Last Saturday, my Mama and I took another trip to the Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery.
We’d been once before, when we randomly decided we’d make the hour-plus drive to see what the archives had to offer, and we weren’t disappointed.
The archives were different last weekend, but in a good way.
When we reached the capital city, we found a parallel spot alongside the large, white-columned building on Adams Street.
It is the first department of archives and history in the nation, and it also serves as Alabama’s World War Memorial.
Admission to the archives building is free, and when we walked through the doors we were surrounded by busts of great Alabamians like George Washington Carver and others.
We signed in and made our way to the elevator and up to the second floor.
I waited too long on the elevator and its doors shut again while I was still inside, but once I figured it out I stepped off and into marble halls filled with my home state’s history.
Since I was an archives building veteran, I knew to make a beeline to the room in which an assortment of weapons and other things from Alabamians’ service in various wars were kept.
On the way, however, I stumbled across something I must have missed during my last visit.
Along the wall stood a small display case.
It contains the state Bible, which was presented to Alabama in the 1850s.
The state’s governors who have been sworn into office since have used the state Bible, and Jefferson Davis also used it to take the oath of office in when he became president of the Confederacy.
By this time Mama had already taken my phone, which used to snap most of the pictures you’ll see within this post and in the slideshow below.
They’re good pictures so I’m glad she did, but I left her clicking away at the Bible and started down the hall.
One of the walls around the walkway features a tablet with the names of Revolutionary War Veterans who settled in the Montgomery area.
One side is also lined with portraits commemorating Alabama’s Native American history. The other is lined with pictures of Alabama veterans who served in World War I, and the portraits tell their stories.
I found my way to the room I started toward, and was surprised to find it now contained a new exhibit called “Alabamians in the Great War.”
It’s filled with collections, artifacts and information pertaining to Alabama’s World War I.
It was well worth the visit, but the visit wasn’t over.
I left the “Great War” room and met up with Mama, who’d stopped in the hands-on exhibit.
It’s a kid-friendly place, where visitors can participate in activities and learn more about life in Alabama’s past.
We found our way to the other end of the hall, and entered the new “Alabama Voices” exhibit, which opened in February of 2014 as part of the Museum of Alabama.
The “Voices” wing wasn’t open during my last trip to the archives, and it took this visit to a whole new level.
It’s a fantastic journey through the complete history of the Yellowhamer state, from its land, to its natives, to its birth as a state.
From there, you can feel the climate of secession.
You can see the role Alabama played in the conflict which pitted brother against brother and tore the nation in two.
After the war ended, Alabama was reconstructed along with the rest of the South. It was readmitted into the United States, and its manufacturing boomed.
Then came the Great Depression, and later Alabama joined the rest of America in World War II.
The exhibit does a good job of showcasing Alabama’s contributions to the Allied war effort.
After we walked through the Second World War and came out on the other side, Mama and I were reminded of a dark chapter in the state’s history when the struggle for Civil Rights raged across a segregated South.
Strides were made, but not without strife.
Marches and demonstrations helped bring about the end of segregation and produce change in Alabama.
The state has made countless contributions to music and sports, which are highlighted in the exhibit.
Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird made a lasting impact of social change.
its film adaptation won a trio of Academy Awards, three Golden Globes and the Gary Cooper Award at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival. Huntsville helped the country soar to new heights in the space race, and Alabama woke to a new day.
After we left the archives Mama and I drove by the first White House of the Confederacy, where Davis and his family lived while Montgomery was the capital of the South early in the War Between the States.
We found St. John’s Church, where they and other Montgomery dignitaries worshiped.
Then we tried to traverse downtown Montgomery’s maze of streets and drive down the Civil Rights trail.
We went down Dexter Avenue and found Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. pastored, in the shadow of the state capitol.
We saw the Rosa Parks Library, not far from the place of her arrest in 1955 and the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
We parked beside a curb on another street and saw the Civil Rights Memorial, which contains a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. and the names of those who died in the struggle for civil rights.
The memorial was created by Maya Lin, who also designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
The Alabama Department of Archives and History — along with the Museum of Alabama — is an excellent way to spend a day, but it’s more than just a day trip.
It’s a lens in which to see what you read about in history class.
It’s an opportunity to hear the actual voices of former slaves as they tell you their moving, firsthand accounts of life without the freedom we sometimes take for granted.
It’s another chance to listen to those who stormed the beaches of Normandy and other parts of the world share what they went through to protect the way of life we hold dear.
It’s a way to see where we’ve been, where we are and where we could be.
If you have a chance to see your state archives, take it.
Step back in time. Look forward to the future.