Now, you know how history folk in this state just love anniversaries. Give us something to celebrate — "Did you know that next year is the 100th anniversary of Elkanah Passwater sponsoring the first cow-patty-pitch?" — and celebrate we will.
Tourist folks love anniversaries as much as history folks. Anniversaries give them a chance to get people to take a detour on their trip to Disney World or Destin and spend money here — cha-ching.
But anniversary celebrating is fraught with danger, for what may be something worth celebrating to some might be something others would just as soon forget. (Recall Johnny Cash's comment on Custer's Last Stand: "It's not called an Indian victory, but a bloody massacre.")
Well, folks, we've got some of those coming up.
We've got the 200th anniversary of the Creek War, which both sides fought with desperate, reckless courage because both sides believed they had everything to gain and everything to lose — and both sides were right.
And the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the outcome of which some-many-most (opinions differ) white Alabamians didn't like (a few right up 'til today), though black Alabamians felt otherwise.
Then there is the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement, the consequences of which we are still sorting out.
Throw into the mix the 200th anniversary of Red Eagle's jump (huh?), the 150th anniversary of the death of William Lowndes Yancey (who?), another anniversary of the stolen election that gave us our current-crappy Constitution, and between now and 2015 there will be a lot more for celebration, commemoration, consolation and cussing.
Then in 2019, Alabama will have been a state 200 years and there will be yet another party to throw.
What to do, what to do?
Well, someone at the archives has come up with a dandy plan. What all these different anniversaries have in common is we're celebrating events that made us what we are today.
So a coalition of interested parties was formed. Working under the general theme of "Becoming Alabama," it is setting out to consider everything from the Creek War right up through the civil rights movement as part of the evolution of our state.
How one led to another to another to another will be the underlying theme, for if the Creek War had not ended as it did, the Black Belt would have never opened up to the cotton-slave-plantation culture and the hills and hollows of north Alabama would never have become home to the state's yeoman farmers. Out of that mix came the interests and attitudes that led us first to secession and later to the creation of a New South state of Bourbons, branch-heads and blacks, with Jim Crow laws its defining feature.
The civil rights movement challenged not only state-imposed segregation and white supremacy, it called into question the accompanying economic allocation that left so many Alabamians, black and white, "at the back door with their hat in their hand." The consequences of these events and the outcome of these struggles shaped us today and will influence our tomorrows.
What is significant about this approach to the pile of anniversaries ahead is that it does not preclude individual groups from holding their own celebrations and commemorations. Indeed, it encourages it.
Burnt Corn, Fort Mims, Jackson's march through this region on his way to Horseshoe Bend can and should be remembered. Confederate heritage organizations can and should re-enact the Battle of Selma and recognize those who fought for Southern independence. African-American groups can and should celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation and remember the martyrs of the movement. Ceremonies can and should be held at the First White House of the Confederacy in Montgomery, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.
And Alabamians, regardless of their race or circumstances, can and should join in.
All of these and many more, individually and collectively, should be recognized, for to ignore them would ignore what made us what we have become. That opinions differ on which of these had positive or negative impacts should not be swept under the carpet, but at the same time these differences must not overshadow the point history folks behind this collaborative effort are trying to make: We are what we are because these things happened.
Which leads us to the overwhelming question: Because of these things, what are we?
So, get ready. The anniversaries are coming.
And as you think about what happened back then, don't forget that "then" is what made "now," and "now" will one day be another anniversary.
Harvey H. ("Hardy") Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and an editorial writer and columnist for The Star. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.