Kerr has served as a research archivist with the Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery since 1989. He has chaired the Alabama Historical Association’s historical marker committee for the last eighteen years, and he also teaches Alabama and world history courses at Auburn University in Montgomery.